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Pepi Sangiovese 2003
"Blends grapes from the Sierra Foothills and Mendocino to produce a balanced. rich and harmonious drink with flavors of black cherry, tobacco and spices. In Chianti-like fashion, it's bone dry, light and delicate of structure, and rather bitter. The color is pale. This is a well-made wine that would be good with a wide variety of foods, especially hard Italian cheeses."
A winding path through the world of wine brought Johnson in January 2001 to Pepi (owned by Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Napa Valley). Chris went to work in 1996 for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. Less than two years later he took on the job of winemaker at the original Kendall-Jackson winery in Lake County.
Pepi is something different, however, Chris said he loves its spontaneous, risk-taking approach to wine. He favors the crisp, unfettered and natural character of those varietals in his Pepi bottlings. And his experience with Pinot Grigio in New York and Sauvignon Blanc in Lake County prepared him to master two of Pepi's leading wines. It's all part of forming a closer kinship with the creative magic/science of winemaking. "The natural cycles, the creatively, skill, great people, beautiful land - all the connections come together in wine," Chris said. "Just punching down, you see the skins, the red juice bubbling away. There's something about that whole transformation. It's cool."
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production as well as tourism, the Napa Valley was responsible for bringing worldwide recognition to California winemaking. In the 1960's, a few key wine families settled the area and hedged their bets on the valley's world-class winemaking potential—and they were right.
The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when producers scooped up vineyard lands and planted vines throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, and today Napa is home to hundreds of producers ranging from boutique to corporate. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Napa whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that claim specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil. Farthest south and coolest from the influence of the San Pablo Bay is Carneros, followed by Coombsville to its northeast and then Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Above those is the warm St. Helena and the valley's newest and hottest AVA, Calistoga. These areas follow the valley floor and are known generally for creating rich, dense, complex and smooth reds with good aging potential. The mountain sub appellations, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs, include Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley (farther east), Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District and Diamond Mountain District. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from a lot of time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
The perfect intersection of bright fruit and savory earthiness, Sangiovese is the backbone variety in Tuscany. While it is best known as the chief component of Chianti, it reaches the height of its power and intensity in the complex, long-lived Brunello di Montalcino. Elsewhere throughout Italy, it can make inexpensive wines for daily consumption ranging from inoffensive to deliciously easy. On the French island of Corsica, under the name Nielluccio, it produces excellent bright and refreshing red and rosé wines with a personality of their own. Sangiovese has also enjoyed moderate popularity in California and Washington State over the last few decades.
In the Glass
Sangiovese is a medium-bodied red with savory flavors of tart cherry, plum, tomato, fresh tobacco, anise, thyme, oregano, and dried earth. High-quality, well-aged examples will take on notes of smoke, clay pot, leather, gamey meat, potpourri, and dried fruits. Corsican Nielluccio is distinguished by a subtle perfume of dried flowers.
Sangiovese is the ultimate pizza and pasta red—its high acidity, moderate alcohol, and grainy tannins create an affinity with tomato-based dishes, spicy meats, and anything off the barbecue.
Although it is the star variety of Tuscany, cult-classic “Super-Tuscan” wines may contain no Sangiovese at all! Since the 1970s, local winemakers have been producing big, bold wines (with price tags to match) that are typically monovarietal or a blend of one or more of several international varieties—usually Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or Syrah—with or without Sangiovese.