I will have to admit that I have nothing but fond memories of The Olive Garden. WAAY back when the Winey Son was a infant, a group of us new moms would gather there once a week or so to indulge in the - you guessed it - endless soup, salad and bread sticks (oh man, those bread sticks - try losing the baby weight with an unlimited supply once a week!!). And not one Olive Garden worker even blinked an eye when they realized that the 6 or so moms eating at the big round table each had an infant in a carrier next to their chair. Brave, noble people.
Fast forward 20 or so years, and it's been a long time since I've been to an Olive Garden. This was mostly due to the fact that 1) there was always such a long wait and we had small children and 2) after moving into a larger home, there wasn't one that close to us (call it the boonies if you will, but the Winey Hubby really really wanted a riding lawn mower).
So let me start by admitting that I've always been a little hazy when it comes to Italian wine. All those regions on the label, all those grapes I'd never heard of, much less could pronounce. And let's face it, one bad Chianti can scare you for a long, long time. (That's another story though.) Jennifer broke it down for me a bit though, by teaching me that all three of these new wine's varietals come from Northern Italy. Think Alps, not Roman ruins. So you've got the Italian influence, but also some influence from the soil of Northern Italy's neighbors, Austria and Germany.
Let's talk red first. Porta Vita Rosso (11.5%,2011, Northern Italy) is a blend of only in Italy Schiava and Teroldego grapes, with a little Merlot thrown into the mix as well. It has a nose of garden spices like thyme and sage along with some red cherry. The taste is of cherry and darker red berries and the finish is very quick and rather fruity. My first thought on tasting it was that this would be a great starter red. It's got that fruit base to it, very little tannin and would be a good way for someone who is intimidated by a puckery, big red to start off reds. It did pair wonderfully with some Italian cheese (Grada Padano). Jennifer said that she'd love with a plate of big cheesy lasagna, and I agree with her there. You could also sip this wine on its own. And while it's a good wine, I like my reds a little heartier. I don't mind the fruit flavor, I just like it to be a little more tempered than it was. For the record, two of my Winey girlfriends also agreed on this. While we liked it, we were all probably a bit further down the red wine road than the Rosso was.
They'll also be serving a Porta Vita Rosato (10%, 2011, Northern Italy). Do not let the pink color of this blush wine freak you out! The nose is faintly sweet, maybe a touch of flower and peach. But the taste is absolutely not the syrupy taste many of us have come to expect from a blush wine. I did taste some peach and some flowers...but there was a tart balance to this wine that made me want another sip .... and another (please note that my first taste of this was the middle of the day, and in an effort to keep the Winey Mom upright, I stopped after a few more sips). I took some of this to a Homecoming 2012 recovery session (think Moms at the table after serving 15+ high school juniors dinner before the dance) to share and all of us agreed that this was a very yummy wine. It would go wonderfully with a spicier Italian dish and as you can tell, it is wonderful to sip on its own, as you recover from the trauma of getting your offspring primped, dressed and fed and off to the big dance. The base of this wine is a grape called Enantio Rosato. I'm told these grapes only grow on ankle-twisting hills in Northern Italy, and am perfectly willing to believe this without actually twisting my own ankles. (There is also a little Moscato blended in.)
The last Porta Vita wine is their Bianco (11.5%, 2011, Northern Italy). It has an aroma of fresh, zesty citrus along with some apricot and peaches. This is a smooth wine, blending the lime and the stone fruit flavors wonderfully in your mouth. There's also a lovely mineral taste to it, which I'm told is courtesy of the mountain regions in Northern Italy. The grapes used in this wine are Müller Thurgau (no, I'd never heard of it either) and some unoaked Italian Chardonnay (I am about to start driving the unoaked Chard bandwagon, by the way). This would pair so very well with the creamier Italian dishes. Jennifer brought up the idea of pairing it with lobster cannelloni and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that dish since. Thanks, Jennifer.) It was my absolute favorite of the three...just a lovely, supple white wine.
The idea behind these signature wines was to give the public some fruit forward, aromatic wines. (Seems that we as a Winey American Public really like that in a wine these days.) And while I was a teeny bit disappointed with the Rosso, I'd have to say that the Rosato and the Bianco hit the mark very nicely. I think they'll surprise you with their great taste. Just watch out for those bread sticks. They are addictive.
Olive Garden provided me with an exclusive preview of its new Porta Vita Signature Wines for the purposes of providing feedback and learning more about the new wines. All thoughts and opinions are my own.