From silversmiths in Italy for untold generations to cabinet makers in California and then winemakers, D’Argenzio family members have been working together for four generations here in California. Breanna D’Argenzio is the latest to join one of several family businesses, the D’Argenzio Winery. A graduate of Santa Rosa Junior College in Hospitality and Wine Studies and of the Apicius Culinery School in Florence and its wine program, she manages the tasting room and wine club and makes one of the winery’s most delicious wines, the Sangiovese, her favorite grape variety, she says. Breanna’s husband Sandro Tamburin, a graduate in Fermentation Sciences at University of California, Davis is assistant winemaker and has his own company as well.
The family makes 2000 cases of 25 different wines, no more than four barrels of each. Breanna’s father, Ray D’Argenzio, opened the winery 20 years ago and purchases most of his fruit from long established vineyards in prestigious Sonoma County appellations, especially Russian River Valley. His portfolio is dominated by Pinot Noir at this point but features various Italian winegrapes, among them Sangiovese, Barbera, and Aglianico,. Traditional Sonoma wines also take their places on the D’Argenzio list, especially Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc.
While alcohol levels in Californian wines have exploded in the last ten years, D’Argenzio wines have remained true to a classic, food-friendly style with most wines at no more than 14% alcohol and many at less. A second characteristic that distinguishes the wines is that most are aged for longer periods from 18 to 24 months. Ray D’Argenzio is not in a rush to get his wines out the door until he feels they are ready even though that means holding back income. He moderates his use of new barrels in favor of older ones so that the wines have the benefit of aging without obtrusive wood flavors that obscure the natural ones of the grape variety.
The family tree began to blossom in the new world after newly-weds Enrico and Maria Nina D’Argenzio immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in 1918. Their oldest son Alfonso opened a cabinet shop in Burbank, California, and of his four sons, twins Raymond and Richard took up the occupation, counting among their customers celebrities Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dr. Laura. Oldest brother Enrico is a building contractor.
When Dino moved to Northern California to invest in Sonoma County real estate, Raymond followed and opened another cabinet shop. In 1994, he began a winery in the same warehouse where the cabinet shop was located, while brother Richard opened a tasting room in the Burbank cabinet shop to sell the wines that his brother was making. Cibo Rustico Pizzeria across from the winery is the latest addition to the family portfolio of businesses. It all seems like a very logical progression, but clearly there’s some magic at work.
California Wines of the Month
D’Argenzio 2009 Pinot Noir, Jenna’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Pinot Noir runs the gamut from light Rose` to highly extracted complex wines. This one is on the more intense side. Unfined and unfiltered and aged in French oak barrels for 15 months, the Jenna’s Vineyard Pinot has rustic, earthy qualities and intense aromas and flavors with discernable tannin. Serve with roasted meats (14% alcohol).
D’Argenzio 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Foxhill Vineyard, Mendocino County
Sauvignon Blanc can be crisp and grassy, but the 2012 from Foxhill Vineyard is richer with tropical aromas and flavors but not without typical citrus notes. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, winemaker Ray D’Argenzio transferred the wine into neutral oak barrels for six months, which accounts for its rounder flavors (13.5% alcohol).
D’Argenzio 2011 Sangiovese Sant’Angelo, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County
Out of 25 different wines, made in very small lots, Breanna D’Argencio makes just this one gorgeous wine, the Sangiovese, whose fruit was harvested from the Kunde vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. Aged for 14 months in 40% Italian Gamba oak barrels and 60% seasoned French oak, the wine has heady berry aromas with hints of vanilla from the Italian oak. The wine is beautifully balanced with fruit flavors, acid, and smooth tannin texture (13.5% alcohol).
D’Argenzio 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, Russian river Valley, Sonoma County
Rather than the uber rich, Port-like Zinfandel that has dominated the market in the last ten years, this wine harks back to a more classic and balanced style. While it has a mouthful of fruit and white pepper flavors, it has enough acidity and tannin to pair happily with grilled beef and spice-rubbed lamb. The wine was aged for 12 months in 40% American oak barrels and 60% seasoned French oak (14% alcohol).
D’Argenzio 2012 Tocai Friulano, Foxhill Vineyard, Mendocino County
This admired Italian varietal, indigenous to Northeastern Italy, is celebrated for its freshness and floral profile as the D’Argenzio wine demonstrates. The fruit was harvested from Foxhill Vineyard in Mendocino County, which specializes in unique Italian varietals. Enjoy this crisp and balanced wine with appetizers or salads and seafood, and at just 11% alcohol, you can keep refilling your glass. Serve chilled.
County of the Month
Russians planted the first vineyards after establishing a colony at Fort Ross on the Pacific in 1812. Meanwhile Franciscan friars were building a series of garrisons and churches up the coast. The Mission in the Town of Sonoma was the northernmost to be built in 1824. While he built the Mission, Father Jose Altimira planted grapevines to provide sacramental wine for religious services and for the table. Sonoma County is large and boasts a huge diversity of vines and wine styles because micro climates, soils, and topography are infinite. Some of these micro climates are hospitable to grapes that require warmer temperatures, like Cabernet Sauvignon and associated Bordeaux varieties or Zinfandel and other Mediterranean grapes. The County also offers cooler areas where Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and additional white varieties thrive. Morning fog, afternoon breezes, and cool nights along with warm days prolong ripening to produce complex flavors. Sonoma County’s valleys, benchland, and mountains include 16 distinct American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) recognized by the Federal government. More will surely follow. The AVAs include Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Northern Sonoma, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley.
Menu of the Month
Clear mushroom soup with tagliatelle pasta and a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley
Florentine Steak, grilled or broiled, served with quickly braised spinach,
drizzled with lemon & olive oil
Mixed organic baby greens with lemon-olive oil dressing
Recipe of the Month
Florentine Steak for Two
Florentine steak is an Italian icon as much as Neapolitan pizza, prociutto di Parma, Sicilian gelato, espresso, and pasta in its countless shapes and textures. The list could go on, of course. The Florentine T-bone Steak Academy minutely regulates the authentic article from animal to plate in ways we could never reproduce, including the placement of the bone, which should be located precisely in the middle of the steak. But we can try. So look for the finest organic cut you can find and follow the directions below. Enjoy!
1 approximately 1.5 pound organic T-bone steak about 1 inch thick
Fine olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper
Prepare a grill or preheat a broiler. Without seasoning, place the meat about 8 inches from the heat source and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, turning only once with a spatula. Remove the meat to a warm serving dish, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serves two.