Tasting Italy 101

On Thursday night, my friend Steph and I made our way down to inner South East, where there appears to be nothing but warehouses, but inside of 107 SE Washington, a building has been revamped into chic industrial with an acupuncturist and massage therapists and wine bar and Red Slate Wine Company, where we met up with my friends Emily and Sarah and Sarah's boss Deb. Normally, Steph, Sarah, Emily, nor I would pay $20 for a wine tasting, but Deb hooked it up and we were able to go for free. Or, well, for the cost of the bottles that we ended up walking away with.

This tasting, in looks, was sophisticated and classy with olives, pecorino cheese, almonds, salami and squash roasted with onions and cranberries and herbs and funky glass pitchers of water and long tables elegantly set. But in feel, it was relaxed and with "no wine snobbery" allowed. We tried seven wines from single estates in Italy where the quality control is so high that one grape vine yields approximately one bottle of wine. Tom, one of the hosts, has a personal relationship with all of these makers, and so despite the quality and the rarity of the wine(some of these wines are only available in 3-4 states--including Washington--and only 200 cases of some were even made), prices ranged from only $14-$32 per bottle.

Some of the wines instantly reminded me of people. The Cesanese immediately reminded me of my friend Amy, and the Tom Langhe, a Barbera blended with Merlot instantly reminded me of my dad. The Marzemino was a complex wine that smelled sometimes briney and sometimes like slate but then was surprisingly gentle and ever-changing. The Montepulciano smelled like berries and chocolate with a delicious finish. In addition to walking out with some presents, I also bought the Fior d'Arancio Spumante for Thanksgiving. This sparkling desert wine that literally means "orange blossom" smelled like orange, pear, and subtle spices and tasted sweet yet not overpowering, as some desert wines can be. A delicate blend of citrus and oranges. We decided that this would be a classy substitute for mimosas at brunch.

So maybe instead of eating it with pie, I'll invite our Thanksgiving day host over for brunch and we'll share the bottle between the three of us before we get cooking!

Here are a few interesting things that I learned:
You can compartmentalize the nose, so when smelling wine, if you imagine that you're breathing in through the top part of the nostrils, this is where you will smell the berries or the fruit. The bottom part of the nostrils is where you will pick up on minerals/woods/earth.

In Italy, it is often considered insanity to drink without food. Wine is made to pair with food, so don't be afraid to take a few bites of cheese/olives/stew/whatever and then sip your wine and slosh them both around together to see what one does for the other.

When trying to pair wine with food, look up the primary ingredients from that region. If that region is known for tomato dishes or seafood or mushrooms and cheeses, those are the foods that will go with the wine.

The most famous wine regions were once under the sea. Shells have lots of calcium carbonate in them, and calcium carbonate give fortitude and structure to wine.

All of these wines are organically and sustainable produced, but are not labeled as such because, as one of the wine makers says to Tom, "It's 2000 years of common sense."


  1. Is there some way we can taste these wonderful wines?

  2. I think that could happen. Let me see what I can do.