The Cellar

Toasting Tuesday: A Surprising Tasting at Porta Via

Imagine a tasting of Italian wines that included only one red wine. All the rest were white, except for the one that was orange.

It happened at Porta Via at Palisades Village in early April—a most auspicious start to a planned series of tasting dinners.

Porta Via Wine Director Jeff Morgenthal is also a direct importer of select wines from northeast Italy. He brought a flight of five intriguing pours to accompany a custom menu prepared by Executive Chef Armando Robles. It was a night for sensory expansion.

Jeff Morgenthal
Photo courtesy of Kendra Ferraro

Over a plate of Trieste-style spider crab, Morgenthal explained how the Corsa Fallarego Pinot Grigio was the correct wine to pair. There are a lot of Pinot Grigios on the market, but some are special; this wine came from Friuli, from grapes grown on raised seabed.

“Friuli’s secret weapon is sandstone,” Morgenthal said, expressing his inner geologist as he discussed the source and cultivation of the wine. Stony and waxy aromas wafted upward, confirming the high assessment of quality.

How much varietally labeled Italian Chardonnay have you had lately? Not enough, judging by the Tercic Chardonnay from Collio that Morgenthal poured next alongside some attractively plated olpette on soft polenta.

Collio is in the upper right corner of Italy—cross a ravine and you’re in Slovenia. Many of the winemaking families there have Slavic roots, including Tercic, one of the region’s leading producers.

The Chardonnay was on the rich side from malolactic fermentation and lees stirring, but it was still bright and lively because it had not seen any oak. In other words, it’s excellent at the table.

The rarest wine came next, paired with prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast. This was an orange wine, an unusual style in which the winemaker crushes a white grape—in this case Friulano—and ferments it on its skins as if it were a red.

Orange wine
Photo courtesy of Patrick Frank

This yields unique combinations of flavors and aromas, here including apple, marmalade and crushed rock. Producer Dario Princic, whom Morgenthal knows well, made this wine with zero intervention: no added yeast, no added sulfites, no filtering.

The hazy orange color of this wine tells you immediately that you are outside the normal winemaking box, and the texture is suspended between red and white. More people should try this.

The evening so far had been a wild ride, but the next wine settled into a more familiar zone: It was a Valpolicella Classico. The blend of red grapes made by Corsa gave up bright cherry and earthy notes in a medium-bodied texture with lifting acidity that made it delicious. The four cheeses in this course all came from the Friuli region, this evening’s theme.

Dessert wine
Photo courtesy of Patrick Frank

The group of 18 tasters concluded the evening in a civilized fashion: by drinking our dessert. Morgtenthal poured everyone a taste from a half-bottle of 6-year-old late harvest Picolit made by Giovanni Dri.

It was fragrant, flowery, peachy, saline and sweet all at once, but with a firm backbone. It needed nothing else but conversation, and by then the group had thoroughly warmed up, brought together by enticing food and a fascinating flight of wines.

It was an evening to remember, but there will be more to come. General Manager Ryan Hill plans a series of Toasting Tuesdays each month. The first Tuesday in May will bring Liquid Farm, a small-production winery from the Santa Rita Hills that specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.