Dining | Wine: Martini at 75 | Wine | Salt Lake City Weekly

Dining | Wine: Martini at 75 

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Mention “an Italian family of California winemakers,” and chances are the name “Mondavi” will spring to mind. But there’s another important family-owned Napa winery that has its roots in Italy: Louis M. Martini Winery. This fall, the Martini family celebrates its 75th year of making (legal) wine in California. Needless to say, I found this the perfect occasion/excuse to sample some Martini Cabernets, something I’ve been lax in doing lately. I was pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the Martini wines and the relatively economical prices.

It wasn’t all peaches and cream for Louis M. Martini, who came to America with his father from Genoa in 1899. After making his first wine in 1906 in San Francisco, Dad sent Louis back to Italy to study winemaking. He returned to California in 1911, where he’d begin a long career as winemaker and grape grower. In addition to working with other wineries as a consulting winemaker, in 1922, Martini established Martini Grape Products Company where, during the Prohibition era, he made “sacramental” wines and concentrates for home winemaking. Finally, in 1933, anticipating the end of Prohibition, Louis Martini built a new winery in the Napa town of St. Helena and became one of the first wineries to incorporate cold fermentation into the making of wine. This is the real beginning of Louis M. Martini Winery.

Martini can boast a number of “firsts.” Martini’s son, Louis P. Martini was one of the first growers to use wind machines to combat frost in his family’s vineyards (1951) and in 1968 the winery would create one of the first-ever Merlot wines in California. In 1977, Michael Martini became a winemaker, in the old-school tradition of his father and grandfather. Today, much of Michael’s focus is on his “microwinery,” a living wine laboratory where he makes small-lot Cabernet Sauvignon and every aspect of winemaking is done by hand, all in the quest of finding what he calls “the ultimate Cabernet.”

Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($23) took the Silver Medal in this year’s Critics Challenge International Wine Competition, and I can see why. It’s a beautifully crafted, seamlessly blended Cabernet that packs a lot of punch for under $25. On the nose, you’ll detect black fruits and a hint of cedar, while on the tongue, there’s lots of mocha, tobacco and ripe plum nuances. Delicious.

Martini’s more economical 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet ($16) shows robust cherry and blackberry fruits, along with a hint of sage, chocolate and vanilla. It’s an easy-drinking Cab that goes great with herb-roasted chicken.

Sips: Monsoon Thai Bistro has unexpectedly closed, leaving a big hole where one of Utah’s finest wine lists used to be. Let’s hope that Keith Chan’s fine wine collection turns up elsewhere soon.

On Oct. 4, Roosters Brewing Company teams up with Beehive Cheese Company for the third annual “Bird and Bees” event to benefit Utah’s first Ronald McDonald House Family Room, at the Ogden Regional Medical Center. Guests can sample micro-brewed beers and sodas from Roosters’ brewmaster Steve Kirkland, along with culinary treats from chef/owner Pete Buttschardt and hand-crafted cheeses from Beehive’s cheesemaker Tim Welsh. For more information and tickets call 476-0900 or click on BeehiveCheese.com/birdsandbees3.htm.

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