Friday, June 4, 2010

Summer and Sangiovese

Summer is a great time to reconnect with old friends. While catching up with transplanted New York buddies in Venice Beach, we stumbled upon another old friend: Pietra Santa Sangiovese.

We spotted the familiar label over lunch at Capri, a charming art-adorned restaurant on bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard that keeps that Cal-Ital thing going on. Owner Alona has run the friendly, casual spot for more than 15 years. Her sincere perma-smile and warm welcome makes you wonder whether you've actually met her before, but no – it's just her way of making you feel completely at ease. Dig into her pappardelle alla Bolognese, risotto di funghi or cinghiale salsicce con polenta and you too will feel the love.

Back to wine – two years ago, a 2005 Pietra Santa Sangiovese left an imprint on our wine memory. Its gently oaked smooth Morello cherry fruit with earthy and anise undertones sent us back to LA Wine Company to clear out all that was left. We haven't seen it since. While the 2005 was an 80/20 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 that graced Alona's tasting table is a 92/8 blend that's also a bit lower in alcohol at 14.7%. Perfect.

One sip immediately brought back that first taste two years ago. Alona, it turns out, is on a quest for good sangio as well. Her restaurant's all-Italian menu screams out for a juicy, food-friendly wine that's not overly oaked or too much of a fruit bomb. But making good Sangiovese has proved tough in the Golden State where it's given more than one Cal-Ital producer plenty of agita – Italian slang for grief. Though a feisty varietal to get right on this side of the Atlantic, we think you'll agree with old friends who gave this Cienega Valley effort a try: it's fantastic.

Pietra Santa's Tuscan-born winemaker Alessio Carli coaxes plenty of sangio goodness out of rocky limestone soils first planted to winegrapes by a Frenchman in the 1850s. The Web site for the family-run estate 25 miles from Monterey Bay shows a dreamy image of a massive stone-and-brick winery. Inside the 12,000-sq.-ft. Mission-style structure is an olive oil press room where gourmet oils are crafted from estate-harvested fruit. One taste of their wine and a look at the "sacred stone" building and surrounding vineyards might convince you to add Pietra Santa's Hollister tasting room to your next Central Coast sojourn. Olive oil tasting anyone?

For culinary pay dirt, visit Pietra Santa's Recipes and Pairings tab. Their shrimp risotto with Meyer lemon and truffle oil is a sure-fire dinner party knockout dish to set your guests swooning. Pair it with crisp, lemony Chateau St. Jean Fumé Blanc if you have no luck finding Pietra Santa's recommended Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio matches around town.

Or, just gas up the car and head over to Capri. Alona's smile, fab food, Pietra Santa – and perhaps old friends – await you.

1616 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA

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