Who knew that the bottles of wine, with labels noting Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Idaho and more, would provoke such excitement and thought-provoking conversation?
Appellation America is on a roll. The organization has long been eager to help wine lovers discover the variety of great wines that are being made around the country, and it has been holding a number of small tastings to explore just what is being produced in the U.S.
Most recently, the organization gathered a group from the Napa Valley wine trade to taste a variety of current white wines. The tasters included winemakers, sommeliers, barrel makers and journalists, but they had one thing in common in addition to wine that night: a curiosity about the diversity of American-made wines. Viognier from Virginia, pinot blanc from Michigan, gruner veltliner from Pennsylvania, roussanne from Texas, and riesling from Idaho were just some of the wines forming this collection.
As they tasted each wine, the group discussed any number of things — the climate of the state and its main grapegrowing regions, winemakers, winemaking techniques, and other wines tasted from this state. It was a true journey into the heart of American white wines.
Virginia recently considered making viognier the state’s official white wine. Since other great whites are produced there, it has received resistance, but one thing is for sure: Virginia produces great viognier.
Charlottesville, Va. was the host of last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference and the wineries presented fine viognier after fine viognier, causing much discussion at that event as well. Charlottesville was one of the pioneering wine regions to first plant quality grape vines. Virginia’s Norton grape took home the award of “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World Fair in 1873 and then a Gold in Paris years later.
New York has been getting lots of press in the past few years — the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Long Island in particular. Long Island is a newer region with its first plantings of vitis vinifera grape vines in 1973. Despite its youth, the region is already known for making tasty merlots along with other interesting red varietals, and crisp whites from sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot grigio. The island juts out 118 miles into the Atlantic Ocean between the Long Island Sound and the Great Peconic Bay, and is treated to constant sea breezes. Appellation America sourced a tocai friulano from Long Island for this tasting. While it is not a well-known grape in any region, it definitely showcases the variety of white wines that the region is producing.
The first thing to note about Michigan wine is that its pinot blanc from Chateau Chantal was the favorite of the Appellation America tasting. This wine could compete with top pinot blancs. Of the state’s 14,600 acres of grape vineyards, 2,000 are devoted to wine production. There are nearly 100 wineries in the state to date. Chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir, pinot gris and cabernet franc are the most popular varietals but Michigan also concentrates on interesting hybrids such as chambourcin. There are many quality vineyards next to Lake Michigan in particular.
Idaho has created good buzz in the press lately with their grand food and wine festival called Savor Idaho. The state has 40-plus wineries today, but the region has a long wine-growing history. The first wineries of the Pacific Northwest were in Idaho and there are records of the royal muscadine grape having been planted there in 1864. Today, the Snake River appellation receives accolades in particular for producing fine wines. The winemakers have various pedigrees, including Napa Valley experience at top wineries such as Marcassin, Bryant Family and Acacia.
Pennsylvania has more than 100 wineries producing wine with 14,000 acres of grapes. A good portion of that acreage is for table grapes, but the state is making some great whites: riesling, pinot gris, vidal blanc and seyval blanc. Pennsylvania has the two highest elevation vineyards existing east of the Rockies. Wine sales are still state-controlled, so the wines are sold in state-owned shops, although wineries can sell direct to restaurants and at festivals.
California made an appearance at this tasting with two cooler sub-regions: Carneros and Anderson Valley. The constant wind and fog in Carneros helps keep the acidity in grapes and allows the region to produce crisp white wines. So too with Anderson Valley, which is located an hour and a half from San Francisco. This region lies on a coastal mountain range and its cool winds keep the temperatures down.
When it came to Texas, some of us wondered: Are the wines as big as the atate’s reputation? Not if they don’t want them to be. The roussanne wine tasted by the group was fresh and balanced, a beautifully made wine. The state’s girth provides for diverse microclimates but it is a hotter wine growing area. Roussanne works well here since the grape naturally retains acidity during the growing season. The top five varietals are cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and merlot. Although there are not widespread plantings yet, one of our well-travelled panelists noted that Texas considers it their star white grape.
A taste of American whites:
2010 Viognier, Virginia 13.9 percent
This wine is an oak-forward version with lots of spicy oak aromas and flavors in addition to floral and perfume. While Panelist Phil Burton at Barrel Builders gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the heavy oak, other panelists more enjoyed the rich mouthfeel and intriguing floral aromas of the wine. It was certainly a crowd pleaser at Breaux Vineyards and sold out quickly.
Channing Daughters Winery
2010 Tocai Friulano, Long Island, N.Y.
Panelist Kerry Kirkham enjoyed this wine’s dry brioche, toasted almond, honey and sherry-like qualities, noting the wine had a tantalizing mild brine finish. She called the wine well-crafted and balanced with good acidy. The vineyard for this wine is cooled by Atlantic breezes and the winery enjoys producing wines from interesting and lesser-known varietals in addition to chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other international varietals.
2011 Pinot Blanc, Hawthorn Vineyard
Old Mission Peninsula, Mich. 12 percent
This wine was a big hit at the tasting. Each of the panelists enjoyed its refreshing and delicious aromas and flavors. Panelist Nova Cadamatre particularly noted this wine’s lemon and mineral aromas with guava and melon fruit on the palate in addition to mineral and lemon citrus. The grapes for this wine come from the Hawthorn Vineyard located on Old Mission Peninsula.
Galen Glen Winery
2010 Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner, Lehigh Valley, Pa. 13 percent
Kerry Kirkam, part poet at these tastings, said this wine brings to mind dusk after a hot summer day in wine country—sage, dry grass, rolling hills with a little bread dough. The wine is dry with lots of mineral—a clean and lean wine. This Gruner has received some pretty high accolades from scoring publications as well.
2010 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Anderson Valley, (Sonoma County, 12.5 percent
Barbara Trigg appreciated this wine’s lemon verbena and honeysuckle aromas and flavors, noting the wine also had a nice minerality to it. The winery is family-owned and produces 14,000 cases per year.
2010 Obsession, Symphony, California 12.5 percent
Kirkham was intrigued by this wine’s perfume of Asian pear, white flowers, and resinous oriental qualities. She called the wine a great buy for summer. Low alcohol is especially appreciated for hot weather wines. Symphony is the name of the grape which was created at UC Davis. It is a cross between the aromatic Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache gris.
2011 Roussane, Texas 13.9 percent
Nova Cadamatre called this wine a nice summer wine. There are citrus aromas and the wine is slightly off dry. The roussane for this wine is planted in the Texas High Plains and the owners have been producing wine in Texas for over 40 years. The winery was created in a 1930s era Coca Cola bottling plant, now sleeked-out with modern and efficient winemaking equipment.
Pinnacle Ridge Winery
NV Traminette, Pa.
If ever there was a unique tasting note, this is it, by Kirkham: She described this wine as kissing the powdery cheek of a geisha. It makes perfect sense once she commented on the wine’s elegant perfume of fresh white peach, white flowers and silk. She called the palate equally intoxicating — passion fruit, lychee, white flowers, and dry sake.
2011 Pinot Gris, Estate Grown, Snake River Valley, Idaho 13.5 percent
This wine had a classic Pinot Gris nose—lemon, hay, and clean laundry drying in the sun (A Kirkam-ism). Eureka lemon and minerals on the palate with a licorice root finish.
2011 Riesling, Estate Grown, Snake River Valley, Idaho, 13 percent
This riesling has beautiful white floral aromas with white peach and pear fruit flavors. Panelists really enjoyed this off-dry wine with balancing freshness. Idaho in general, has higher elevation vineyards and long sunshine hours, which are perfect for fine wine growing. The higher elevations help retain the acidity in grapes so fresh whites like this riesling can be produced.
2011 Riesling, Fence Row Block, Napa Valley, Carneros 13.5 percent
This is a beautiful wine with lots of white floral aromas, green apple, pear, and lemon zest. It is an elegant, understated and full of minerality – a definite food wine. Many of the panelists went back to this wine with dinner following the tasting.
Anderson Valley Apple Cider
For fun, Appellation America served an Apple Cider from Anderson Valley at the end of the tasting. This one is dry and refreshing, and panelists just appreciated its fruity goodness.
While we love our local California wines, it is good fun to savor all that American has to offer — and it is producing some very delicious white wines.