California Wine: Typecast

Live in Los Angeles for a while, and you'll overhear plenty of conversations about the film industry. These can come at any moment, no matter if you're standing in line at Intelligentsia, waiting for a steampunk perfect cup of coffee, or overhearing a wactor (waiter actor) complaining about "the business" at a nearby table. And a fairly popular topic in all of these is the fear of being typecast.

For example: If a guy has dark hair, brown eyes, wears an undue amount of gold, and greets people with a "ow yous doin'," people assume he is Italian. None of these traits individually would lead to such a deduction, but this is what the masses, partially thanks to "The Sopranos," often associate with Italian Americans. Italy is not alone in being stereotyped, but it seems to be one of the more popular countries targeted. This narrowing of understanding unfortunately translates to Italian wines as well.

Quick! Name an Italian red wine and an Italian white. Scan the country for answers and you will hear two things immediately, Chianti and Pinot Grigio. While this is technically true, it is also reductionist to an epic degree.

If you further probe these people about the quality of said wines, the answer will probably be equally as narrow. There are over three thousand documented grape varietals in Italy. Three thousand! And yet there are generally only two wines that come to mind for most Americans. Fortunately within this wealth of ampelogical diversity, there are many world-class wines being made from lesser-known suspects, and not just in Italy.

Nestled in the hills of the Santa Ynez Valley, Steve Clifton of Palmina fame has chosen to plant a variety of Italian grapes including Arneis. Grown in its native Piedmont, Arneis is hailed as white Barolo, and deservingly so. Roughly translated it means little devil, a nickname it received from its difficulty to cultivate. Clifton took on the challenge of taming this devil and did so with focus and grace.

The 2010 Palmina Honea Vineyard Arneis is spicy, floral, honeyed and viscous while all the time maintaining beautiful brightness. This wine is magic in a glass. On the nose there are notes of pear, white flowers and citrus. Take a sip and you are greeted with wild herbs and a nutty fruitiness that fills your mouth for just long enough before exiting with a haughty tail-whip of acidity.

So the next time you presume a white wine from Italy is playing its common insipid role, consider Arneis. It's just one of the thousands of Italian varietals capable of deftly defying enophilic typecasting.

The 2010 Palmina Honea Vineyard Arneis retails for about $18 a bottle.

[Photos courtesy Flickr user artfulblogger.]

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.


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I spend my life eating, drinking, cooking, brewing and traveling.
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