The Herald Bulletin

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June 21, 2014

Howard Hewitt: Italy trip allows exploration of wine region

SIENA, Italy — From the lush green countryside of Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the majesty and golden valleys of Tuscany, a common refrain connects a wine lovers. There’s nothing better than good food and good wine.

Grape Sense’s first private wine tour, a five-day exploration of Oregon, was followed by a 10-day excursion in Italy’s Siena, Florence, and Rome. The first trip was private and wine/food focused while the current trip is about education. But in Italy there is no escaping the wine and food. And, who would want to do that any way?

In Italy the gracious ristorante and trattoria owners offer smiles, warmth, and endless platters of great food. A mid-week drive through the heart of Tuscany was time for a short lesson on Italian wine. The travel group of 20 seems to enjoy wine but wanted to understand Tuscany for its wine as well as its art and history. The college professor leading the tour handed me the touring coach microphone for a quick lesson.

It occurred to me as we resumed the ride, it’s a lesson that needs repeated.

The not-so-difficult hurdle to understanding Italian, for that matter French, wine is to understand geography. The Old World wine countries identifiy wines by region and not grape. If you’re having steak and want a nice big California Cabernet, you head to the wine shop and buy a Cabernet. But in Italy you might buy a Super Tuscan or Brunello – neither of those wines are a grape. But each are made from Sangiovese – the grape most identified with Europe’s boot.

Sangiovese dominates Tuscany and makes the Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Brunello wines. Sangiovese is usually blended with Cabernet, and sometimes a bit of Merlot or even Syrah, in the Super Tuscan wines.

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