Summer Wine Review Council: International Wines


Photos by Todd Montgomery

Photos of our wines                                                     All photos by Todd Montgomery


The International Food, Wine and Travel Writer’s Review Council gathered to taste and analyze international wines from Spain, Argentina, Italy along with one wine from Oregon.

This is a great way to learn about different varietals than we see here in California and to see how winemakers from other countries make their wines. We tasted one white wine and six red wines on this sunny afternoon in California wine country.



We started with a Verdejo from a charming bodega called Vino de la Tierra de Castilla La Mancha in Spain.  While this white wine is said to have an intense and elegant nose with hints of fresh lemon and melon fruit, I didn’t taste any of this. My colleagues loved this wine they thought it had great structure, I thought it was light and boring.

In my opinion, it is a food wine, not a sipping wine. It would be perfect with food or Havarti cheese, a Thai dish or even seafood. Priced at $18.00 it would be a nice summer wine.


Notturno dei Calanchi Pinot Nero, 2011DSCF6917_4436

Of the international wines, this was the number one favorite of the group.

From the Umbria region of Italy, this ruby red Pinot Noir is elegant and refined with a soft, smooth finish. It has a mushroom nose, but don’t let that fool you. The palate is fruity and mineraly (just like an Oregon Pinot) with soft tannins. This lovely wine sits in your mouth and coats your tongue and languishes for a long time. I love this wine. It’s a higher price point at $65.00, and it’s worth it

This wine intrigues me to visit the vineyards of Umbria, one hour from Rome, on the border between Tuscany and Northern Lazio. I would like to see what else this region has to offer.

We paired this with a Marsala Mushroom Soup, but really it could go with just about any food and be delicious.


CarlindePaolo Grignolino Vendemmia, 2012PIEDMONTE WINE, VERTICAL, NARROW

From Italy, this Grignolino is a versatile Mediterranean climate wine. Grown in a few areas of Italy including Piedmont, Monferrato, Asti and San Damiano d’Asti.  This wine is made and aged in stainless steel tanks for four months before bottling.  Thus the tannins one would typically get from barrel aging don’t emerge.  I found this wine light and lacking in character and depth. Priced at $15.00, it is meant to be a sipping wine and perhaps paired with aperitifs such as salami and cheese. We paired it with mozzarella and meat roll-ups.



Cal Y Canto, Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah, 2011

We returned to Spain to taste this blend. Tasting notes on this wine suggest raspberry and black cherry aromas, cedar chips and violet notes with a hint of vanilla. I might include an iron/mineral taste also. This wine is a lovely sipping wine and priced at $16.00 it is very affordable.

We paired this wine with Chorizo and Manchego cheese pastries and it was able to hold up to the bold flavors.


Siciliana Nero D’Avola, 2013

Grown in the hills of Alcamo in Sicily, southern Italy, this Mediterranean climate has barren and clay soil. This wine reflects the growing vitality and complexity that new wine makers are bringing to Sicily. New Italian winemakers have been focusing on producing wines that are not sweet and have depth. Nero D’Avola is a lighter red wine with an earthy/spicy flavor. It is well-balanced and pairs nicely with bold, rich steaks and roasted meats. We paired it with London broil and enjoyed this $12.00 wine immensely.

Yes, it’s lighter than my California palate prefers, but I think it would be great with pizza and pasta. And that is what Italy wants; wines for their tomato based foods.


Perlita Malbec-Syrah, 2013PERLITA, MALBEC, VERTICAL

What makes Mendoza Argentina wines so amazing? Maybe the sunshine, over 300 days of sun per year. Maybe the altitude- most vineyards in the Uco Valley are planted at 4,000 ft above sea level. Maybe the rich soil of rock and clay. Or maybe they can even bottle the beautiful, breathtaking scenery of this Andes Mountains. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying Argentinian wines immensely these days.

Malbec, typically spicy and Syrah, typically fruity with dark chocolate, berry and sometimes vanilla characteristics, balanced perfectly in this wine.  My notes says dark fruit and tobacco on the nose, good acidity on the palate, fruit forward and balanced tannins.

Typically Argentinan wines are paired with thick hearty hunks of meat and this wine can fall into that category. For $12.00 this wine is a hit!


Sweet Cheeks Pinot Noir, 2011

I have one word for this wine, Yum. Not very technical for sure, but tasting this wine you can teSWEET CHEEKS, VERTICAL, BEST 1ll the attention to detail that the winemaker has given this wine.

Oregon is famous for their Pinot Noir and rightfully so. Many of the Pinots that I have tasted from Oregon are on the lighter side with the typical “forest floor” taste that we love so much. This wine, while still young, is full-bodied. With hints of cherry and plum and a long-lasting finish of toasted hazelnuts (I know! Crazy!) It is elegant on the nose and the palate. At $65.00 a bottle it is a hit! Very much worth the price.

This wine was paired with Pomegranate-marinated Pork roll-ups. The pomegranate was a great accent to the already present cherry of the wine. Yum!


We had two delicious triple-cream cheeses to enjoy with all of our wines today also.

From the Cotes du Rhone area of southeast France, a Saint Angel cheese was delicate, with a white rind that offers a hint of mushroom-like flavoring. The cheese is rich and luscious with a  buttery flavor.

Saint Geric is a strong pungent bleu cheese that is blended with triple cream. The flavor is softened and slowly melts in your mouth. This cheese comes from the Pelussin region of the Rhone Alpes. It is buttery yet has rich veins of bleu cheese.

I have been working at broadening my California palate and by tasting these wines, pairing them with food and learning about new varietals.  This is the perfect way to learn about Spanish, Italian and Argentinian wines.


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