Eat, drink, savor: the small production Alicats Winery produces great wines of Italian influence



Master winemaker Alessio Carli’s foray into his deeply personal wines.

Alessio Carli did fine wines for prestigious winemakers on two continents for decades, but always finds the time to produce his own wines as he wishes, under the double label of Alicates Winery, named after his daughters Alessia and Catia, and Carli Winery.

“I don’t have any vines and I buy all my grapes,” he says. “It means I can do things that I really love, in the style that I love.”

Carli made his debut in California in 1998, when he came from Italy, where he had studied at the Istituto Agrario in Siena and worked at the Lorenzo de ‘Medici winery in Chianti. He started at Sam Sebastiani’s Viansa winery in Sonoma, which at the time specialized in fine Italian grape varieties.

“I came to America with my wife Cathy,” Carli said. “I told him if we were to stay in America I had to find a job. She designed my CV, had it printed and we sent it to everyone with no luck. That winter, Sam was at the same printer making labels and talking about how he was looking for a winemaker. The printer gave him my CV and Sam called me in Italy to offer me a job.

While working at Viansa, Carli met Sharon Gimelli, whose brother, winemaker Joseph Gimelli, was starting to plan a new winery: Pietra Santa.

“Sharon came to the winery and liked the wine I was making,” Carli said. “She talked to Joseph, and that’s how I ended up working for him. At first, I was responsible for the construction of the production plan and the management of the vineyard. I worked there as a winemaker for 20 years and I also made my own small wines there until it changed owners.

Christian Pillsbury bought the property in 2017 and renamed the winery Eden rift. Carli found himself unemployed but has no ill will.

“I think it was a good decision for them,” he said. “They needed a fresh start. They wanted to focus more on pinot noir and chardonnay, we were more in the Italian style. And at the same time, I was a consultant for Biltmore Winery in North Carolina, which has the busiest tasting room in the country. We would source our grapes from that area, make the wine and ship it to them. “

Currently head winemaker for Dorcich Family Vineyards in Gilroy, Carli continues to produce his “own little wines”.

When he was at Pietra Santa, Carli only made Syrah, to avoid a conflict of interest. Now that he’s with Dorcich, they give him the freedom to make whatever wine he wants.

“I added Pinot Noir,” he says, “and Sangiovese, which I love because I’m from Siena. I make a pinot grigio, which is a grape from northern Italy, and a vinattiere, which is a super Tuscan style, like me. I think there is room for Italian wines. My little cellar is doing well and I’m doing just enough. I can’t do more because I’m just one person. I make the wine and I sell it, if I overdo it, I have to drink it!

While Carli makes his wines in Dorcich, he does much of the blending and lab work in a small shed at his home, allowing him the luxury of tinkering with his wines until they’re perfect.

“If I don’t like it, I just throw it away,” he said, “I can afford it because I don’t make huge amounts of wine; I can throw in half a ton instead of putting my label on it. But I change my style a lot, working on making the wines that people love the most. My chardonnay is a complete change from the chardonnays I made before and I won best in class at the Chronicle Wine Competition. If you tell me what you want, I can do it.

One remarkable thing about wines is the price, which is considerably lower than comparable wines.
“Some of my friends say, ‘Alessio, your wine is very cheap’ and ‘you should charge more’,” he said. “I tell them ‘I know, but I want to sell the wines.’ I don’t have time to market or make wine club memberships. I want people to enjoy my wines and to be able to have good quality wines that they can afford to have every day.

The wines of Alicats Winery

2018 Carli San Benito County Central Coast Pinot Grigio ($ 14) Made from 100% Pinot Grigio grapes grown in Vista Verde vineyards and fermented in stainless steel vats, Carli only produces 50 cases of this wine per year. It has an inviting aroma with bright and balanced acidity.

“It drinks great in the shade on a hot day with prosciutto and melon,” Carli said. There is something about the wine’s finish that just makes you want to take another sip. It’s an ideal picnic wine that’s as refreshing as it is succulent, with full fruit on the top and tropical flavors at the end.

2018 Santa Clara Carli County Chardonnay ($ 15) I almost feel guilty for criticizing this wine as it is both delicious and totally depleted. Think of it as a scavenger hunt: I spotted a few bottles of the 2019 vintage lying around in local stores and it’s worth looking for. It is a light and delicate Chardonnay with buttery notes that linger but do not overwhelm the palate. The slightly tangy and sweet citrus stand out beautifully with a crunch similar to pinot grigio. A great sipping wine that will go well with sharp cheese as a snack, it will also work well with cream based dishes; maybe pasta with vodka sauce. Carli suggests barbecued octopus. Of the two whites this was my favorite and only the influence of my best angels kept me from picking up the few 2019 bottles I saw in the store.

Sangiovese Carli Cienega Valley 2019 ($ 15) The intense aroma of it is instantly striking – Carli calls it a ‘cherry bomb’. I get cherries, but there are also plum and herbal notes. He produced 130 cases of this wine and it’s an easy wine to love, as sweet as spring water as it fills your mouth with vibrant tropical fruit, a bit of acidity and a perfect finish. It’s about as Italian as it gets, so red sauces will go well. But it would also go well with a charcuterie board before a meal or lunch – I would include salami, pepper jack cheese, artichoke hearts, and dried figs.

Pinot Noir Carli San Benito County 2019 ($ 18) The grapes come from the Gimelli and Pessagno vineyards and Carli produces 100 cases per year. This wine won a silver medal at the Chronicle Wine Competition. The natural fermentation in barrels is facilitated by 15% of whole bunches with stems, which gives the deep ruby ​​red wine green notes to accompany the vanilla and oak. I’m sure this is one of the wines his friends consider dumped – it compares favorably to the Pinots I’ve had at two or three times the price. It has all the fruit and little of the lavishness of the heavier Pinots. We talked about various pairings – it would be nice with garlic dishes and Carli suggested squid.

2017 Carli Santa Clara Valley Vinattiere ($ 18) Carli translates “Vinattiere” by “the person who makes the wine”, and this red blend is my choice among the wines I have tasted here. Carli produced 150 cases of this blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot which he says is inspired by the style of Pietra Santa wines. A double gold medalist at the Chronicle Wine Competition, it exhibits a smooth, lingering oak flavor that adds to the complexity of the wine, with an elegant mouth feel and compelling aroma. For me, it is a table wine that is resistant to heavy foods as well as lighter dishes. Anything grilled will go well, beef bourguignon or pasta with sundried tomatoes would be ideal.

Carli wines can be found at local restaurants including Mangia, Paines, and Jardines, as well as Windmill Market, Nob Hill, Diaz Liquors, and Hollister Super.

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