California Sangiovese can be a hard sell to hard-core Italian wine lovers. Can the climate and terroir of our sunny state create wines that pay true homage to the rootstock from whence it came? There are more winemakers producing Sangiovese in California than at least I certainly realize. And I’ve tasted quite a few — at various events and tastings around town — and I can say with confidence not all Sangiovese is made alike. It’s kind of a “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” situation. But if you’re going to try a Sangiovese that isn’t from the motherland, then I encourage you to seek a producer who’s focused on Italian varietals and Italian winemaking methods.
Say hello to Luna Vineyards. And to those of you only familiar with the Luna you see on the grocery store shelves, say hello to Luna’s elevated line — their Black Label. Say hello to Luna Vineyards Sangiovese Classico.
About the Wine: The original founders of Luna Vineyards came to California with a strong Italian heritage and saw the potential to bring a bit of the motherland to this modern wine world. And though the estate is fairly young in Napa Valley terms, founded just over 20 years ago in 1995, today Luna Vineyards is one of the largest producer of Italian varietals in Napa.
Speaking to Luna Vineyards winemaker Shawn Miller, it seems that passion for Italian authenticity has transcended through the years. While she embraces the uniqueness of our California terroir, it seems there is an innate sense of respect when dealing with the grapes that have a certain reputation to uphold. “Interesting wines are always a goal,” says Shawna, “but I also want elegance and balance. I love our warm California sunshine and the big flavors we can get, however I like to use some restraint and make our wines food friendly.”
Luna Vineyards 2014 Sangiovese Classico is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes sourced from various vineyards in Napa Valley (including vineyards located in Atlas Peak, Oak Knoll, Oakville, Calistoga, and Pope Valley). The grapes went through a warm primary fermentation for about 3 weeks, according to winemaker Shawna Miller, this assists in the fruit flavor extraction. After being drained and pressed, the wine then went through secondary malolactic fermentation. Barrel aging took place in combination French and Hungarian oak (30% new) barrels for 16 months.
Flavor Profile: Once the cork is popped, there’s an immediate scent of plastic wafting out of the bottle, akin to a newly opened pill case. Clearly this is a wine that needs room to breathe.
In the glass, the Luna Vineyard Sangiovese Classico is so, well, pretty. It’s coloring is as if a dusty pink rose was kissed with rouge lipstick. Does this red have some pink to it or does this pink have some red to it? It’s hue is cloudy, dusty, soft, and strangely calming.
The smell is reminiscent of a young lady getting ready to go out — waxy lipstick, pink-petaled perfume, and there’s some warmth as if she’s already had a nip of a good Old Fasioned. Can you picture her, in her flapper dress and warm fur-boa?
And this scene plays out in the tasting as well. Pink and light red roses are wilting from their green and thorny bushes; there’s a simultaneous herbaceousness and brambly earthy quality; and yes, there’s a bit of heat, bordering on spice. (Did the flapper girl pick up a man at the end of the evening?
It’s the story of a Roaring 20’s Flapper Girl and, like that young lady, the wine, too, has a bit of a fun naivety to it. The tasting will travel from that light floral arrangement, into the bush, and finish in the heat of the sun — is it wandering aimlessly or forcing you to use your imagination?
My opinion is that it’s the latter. This wine is ready to come out and play so be prepared to have some fun with it. For the more serious drinkers out there, hold on to this bottle for at least 5 years — that young lady will mature into something a bit more voluptuous and with a bit more direction.
Food Pairing: I paired the Luna Vineyard 2014 Sangiovese Classico with a vegetarian pizza. What I loved was how the vegetables pulled out the floral and vegetative aromatics in the wine. A thick tomato sauce will give the palate of the wine a bit more concentration (both physically and mentally).
The perfect pairing? Yes, in that it allowed me to truly appreciate all the separate components in the wine, play with the fresh versus the spice elements. Like I said, it’s a fun wine and deserves to be paired with a fun, family-friendly meal.
More Info: If you haven’t read my review for the Luna Vineyards Estate Pinot Grigio definitely do — it’s a Pinot Grigio with an actual backbone and body. I received the Luna Vineyards 2014 Sangiovese Classico as a sample for review. (Cheers Nisha and Shawna!) Suggested Retail: $42. Black Label wines from Luna Vineyard are only available for purchase at the tasting room or online. For more information about Luna Vineyards, their wines, and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Luna Vineyards website.
Thank you to Luna Vineyards winemaker Shawna Miller for her assistance and participation with my site and article.
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