One of the ironies of the wine world is that so-called “international” varieties are actually French in origin. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah: They have spread around the globe like a pandemic, spawning successful bottlings in locales as distinct as Argentina, Australia, California and South Africa.
For historical reasons, Italian varieties lagged behind. Early propagators of Vitis vinifera were much more familiar with France—and to a lesser degree, Spain and Portugal—as a source of wines to emulate and vines to transport to newly discovered lands.
James Busby, a prominent source of vines in Australia and New Zealand, brought cuttings from France, while the conquistadors brought Spanish varieties to South and Central America—and later to California. Agoston Haraszthy spread French cuttings throughout North America during the mid-1800s. Later, Spanish and Portuguese varieties came to Australasia to produce fortified wines capable of replicating the Sherry and Madeira styles popular around the turn of the 19th century.
The first documented presence of Barbera in California was in the early 1880s. Just after that, Italian Swiss Colony, in the Sonoma County town of Asti, imported a number of Italian varieties, including Barbera and Sangiovese. By the early 1900s, Barbera had gained a solid foothold on the West Coast. Immigrants brought it and Nebbiolo to Argentina and Brazil. Today, vintners in numerous countries are actively growing and experimenting with an even wider array of Italian varieties.
In California, Palmina winery produces an admirable range, including whites from Arneis, Malvasia and Friulano, and reds from Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera and Sangiovese. Napa Valley’s Benessere Vineyards offers Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Sagrantino.
In Washington, Leonetti Cellar has been producing an excellent Sangiovese since 1995, while Long Island’s Channing Daughters Winery’s offerings include Friulano, Ribolla Gialla (made with grape skin contact), Lagrein and Refosco. Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards, owned by the Zonin family, makes a top-notch Nebbiolo.
Although some of these wines are impressive already, as vintners gain experience with these Italian varieties, the quality of the wines will continue to improve, making them even more worthy of exploration. Jump on the boat early by trying the fine examples listed below, all of which are available in the U.S.
S.C. Pannell Nebbiolo (Adelaide Hills)
Coopers Creek Arneis (Gisborne)
Channing Daughters Friulano, Lagrein, Refosco and Ribolla (Long Island)
Palmina Arneis, Barbera, Dolcetto, Malvasia, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (Santa Barbara County)