Behind the tasting room counter of Marchesi Vineyards sits a bright red and stainless steel, 107 year-old meat slicer that was shipped over from Italy by the winemaker’s father before he died. It is a testament to the deep roots of accomplished vintner, Franco Marchesi, much like that of the Italian varietals that thrive on his property in the Columbia Gorge AVA—a location that mimics the growing conditions of his Piemonte homeland down to the same latitude.
It is Marchesi’s passion for his heritage and extensive knowledge in all areas of wine—from sommelier to buyer to importer and now grower and vintner—that give him and his offerings the depth of authenticity needed to stand out in an industry that can often seem saturated. His Old World wines have consistently garnered acclaim at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition since 2009 and Los Angeles International Wine Competition since 2012 and it is one of the most beloved vineyards in the Hood River area—voted Best Winery & Tasting Room of the Gorge four years in a row.
First plantings began in 2003 and Marchesi boasts estate-grown pinot grigio, barbera, dolcetto, arneis (a white grape from Piedmont), and pinot noir. Other Italian varietals, including primitivo, sangiovese and nebbiolo are sourced throughout the Columbia Valley and Columbia Gorge AVAs.
The tasting room itself is like sitting in a green house in the middle of a garden oasis. Wicker furniture atop tapestry rugs and tabletops adorned with colorfully-painted ceramic carafes and a supply of traditional Grissini breadsticks to help neutralize the palate between sips creates a cozy atmosphere that’s carried outside under umbrellas and vine-strewn arbors on dry days.
Varying degrees of fruit and tannins in these Italian-style varietals beg for acidic red sauces sopped up with dense pastas, cured meats and crusty bread while the whites such as Anjola Pinot Grigio and Uvaggio Bianco would make the perfect accompaniment to seafood, chicken, light pork dishes and vegetable sides.
Ratafia—a dessert style wine—is a must-try in the Marchesi lineup although taking a liking to it may not come naturally. As he explained, this is a fortified wine specifically targeting the connoisseur. At 16.5 percent alcohol, it packs a punch but is meant to be consumed at the end of a meal (digestif) or end of a day.
Ratafia is a vino chinato—an aromatic wine made of 100 percent nebbiolo steeped in many spices, most notably bark from the chine calissaja tree, orange peel and clove. It has a distinctive anise aroma and is hot going down but, oh, so medicinal in the very best use of the word. I would not characterize it is as a dessert wine in the sense of sherry or port sweetness. Ratafia is bittersweet on the palate but seeing the winemaker’s face light up as he describes his affection for it helped this novice develop a deeper appreciation for its place at the table.
“Make sure the fireplace is on and pair it with good company,” Marchesi said.
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