Lazio’s Cooperativa Agricola Cincinnato

cincinnato_vineyards with view
The region around Rome is known as Lazio, and it’s full of grapes and subregions> you’ve most likely never heard of. I can remember traveling in Italy with my sister in the summer of 1987 and landing in Frascati with the son of the proprietor who ran the little hotel we were staying at in Rome and his friend, Dario. They took us in a tiny, navy blue Fiat up to this lookout point in the hills surrounding Rome. It was sort of a cross between a German biergarten (with the hanging lights and picnic tables) and lots of delicious Italian food trucks. We loaded up on several share plates, got a pitcher of Frascati and had dinner overlooking Rome… one of the best memories of that trip! It’s only now that I’m in the wine business, that I know that Frascati is in Lazio and that it’s smack in between Rome and Cori, a village about an hour and a half southeast of Rome.

Most wines from Lazio don’t make it out of Lazio (including Frascati!), but J. Strecker Selections (our direct import company) has a new line from a co-op in the village of Cori and the surrounding vineyards. All three wines are lesser-known indigenous varietals (Bellone, Nero Buono & a Nero Buono blend) showing off the wonderful work coming from this area.

wine folly_lazio

First a little on Cori and this co-op:
Located about 90 minutes southeast of Rome (1 hour on the highway), the ancient town of Cori (with urban structures dating from the 5–6th centuries BC) is set among the olive groves and vineyards in the foothills of the Lepini Mountains. The village of Cori is pictured above; the winery, also located in Cori, is pictured below. As you can imagine, this town is permeated with ancient and medieval history. The winery gives the two wines in this month’s club the symbolic names of Castore & Pollùce in honor of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.


Using the stamp: CINCINNATO MCMXLVII, Cooperativa Agricola Cincinnato was formed by a group of local farmers on the 13th of June 1947, with the purpose of processing and selling their own production. They named themselves in honor of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who led the Romans in battle against the Aequi in 458 BC. Following his victory, he refused honors and public offices in Rome, preferring to return to his land, which is said to have been in this area of Lazio.

Cincinnato currently has 550 hectares of land (100 of which are certified organic), and 130 member families committed to growing native grapes. The winery is also renowned for its environmental efforts including organic methods in the vineyards, a solar power system for independent power generation, and local distribution using natural gas-fueled vehicles.

Here’s a little about the 3 new wines:
Cincinnato 2017 “Castore” Bellone
Lazio, Italy // Reg $14.99 | Mixed Case $11.99

100% Bellone. This white grape is grown in volcanic-clayey soil in the hills around Cori. It’s a brilliant straw yellow color with a delicate fruity nose, full of yellow peach & hawthorn. Fresh with mineral notes on the palate, it’s a delicious refreshing sipper (while you cook) or enjoy it with pasta and seafood dishes. Drink now to 2 years.

cincinnato_nero buono
Cincinnato 2016 “Pollùce” Nero Buono
Lazio, Italy // Reg $14.99 | Mixed Case $11.99

100% Nero Buono (vineyards pictured). Similar to the Bellone, the vineyards are located on the lavic hills around Cori. Aged for 12 months in stainless steel tanks then refined in bottle for 6 months before being released. Ruby red in color. Intense, fragrant nose full of red fruits — strawberries, red plums, bing cherries. Faint notes of leather and earth bookend the pleasant fruitiness of this wine. It’s not too acidic nor too tannic. Wonderful to sip and equally delicious with food. Enjoy with Bucatini all’Amatriciana, dishes with Roman gnochi, artichokes, oxtail stew and more. Drink now to 3 years.

cincinnato_nero buono_v2
Cincinnato 2016 “Raverosse” Cori Blend

Lazio, Italy // Reg $18.99 | Mixed Case $15.19

This wine is a blend of 50% Nero Buono di Cori (vineyards pictured) – 30% Montepulciano – 20% Cesanese. Note: Cesanese is a red grape variety originating in the Lazio region, featuring medium-sized, compact clusters with small berries. It yields a fragrant, velvety smooth wine. The blend has intense aromas of blueberries, raspberries & plum. Ripe aromas of blackberries, plums & Italian herbs. Medium-bodied and silky smooth. Ripe blue and black fruit flavors with peppery notes. Finishes long with hints of balsamic and herbs. Fine tannins. Jens says you can’t start the year with a more interesting wine! Pairings? Wouldn’t overpower a delicious homemade spaghetti alla carbonara but it could hold its own with something meatier such as oxtail stew. Drink now to 5 years.

These wines are great way to go wine exploring in the new year!

Cheers to 2019!
Julie Howe, Owner
Portalis Wine Shop & J. Strecker Selections

New World Wine | Argentinian Varietals- Not Just Malbec

Argentina_Kaiken_Mendoza_v13_Caiquen bird
Bodega Kaiken, Mendoza

On the spectrum of New World wine country (i.e., Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa & the United States), it is not necessarily a time punch card as it is so much a style of wine. Argentina has the classic fruit driven, higher alcohol wines with mild outlining characteristics of New World wine. As the fifth LARGEST producer of wine in the world, what defines Argentinian wine varietal history? Layers of migration and the cultures that brought varietals to Argentina, as well as the investment in South American wines over the last thirty years.

A story of wine is not without cultures immigrating with vines. Truly, no different than that of Grenache vs Garnatxa from France to Spain and then back and forth again as the Moors battled. Yet Argentina is overseas, continents and mountains, and it is a saga in which varietals that lasted tell a story for each New World wine region. Argentina… the immediate thought is Malbec.

Familia Barberis_La Rioja, Argentina_Malbec_cropped
Familia Barberis, Malbec vineyards

That resurrected varietal from the famous six used for Bordeaux red blends made a 1990’s debut and killed it. Bordeaux, France, may produce wines with a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Malbec is otherwise known in Cahors, France; however it is unctuous, inky, tannic… like a 1800’s sailor fresh from the sea but not ‘refreshed’ yet. (Still amazing in my opinion…) Malbec in Argentina is anything but that- it is plush with ripe plums, macerated cherries, black raspberries then layered with cocoa nibs, herbs, sometimes a hint of crushed green peppercorn. Not a surprise that the masses would devour that?! But that is not the only varietal that Argentina is successful with. These other varietals are perhaps not internationally renowned out of Argentina but definitely worth seeking out.

Argentina_La Puerta_Torontes_B
Val de La Puerta, Torrontés vineyards, La Rioja

Argentina’s immigrants thrived with varietals from Old World varietals including the unique Torrontés (pictured above). Originally claimed to be Torrontés from Spain, Argentinian Torrontés is DNA proven to be a cross between native Crillo and Muscat Alexandria (hence the amazing aromatics). Torrontés is grown throughout Argentina with three different variations- Riojano, Sanjuanino and Mendocino. It is intensely aromatic with notes of lily of the valley, rose petals, honeysuckle as well as citronelle and lemon grass. Fruits of key lime, pear, kiwi (and its seeds) yet is is surprisingly refreshing with brightness and a clean acidity. Definitely worth the adventure to find and enjoy– especially with summer seafood and fresh cuisine.

Wine Folly_Argentina

Back on track to other killer varietals, the history shows that the Spanish missionaries in the late 1500’s first brought vines (Tempranillo and once thought Torrontés) to the region. Then, in the 1900’s, a new wave of varietals from Europe arrived. From Italy came Bonarda (actually Doux Noir), Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Lambrusco & more. From France, the following influx arrived: from Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from the Rhône, Syrah and Viognier as well as from the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc. Escaping the phylloxera epidemic that decimated their homeland vineyards, immigrants brought not only their vines but their background in winemaking. The 1900’s were not easy times. It was not until well after the Great Depression, political conflicts, inflation (1960-70), and finally the 1990’s resurgence with investment from foreign countries in the wine regions of Argentina did the small pockets of Argentinian winemaking expand into such large production.

Val de La Puerta vineyards, La Rioja

The rise of Malbec as the glory child may be on the forefront of what people imagine Argentina to represent; however, there are many more varietals produce there that deserve your attention — classic Old World varietals and the beautiful Torrontés. Adventure to try:

  • La Puerta 2012 Alta Malbec La Rioja — Reg $16.99
  • La Puerta 2013 Malbec La Rioja — Reg $14.99
  • La Yunta Torrontés La Rioja — Reg $10.99
  • Antigal 2013 Malbec Mendoza — Reg $24.99
  • Durigutti 2013 Cabernet Franc Mendoza — Reg $16.99
  • Durigutti 2015 Malbec Mendoza — Reg $16.99
  • Martino 2014 Malbec Mendoza — Reg $21.99
  • Salentein 2016 Portillo Malbec — Reg $16.99
  • Salentein 2014 Reserve Malbec — $25.99
  • Salentein 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon — $25.99

Thursday, July 13th, 2017 5pm to 7pm | Carlos Bosso

  • Carlos Basso Dos Fincas Sauvignon Blanc Mendoza– Reg $12.99
  • Carlos Basso Dos Fincas Chardonnay Mendoza — Reg $12.99
  • Carlos Basso Dos Fincas Pinot Noir Mendoza — Reg $12.99
  • Carlos Basso Dos Fincas Cab/Malbec Blend Mendoza — Reg $12.99
  • Carlos Basso Dos Fincas Malbec Mendoza — Reg $12.99

Cheers!  Jaci


Rioja| Ribera del Duero

Where Tempranillo is King

Tempranillo is an inky rich dark red varietal that excudes excellent ripe fruit and tannins, especially in hot areas.  Rioja and Ribera del Duero Spain produce tempranillo as the main red varietal (with some exceptions).

Rioja Spain

Isidro Milagro_Rioja vineyards_banner

  • located in the North Central region of Spain underneath the Pyrenees mountains and the Cantabrian Mountains. It has a mitigating river- Ebro, which runs westward to the Mediterranean sea
  • there are three sub regions have diverse terrain and climates (Alta, Alavesa and Baja). The first two are calcareous clay whereas Baja is ferrous and alluvial soils (great for Garnacha!)
  • Tempranillo primarily in addition to Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo (Carignan)
  • Crianza is aged 24 months prior to release with 12 months in oak; Riserva is aged 36 months prior to release with 12 months in oak
  • Historically 100% American oak, however modern techniques and the French influence (and oak) has been the shift!

Ribera del Duero Spain

  • located on the Mesata plateau of the Castilla y León region. This area is surrounded by the Cantabrian Mountains with the Duero river passing west through to Portugal and the Atlantic ocean.
  • flat and rocky terrain consists of layers of silty-clayey sand, limestone, marl and chalky concretions.
  • minimum of 75% Tempranillo, with a maximum of Garnacha.
    4. same aging requirements as Rioja
  • Vega Sicilia placed this region on the map with a fresh new style in the late 1800’s, however it was the 1980s with investment in modern technology that released the popularity valve to the world.

Montepulciano – An Afternoon at Nottola Winery (Part 1)


Enjoy this wine travel post from Gina Gregory, Premier Vineyard Tours:

I never get tired of exploring new places in Tuscany. On my recent trip to Italy I had the pleasure of visiting one of J. Strecker Selections direct imports, Azienda Agricola Nottola located just a few kilometers from the medieval hill town of Montepulciano (not to be confused with the grape of the same name from Abruzzo).  Having been to the charming village of Montepulciano several  years ago on my honeymoon, I had yet to visit the surrounding wine country that it’s famous for.  Montepulciano is located 70km southeast of Siena and 35km east from that other hilltop Tuscan town you might have heard of called Montalcino (famous for Brunello di Montalcino).

The drive to Nottola winery was so picturesque – full of olive groves, vineyards and gentle sloping hills framing the landscape perfectly. When we approached the driveway to the winery even the entrance seemed poetic. With its regal cypress trees saluting us, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Are you serious? Even something as common as a driveway is beautiful here.”

We were greeted warmly by Massimo Gonzi, Export Manager for Nottola winery. Many of you might remember Massimo from last year when he and fellow countryman Emiliano Morando (of Vinchio-Vaglio Serra in Piedmont) did a joint tasting at Portalis.

Massimo began our visit with a tour of the winery and the impressive grounds. He explained the history of the local wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and that the surrounding area was literally the birthplace of wines enjoyed by nobleman many centuries ago. The Nottola estate was no exception, having once been the country villa for Count Bracci in the 18th century. All the buildings were completely restored and updated thanks to Cavaliere Anterivo Giomarelli who purchased the estate in the late 80’s.  In addition to renovating the historic buildings Mr. Giomarelli also planted more vineyards and modernized the original winery. Today the estate is run by his son Giuliano Giomarelli and his family. Giuliano has continued with his father’s work by expanding the vineyards to 23 hectares, upgrading the winery with the latest technology and bringing on famed eonologist Riccardo Cotarella to be consulting winemaker.

All of this Massimo explained has definitely brought Nottola to a new level of quality in recent years. The technique of aging their reds first in large Slovenian oak barrels then in French oak barriques helps bring out the expressive notes of the sangiovese grape, locally known as prugnolo gentile, the primary grape in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where they get to test it all out!

What is a Super Tuscan?

Vineyards around the Nottola estate in Montepulciano

This is a blog post meant to help de-mystify another somewhat confusing term in Italian wine: Super Tuscan. The reason that the term ‘Super Tuscan’ came into being is because of Italian wine laws. These laws strictly define what amount of what grape can be used in a specific kind of wine, where certain wines must be grown, and in some cases, they state what production methods must be used. SuperTuscans do not fit in any category of wine according to these ‘laws’.

Not only are there strict laws for blending and production, there are lables that designate the quality of the wine from a certain producer. Because Super Tuscan wines do not qualify as a specific wine, they are given the label “IGT” or “Indicazione Geografica Tipica” or “typical regional wine”. The only law these IGT Toscana wines must adhere to is that 85% of the grapes that is used in that wine must come from within the region of Tuscany.

SuperTuscan wines originated from Chianti producers around the 1970s. The overall quality of Chianti wines had deteriorated following WWII, so some of the producers decided to use different combinations of grapes in order to make a better ‘Chianti’ wine (and of course this deviated from the original blending laws). In most Tuscan wines, Sangiovese grapes are used (Chianti, Rosso di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, etc.), SuperTuscans do incorporate Sangiovese grapes however they generally use French varietals as well (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc). SuperTuscan wines are usually aged in small French oak barrels as well (as opposed to the large Slovenian oak casks used for many other Tuscan wines).

Overall, Super Tuscan wines are very special to their producers as they generally speaking are only produced in great vintages. They are meant to showcase the skill of the producer, and are often difficult to find a certain bottle of producers SuperTuscan outside of the current vintage.

Label_IT_Nottola Tre PezziHere at Portalis, we are lucky enough to carry the 2009 “Tre Pezzi” from Nottola in the heart of Tuscany near Montepulciano (a world-renowned wine producing town). It is a blend of Merlot (80%) and Petit Verdot (20%). An outstanding wine, and a true SuperTuscan!


Get to know a lesser-known: Cabernet Franc

Label_WA_Owen Roe Rosa Mystica Cab Franc
I noticed that Cabernet Franc was used in a lot of red blends, but it got me thinking “Does this grape have the potential to be used alone?” There are quite a few grapes that are either too overpowering, or not overpowering enough to be considered viable options for a single varietal wine, but I thought that perhaps Cabernet Franc just wasn’t getting the amount of press it deserved. It must not be too strong since in some blends it can amount for 50% or more if the wine. Thus, I decided to investigate.

Cabernet Franc is one of the major grape varietals grown throughout the world. It prefers a cooler climate, and is relatively thin skinned (meaning less tannins in the wine). Cabernet Franc is considerably lighter in body than its relative Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Franc is an ancestral grape for many varietals as it turns out). It adds spicy, violet aromas and finesse to wines along with flavors of raspberry and black currant. Definitely sounded like Cabernet Franc could make up a wine completely solo, and turns out that there are quite a few already produced.

Chinon, Bourgueil and St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil are not only three of the most famous Loire Valley wines, but they are almost always created using just Cabernet Franc. The best wines from each of these areas are soft and elegant, but have the full flavors of cabernet franc come through the wine. It is of course also planted widely in Bordeaux as it is used in blends throughout the region.

In North America, Cabernet Franc is used to make icewine (mostly in Canada and New York State), Napa Valley has won multiple awards for its Cab Franc wines, and in Washington state, Cabernet Franc is the fourth most planted grape (it is much more robust against cold weather than other grape varietals).

Label_FR_Roche de Feu_Chinon Cab Franc_with frameAt Portalis, we carry a variety of Cabernet Franc wines (as well as Cab Franc blends). This wine not only is easy to drink, but is easy to pair with food. Cabernet Franc can be paired with vegetable dishes, poultry, red meat, pizza, sharp cheddar or bleu cheeses, and pork. You can try the Roche de Feu Chinon, 100% Cab Franc from AlphaLoire, a producer from the Loire Valley, at the bar as a glass pour. It’s medium-bodied, has a lot of earth & is a fabulous food wine.  We also carry Paul Buisse 2005 L’Exceptionnel Bourgueil, another Cab Franc from the Loire Valley. If you’d prefer to try something local, we have the Owen Roe 2010 Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc, a beautiful, fuller-bodied Cab Franc from WA’s Yakima Valley.  It’s pricier, but it’s well worth the splurge!


Alto Adige/Südtirol, Italy’s northernmost Region

Photo: Schloss Tirol bei Meran in Südtirol Herbert Ortner, 5 Aug 2005

Northern Italy is one region of Europe that has been home to a host of different cultural changes throughout history. Known by different names depending on which language you are speaking, this northernmost region of Italy is also a renowned wine region. Even though the region is technically located within the country of Italy, Alto Adige inhabitants most commonly speak German.

First named during the Napolonic area as the “Department of Alto Adige” the name Alto Adige continued throughout the First World War. Following WWI, South Tyrol was adapted as the name of the region in order to promote ‘Italianization’ of the country. The region was required by the then fascist regime to resume speaking Italian, and all signs throughout the region were changed to reflect this as well. Following the war, South Tyrol was declared part of Italy by the Allied forces, but required the German speaking population to occupy high government posts in the region.  Following 1945, this area went though multiple disagreements, until it was declared an autonomous state in 1992. Currently, Germans refer to the region as “Autonome Provinz Bozen — Südtirol”.

The entire region is surrounded by mountains; creating an excellent environment for grapes to grow. It’s one of the smallest wine making regions in Italy, but there are many wineries here that have been making wine for multiple generations. Origins of Alto Adige winemakers have been traced back to before the Roman era. Today, about 70% of wine making production is within cooperatives.

Popular white varietals within the South Tyrol/Alto Adige region are: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. Also found within this region are Gewurztraminer (which takes its name from Tramier, a town within Alto Adige), Sylvaner, Muller-Thurgau, Kerner, Veltliner, and Riesling. As for reds, the most common varietals found are Schiava Grigia (25% of all grapes planted), Lagrein, Cabernet Sauvignan, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.

Alto Adige is gaining international recognition for its aromatic white wines, and velvety red wines. J. Strecker Selections (sister import company to Portalis) has recently brought in a few wines from Alto Adige, from the winery Castelfeder. Here are a few of our favorites available now at Portalis:

Castelfeder 2011 Pinot Bianco “Vom Stein”
$18.99 | INSIDER $17.99 | Mixed Case $15.19
A lively wine with balanced acidity, delicate fruit and floral notes, with hints of mature apple flavors on the nose. Delicious with asparagus, seafood, and lighter cuts of meat!

Castelfeder 2011 Kerner Vigneti dell Dolomiti “Lahn”
$22.99| INSIDER $21.99 | Mixed Case $18.39
Fresh and aromatic, this wine has high acidity with a spicy aftertaste (perfect for many different kinds of cuisine!)

Castelfeder 2010 Lagrein Alto Adige DOC “Rieder”
$20.99 | INSIDER $19.99| Mixed Case $16.79
Full of harmonious and soft tannins on the palate, this is an intense and complex red wine perfect for red meats and roasts.

We also carry 3 other wines from this producer:
Castelfeder 2011 Pinot Bianco A lot “15er”
$18.99 | INSIDER $17.99 | Mixed Case $15.19
Castelfeder 2011 Grauvernatsch/Schiava Grigio “Kegl”  
$17.99 | INSIDER $16.99 | Mixed Case $13.59

If you’re interested in tasting/purchasing any of these wines, please contact us at:
Portalis Wines
5205 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle WA 98107