One American City’s Obsession with Italian Vino

Martinotti's Cafe and Wine shop, downtown Portland. Martinotti's has been in business since 1978, specializing in great Italian wines like Barbaresco.
Martinotti’s Cafe and Wine shop, downtown Portland. Martinotti’s has been in business since 1978, specializing in great Italian wines like Barolo and Barbaresco.

“Portland may be a smallish town, but it’s a huge Italian wine market.” I read these words in the Oregonian, the daily newspaper, just recently(entire article linked below). No surprise to me as I’ve noticed Italian wines often take up the largest section in most local wine shops and stores.

Here in Portland it’s easy to transport yourself to the old familiar ‘boot’ by tasting the many different varieties of Italian wines in local restaurants and wine shops. It can be anything from a simple ruby-red made from the congenial Sicilian grape nocera or a robust picotendro from the Valle d’Aoste.

“When you travel around the USA and visit the most important wine shops in our major cities, even in New York City, no one outdoes Portland for a bright, dynamic and impressive selection,” states Ed Paladino, co-owner of E&R Wine Shop. “This observation has been made over and over by dozens of visiting Italian wine makers at our shop. Short of visiting Italy for a four or five month wine tour, shopping for Italian wine in Portland is about as good as it gets.”

The strange thing is, we have no Little Italy here in Portland, nor a large Italian- American population. So why all the fuss about Italian wines?

According to wine authority Matt Kramer, there is an “ecology of factors,” including our weather (very Piedmont-like), to our prudence (typical Portland …and Italian wines have always been good bargains) to our pro-Italian retailers, importers and restaurateurs creating a market for Italian wine.

The Italian wine scene in Portland began with Lorenzo Giusti, born in Lucca, Italy, who founded the New Italian Importing Co. When the Prohibition ended in 1933, Giusti involved himself in the wholesale beverage business.

Many restaurants and wine shops begin to open after this time. In 1976, Willamette Week food editor Matt Kramer begins writing wine columns after discovering a new-found love of Italian wines from the selection available in Portland. He went on to write several books, including “Making Sense of Italian Wine” and “A Passion for Piedmont.”

In 1978 Al Giusti sets the ball rolling by importing the first Brunello di Montalcino, from Argiano, to Portland.

Liner and Elsen Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon
Liner and Elsen Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon

Liner & Elsen wine shop opens in 1990 with temperature-controlled wine lockers, presenting the idea of buying wine in futures (referring to wine that is made, but before it is bottled). They also invited Italian vintners like Angelo Gaja and Alfredo Currado of Vietti into the store to pour their wines. In 1999 Bob Liner and Matt Elsen sell their store and invest themselves in the import-and-wholesale business with Galaxy Wine Co., introducing intriguing wines from unfamiliar regions like Sardinia and Le Marche.

E&R Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon
E&R Wine Shop, Portland, Oregon

In 1990, E&R wine shop opens and just a few years later, Food & Wine magazine awards it one of the top five shops for Italian wine in the United States. The owners Richard Elden and Ed Paladino travel to Italy annually, visiting 30-35 wineries at a time.

Since then, Portland’s Italian-focused wine importers, restaurants and shops that have opened for business continue to supply the public’s demand for Italian wines, allowing most of the businesses to thrive and prosper.

With all this talk about Italian wine, I may just go open that bottle of Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Reserva 2006 Castello di Monna Lisa that I have been saving tucked under the bed for a special occasion. Per la vostra buona salute!

*How Portland became obsessed with Italian Vino

Italy’s Women of the Vine

In Italy, more than a third of those working in wine are women. A new wave of feminine vintners is taking the boot by storm. From all regions across Italy’s domain, women are making their mark in the previously male dominated world of winemaking. These women are bringing a fresh new way of looking at wine, their land and the produce it brings by growing and developing organic, natural grapes with no chemicals.

Let's hear it for our Italian ladies of the vine.
Let’s hear it for our Italian ladies of the vine. (all photos credit of google)

The Antinori sisters from Florence are spearheading their 627 year old winery, being the first women in 26 generations of the Antinori lineage to have any significant role in the family’s winery. All three sisters are involved in public relations in addition to running their winery with their father, Piero Antinori.

Albiera,Alessia, and Allegra Antinori
Albiera, Alessia, and Allegra Antinori

The Antinori legend began in 1385, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori first entered the Winemakers Guild of Florence. Today, the wine industry has become an ultracompetitive global business, where they distribute their wine across the world.

A cutting edge cantina deep in the heart of Chianti is the Antinori’s newest project. This polished underground cellar made of terra-cotta and local stones, is hidden under olive groves and rows of grapevines.

Albiera sums up nicely her family’s winemaking priority. “The liquid in the bottle has to embody the soul of the people who make it. Nothing is more important than that.”

Elisabetta Foradori, from the Trentino-Alto Adige
Elisabetta Foradori, from the Trentino-Alto Adige

Elisabetta, a single parent of four, makes wine from the Teroldego grape. Her winery is beautifully nestled in the Trentino Valley, shadowed by the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy. Her top Teroldego is called Granato, a stunning red said to be polished and refined. Elisabetta uses old terracotta pots to ferment her wine and has a fascinating way of wrapping her grapevines.

Nicoletta Bocca, from San Fereolo in the Piedmont region
Nicoletta Bocca, from San Fereolo in the Piedmont region

Nicoletta’s wines come from sustainable organic and biodynamic agriculture. Originally from Milan, she bought vineyards in the Turin area from elderly neighbors who could no longer take care of them, and from whom she learned much of her winemaking techniques and skills.

Dora Forsoni, from Tuscany
Dora Forsoni, from Tuscany

Poderi Sanguineto I & II, Dora’s winery, makes Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano. Her brothers had no interest in working in the wine business, so Dora took it on and loves it. A natural comedian, she enjoys telling the story of how she had a run in with a wild boar and has many scenes butchering things….one tough lady!

Arianna Occhipinti, from Ragusa Sicily
Arianna Occhipinti, from Ragusa Sicily

A non conformist in many ways, Arianna grows the Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. Her wines are considered earthy, mysterious and intriguing much like her. Her vines are uniquely trellised, growing up and around in a circular motion. She is known to produce an excellent olive oil as well.

These women of the vine are bringing a unique freshness to the winemaking world. Confident, independent, and wise, they continue to show originality and capability in producing top-notch world-class wine. They are intensely in love with their land and lovingly, passionately grow and cultivate their grapes into the magnificent wines for which they are known.

As Allegra Antinori puts it, “women choose the wines more often than men, and they are often more intuitive about food pairings and far more experimental. Having a woman involved in every aspect from winemaking to marketing has made a major difference in the company’s growth. Wine is emotional, not rational. It has a lot of personality, and people who are not wine experts are starting to understand subtle differences. Women especially embody that.”


Do you happen to know of a woman vintner who is making incredible wine? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in a comment below.