Benvenuto a Carlton
Not a parking space to spare and an overflow crowd occupying almost every square foot of the winery and grounds spelled success for the all-Italian extravaganza on Sunday, Aug. 22 at Cana's Feast in Carlton.
Dubbed "Italy in the Valley," the event exceeded organizers' expectations as more than 800 eager tasters showed up to swirl, sip and savor 26 wines made from Italian grape varieties grown and produced by 15 Oregon wineries.
The wineries were Angel Vine, Apolloni, Barking Frog, Cana's Feast, Carlton Cellars, Duck Pond, Hip Chicks Do Wine, Marchesi Vineyards, Natalie's Estate, Ponzi, Remy, Tartan, Terra Vina, Troon and Viento.
The Italian vinos from Oregon vines included arneis, barbera, dolcetto, lagrein, nebbiolo, pinot grigio, primitivo, sangiovese, soleggio, vermentino and verona.
One would rarely find such a spectrum of vitis vinifera Italiana at any American affair. Three of them - soleggio, vermentino and verona - were wines this writer had never even heard of before, much less tasted.
But since hundreds of seldom if ever imported wine varieties thrive throughout Italy, and many are unique to a single region, that isn't something destined to ruin the day of even a long-experienced oenophile.
As it turned out, however, only one of the three - vermentino - is actually a grape variety. The other two are names given to the wines by the wineries. Troon makes vermentino, a white varietal apparently widely planted in several areas of Italy.
Soleggio, which means "sunshine" in Italian, is Apolloni's name for their sangiovese/cabernet sauvignon blend, and Verona, the historic northeastern Italian city, lends its name to Viento's "field" blend of pinot gris, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
So much for easily mastering the labyrinthine world that is Italian or, for that matter Italian-style wine. Sampling fine examples of it is, however, just as enjoyable, whether one knows all the details or not.
Generally favorable impressions abounded about the wines being poured, with particularly praiseworthy words from several tasters for Apolloni pinot grigio, Cana's Feast barbera, Marchesi Vineyards primitivo and Viento barbera.
Selected wines from each winery were offered for sale. In addition to vino eccelente, attendees were treated to alimento squisito, or "delicious cuisine" at Italy in the Valley.
As a part of the $15 entry fee, each person received a voucher for their choice of one of two dishes:
One: Fennel and coriander slow-roasted pulled pork panino with spicy tomato jam and fontina and shaved zucchini salad with lemon, basil, pine nuts, parmigiano and olive oil, or...
Two: Roasted eggplant panino with olive relish, arugula pesto and fresh mozzarella and pasta salad with blistered cherry tomatoes, summer basil, oranges, parmigiano and olive oil.
Both carnivores and vegetarians were appetizingly accommodated by these creative paninos - sandwiches built within sliced baguette-like bread loaves. A panini refers to any kind of sandwich in Italy. So all paninos are paninis, but not vice versa.
Regardless, they went over like gang busters, or would that be Mafioso maulers? As for olive oil, which was a de rigeur ingredient in both paninos, the event also featured an olive oil tasting put on by Fanucchi Oils.
Owner Gina Fanucchi's Newberg-based company imports fine extra virgin olive oils and artisan foods from small producers in Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean. She partners with local wineries to promote her products and obviously couldn't have found a better venue than this one.
It would be an unforgivable oversight not to pay tribute to the talented live entertainers featured at Italy in the Valley.
Accordionist Giustino "Justin" Franzino charmed the crowd with his estimable abilities on the bellows-driven squeezebox. The Portland-based musician has performed around the country and boasts an extensive repertoire
Though Italian tunes dominated the day's selections, he also plays German, Spanish and French favorites.
And what would Italy be without opera? The amazing vocal range of Portlander Sharon Gillenwater, an operatically trained "lyric" singer and music teacher, sent shivers down the spines of listeners who rewarded her efforts with extended applause.
Bocce is always a big draw at Cana's Feast, but the Italian bowling game aficionados in attendance couldn't play until the afternoon wound down enough so that the numbers of people sitting around all sides of the clay courts had thinned out a bit.
A topper to the all-Italian offerings was a car show featuring elegantly designed, high performance autos from Ferrari and Lamborghini. Great to gander at but carrying far too extravagant pricetags for the budgets of all but a few
As much as this writer would love to get behind the wheel of one of those beautiful bambinos, it just isn't in the cards. At least such lesser indulgences as good food and fine wine are affordable. Ciao, amici.
Karl Klooster, the News-Register's regional editor and wine columnist, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.