At the end of the day, Italian varieties grown in California are, at best, a curiosity. I doubt that sangiovese, barbera or nebbiolo will ever supplant cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir or syrah among top reds. Still, it’s fun to taste these wines with an American accent from time to time. I’ve enjoyed and written about them from such wineries as Au Bon Climat and Bonny Doon, two Central Coast properties whose portfolios include these co-called “Cal-Italian” wines.
And I’ve just discovered a winning example from another well-known California winery — Ferrari-Carano’s 2003 Mountain Grown Sangiovese from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. A few sips of this $32, limited-production wine (1,000 cases or so), and I was taken.
It was un-mistakenly sangiovese, reminding me instantly of its cousin from Tuscany, where sangiovese is the signature grape of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile and other famous appellations.
I’ve learned over the years not to expect wine replicas; part of the excitement of California or Oregon pinot noirs, for instance, is that they will be quite different from classic pinot noirs from Burgundy (although in a very hot vintage, like 2003, the Burgundies took on the fuller, fruitier character of their New World counterparts); in another case, New Zealand sauvignon blanc is in an entirely different style from that of France’s Loire Valley, where it is the signature white.
It all has to do with variations in soil and climate and geography — what the French refer to as terroir. Which brings us back to Ferrari-Carano’s Sangiovese.
Being from California, the wine is fuller and fruitier than a typical Italian sangiovese, which is perhaps a bit more earthy. The fruit in the Ferrari-Carano wine is ripe and gorgeous, showing plum, blueberry and blackberry, with the latter dominating the wine as it opens up after a while and as it lingers in the back of the mouth. I also found a nice touch of coffee bean and a good deal of toasted oak that reflects the wine’s considerable aging in French barrels.
Good acid levels, typical of sangiovese, make this an excellent food wine. I enjoyed it with a meat sauce over pasta, and Ferrari-Carano’s website suggests it with something more extravagant — a mouth-watering recipe for braised short ribs, which I would love to find simmering on the stove after a day of skiing or a brisk weekend walk here in the Northeast, where, at last, it is winter.
As for the sangiovese, the 2004 vintage is now available as well, and if you have trouble finding the wines you can contact the winery at ferrari-carano.com.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at