Today's Sponsor
 California Wine Club
All-time Most Popular Winery Is Back! Join today, mention The Wine Advisor, and get three bottles for the price of two!

In This Issue
 Italian look-alikes Spot these wines on the shelf and you might guess they were Italian. But these Italians, as it turns out, hail from California.
Administrivia Change E-mail address, frequency, format or unsubscribe.

 Learn about our RSS Feed

Italian look-alikes

Spot these wines on the shelf and you might guess they were Italian, with their simple, old-fashioned labels with a woodcut-look winery scene, a small logo that resembles a blob of red sealing wax, Italian grape varieties and even a winery name that ends in vowels, Pietra Santa.

Pull the cork and taste the wine and you still might wonder, as their earthy, tart and complex and very food-friendly flavors show what seems to be a distinct Italian accent.

But these Italians, as it turns out, hail from California, from the relatively unfamiliar Cienega Valley near Hollister in San Benito County, in the hills well south of San Francisco, a few miles inland from Monterey Bay. Wine maker Alessio Carli, a native of Siena in Tuscany, may be the guy to thank for that fine Italian style, producing intriguing wines that break the stereotype of "New World" California versus "Old World" European wines.

A while back, I reviewed an intriguing red blend from Pietra Santa called Sacred Stone (a literal translation of the winery's Italian moniker). In the past couple of weeks, I've encountered the winery again twice, as a monthly selection from our friends at California Wine Club, then again being poured by winery reps at a trade tasting here in Louisville. With all that coincidence, naturally I was eager to break open the wine club's package and give these Italian-style goodies a try. Here are my tasting reports:

Sasso Rosso Pietra Santa 2000 California Sasso Rosso

A very fine value, this odd blend brings together a little Italian Sangiovese and Barbera with the not-so-Italian Carignane, Merlot, Cabernet and Zinfandel. It is as good a $10 wine as I've opened in a long while. Very dark garnet, almost black at the center, it breathes a lovely mix of cherry and berry notes with a touch of Chianti-like spice. Juicy and ripe, it's no mere fruit bomb but a mouth-watering combination of tart-cherry fruit and snappy acidity, held in the bottle long enough to develop a bit of earthy complexity. It's not quite a Chianti clone, but certainly a California salute to the Italian tradition. It made a splendid match with a simple rice pilaf with chicken and mushrooms. (Sept. 10, 2006)

Dolcetto Pietra Santa 2000 Cienega Valley Dolcetto

This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, almost black. Black plum, blueberry and licorice scents, typical of Dolcetto, add a pleasant earthy "barnyard" note in the background that seems more "Old World" than "New." Plum and berry flavors are consistent with the nose, firm acidity and drying tannins. A very good wine, balanced and complex, reminiscent of a Piemontese Dolcetto but frankly carrying its years much better than most Italian Dolcettos would. It paired very nicely with natural grass-fed beef. (Sept. 13, 2006)

WEB LINKS AND WHERE TO FIND THESE WINES: The detailed and informative Pietra Santa Website offers direct sales and its own wine-buying club, although the 2000 Sasso Rosso has been supplanted by the 2001.

California Wine Club offers the two Pietra Santa wines reported here to club members at $32.95 plus shipping; case re-orders are $10.50 per bottle.

Finally, to find other vendors for Pietra Santa wines, you can check the databases on

To read and comment on today's column in our non-commercial WineLovers Discussion Group, click:

Today's article is cross-posted in our Netscape WineLovers Community, where we also welcome comments and questions.

To contact me by E-mail, write I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.

Here's a simply formatted copy of today's Wine Advisor, designed to be printed out for your scrapbook or file or downloaded to your PDA or other wireless device.


To subscribe or unsubscribe from The 30 Second Wine Advisor, change your E-mail address, or for any other administrative matters, please use the individualized hotlink found at the end of your E-mail edition. If this is not practical, contact me by E-mail at, including the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so I can find your record.

We do not use our E-mail list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail address to anyone. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. To contact me, please send E-mail to

All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Friday, Sept. 15, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

Subscribe to the 30 Second Wine Advisor

Wine Advisor archives