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What I drank on my summer vacation

Wine columnist Edward Deitch shares some standouts from California, Italy and France.
/ Source: TODAY

This is the week the kids are back to school with stories about surfing and sailing and soccer, while Dad is back with a few of his own summer tales to tell — about wine, of course.

Let’s start with some whites from California — no, not chardonnay or even sauvignon blanc, the state’s two best-known white varieties.  I was impressed again in recent weeks by California rieslings, which remain below the radar, especially those from two properties in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley whose wines I’ve mentioned here before.

Gainey Vineyard’s 2006 Limited Selection Riesling lives up to its reputation as a superb,  moderately priced riesling.  This $15 wine is dry with notes of pink grapefruit, pear, spice and a stony quality — sometimes described as “petrol” — that is emblematic of the riesling grape.

I also enjoyed Firestone Vineyard’s 2006 Central Coast Riesling, made from both Santa Ynez Valley and Monterey County fruit.  This $11 bargain (it’s on sale for $8 on Firestone’s web site) is superb at these prices and offers notes of apricot, white peach, mango and touches of honey and herbs.  (Firestone scores a hit as well with its delicious 2006 Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc, at $14.)

Moving on to Italy, I tasted one of the best pinot grigios I’ve come across recently. The grape is grown throughout northern Italy (and increasingly in California, Oregon and Washington, where it is also called pinot gris).  But it reaches its zenith in Italy’s northeast, in the province of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

That’s where Bortoluzzi produces its outstanding wine in the Venezia Giulia area. The 2006 Pinot Grigio, with a suggested price of $20, is at once crisp and rich, with green apple, herb and mineral notes.  In a world awash in pinot grigio, this one has real character and is made for fish, shellfish and herbed chicken.

Two noteworthy reds got my attention. From Italy, a nice example of Aglianico del Vulture, made from the aglianico grape that grows in the volcanic soils of Basilicato in the south, is worth looking for.  The 2004 “Vultur” from Terre dei Re is about to be released and shows earthy, dark-berry fruit with a distinctive herb and mineral presence.  I enjoyed this $20 wine slightly chilled.  Try it with all kinds of roasts.  Both Terre dei Re and Bortoluzzi are imported by Empson USA.

Finding a decent bottle of French pinot noir for less than $10 is challenging, but I did so with a tasty, easy-to-drink pinot that’s part of a new line called “Bistro Wine” from Barton & Guestier.  I didn’t expect red Burgundy but was surprised by this $9 wine made from grapes grown in the Languedoc region in the south.  Served cool, it’s pleasant and versatile.

Edward Deitch’s wine column appears Wednesdays. He is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at