Drink Your Way Through Europe (Without a Passport)

tamasLots of California wineries have jumped on the Pinot Grigio bandwagon. Way too many, in fact.

I have a problem with most West Coast Pinot Grigio, and my problem is that it tastes like anything but. It’s too fruity, too soft, too insipid. And the really cheap ones are too sweet.

So it was a thrill to taste a California Pinot Grigio that tastes like… Pinot Grigio!

This one is from Tamas Estates, a Central Coast winery owned by Wente Vineyards in the Bay area’s Livermore Valley. Tamas Estates seems to have a very specific demographic in mind: they’re aiming at “adventurous people interested in exploring new wines and new places.” I think that means Gen X and Gen Y.The packaging suggests exotic foreign destinations, and their back label slogan reads, “Hop on the Bus for a Multinational Wine Tour.”

Multinational, indeed. As soon as I cracked the cap on my Tamas Estates Pinot Grigio 2009, I was transported to… somewhere else. The nose screamed flint, minerals, and tangy acid. “OK,” I said, “this may not be your typical American white.”

The palate took me a few miles further. There was no rich fruit — no “fruitiness” at all! Crisp, mouth-watering acid led the way, followed by more minerals and slate. I was hard-pressed to find a fruit in here — lime, I guess (or maybe that “Kumquat” I see in wine reviews but never find in my grocery store’s produce aisle). The minerals and slate carryied through the crisp, clean finish.

Oysters anyone? This wine was screaming for shellfish, and I wanted to be sitting in a French cafe or Italian bistro as I sipped my wine and downed my slippery, slimy oysters. The wine style that Tamas has captured is all about northern Italian whites like Gavi or Verdicchio, or even a French Sancerre or Muscadet.

So how can anyone make this style in sunny California? Well, just look at the climate of the Central Coast: it’s not all palm trees and suntans. The region has a Mediterranean climate, with cool ocean breezes to moderate temperatures and very cool nights. This slows the ripening of the fruit, creating complex flavors and good acid.

It makes for a damn fine Pinot Grigio, and at just $10 or so, Tamas Estates is also an affordable one. So put on your favorite beret, and drag out that red-checked table cloth. You’ll be speaking Italian in no time. Cheers!

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