Newly arrived are some costly but very good Napa wines that have been picked up for Ohio distribution by a Cincinnati wholesaler. They are expensive - an '01 cab costs $38 - not only as a reflection of their quality, but also because not much is made.
The name is Amici (Latin for "friends") and the winery is truly a boutique. Its 1,100 cases of cab are in effect a Bordeaux-style blend, adding small amounts of cabernet franc and merlot to soften and round out, as it were, a firmly structured cabernet sauvignon.
A single-vineyard zinfandel ('02, $35) contributes to an impression that these friendly winemakers are first of all red-wine makers. Their current offerings, in addition to the cab and the zin, include a new venture into pinot noir (also '02 and $35), followed by 200 cases of a $25 chardonnay (sounds like a bias for red, doesn't it?).
So far, the cab is the only Amici I've had, and it's a winner. Now I'm keeping an eye on the zin.
The Turning Leaf winemakers suggest that their justly popular '02 ($10) Monterey County riesling with a touch of gewurztraminer flavor will complement pan-fried trout, a slab of sea bass, and even creamy alfredo atop a dish of pasta. For $3 more, you can match an intensely flavored Turning Leaf pinot noir, North Coast Coastal reserve with a leg of lamb. It seems that the West Coast winemakers are inching along to success in producing predictably authentic pinots.
FROM SOUTHERN Italy come a number of good to very good wines that are hardly known to Americans. Regular readers may recognize a splendid red I keep pushing, aglianico (ah-lee-ON-ee-co). If you look for it patiently, you'll find it, but what makes the search more difficult is that the grape, which comes in a number of separately named clones, appears behind proprietary labels.
One good place to start on this and other attractive southern Italian wines, red and white, is with a handful of wines produced by the Feudi di San Gregorio winery. A rubrato aglianico is perhaps more expensive ($17) than the poverty of the bottom of the boot suggests. The same winery offers two whites I find delicious: falanghina (fall-on-GEE-na) and greco di tufo.
Remember when cheap, raw red plonk was sold as chianti in fiaschi, the straw-wrapped bottles that packed readily into shipping containers? Committed producers in the Chianti region succeeded in getting legal controls imposed on the use of the name chianti, on the restriction to specified varieties of grape, and on the quality of what was sold as chianti.
Possibly you've noted a symbol of the voluntary winemakers' association - the profile of a rooster in black on the collar label - that in essence brought the law and in large measure imposed a standard of quality that deserves the name.
That's a story that became more complex when gifted independent winemakers began to make some superb wines, the "super Tuscans," to be sold to the world on their own terms, and not as chiantis.
What brings this to mind is the recent announcement that a number of reputable, well established Chilean wineries are forming a similar association out of concern that not everything sold as "Chilean" may fairly represent the country and its authentic wines.