Category:Regional wine

Beard award semifinalists: One more victory for regional wine

local wineFour of the seven wineries on the 2019 Beard award semifinalist list are part of drink local

Four of the seven wineries that are semifinalists for this year’s James Beard Awards for best wine, beer, or spirits producer are regional. What does that say about how far we’ve come with drink local?

The four wineries are among the 20 semifinalists for the top booze honor in this year’s food and wine version of the Academy Awards. The regional honorees are McPherson Cellars in Texas, RdV in Virginia, Red Tail Ridge in N.Y., and La Garagista in Vermont. All four are terrific wineries that do credit not just to regional wine, but to winemaking in the U.S.

It’s also worth noting that the two California wineries among the semifinalists are Winestream Media favorites – the self-named wineries from Cathy Corison and Steve Matthiasson in the Napa Valley. That wineries from Lubbock, Texas, and Bethel, Vt., are on the same list with Corison and Matthiasson would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

Best yet, they don’t make the same kinds of wines that the two Napa wineries make, or the other honoree, Red Willow in Washington state. Their wines speak to the terroir of each producer – something else that makes regional wine so exciting. Just as Italian wine shouldn’t taste like French wine, U.S. regional wine shouldn’t taste like it comes from California.

It’s safe to recommend almost any wine from these four, with the caveat that availability will be spotty if you don’t live in that state.

Consider these wines:

The McPherson Tre Colore (about $10) is a red blend using the Rhone varietals Texas has figured out. Yes, the rose is terrific, as is the rousanne, but the Tre Colore is the ultimate weeknight wine – well-made, a tremendous value, and just fruity enough (dark berries) without being annoying. I’ve known Kim McPherson a long time, and it’s a pleasure to write this post about the winery.

The RdV Rendezvous (about $85) is a Bordeaux red blend that shows the great progress Virginia has made over the past 20 years. It’s complex, dark (black fruit), interesting, and layered. If a regional wine is worth as much as a great wine from France, Italy, or California, it might be the Rendezvous.

• New York state is best known for its rieslings, but the Red Tail Ridge blaufrankisch (about $26) makes a case for red wine. Blaufrankisch is an Austrian grape, so it can handle the unpredictable Finger Lakes winters. I drank this wine, earthy and herbal, with my Drink Local co-founder Dave McIntyre; the restaurant’s wine list was infinitely more interesting than the food.

Winemaker Deirdre Heekin at La Garagista uses hybrid grapes, and that alone would have kept her off this list for most of the past 75 years. That means grapes like la crescent and brianna, bred to withstand a Vermont winter and very difficult to make quality wine with.

Finally, congratulations to Jennifer Uygur, who owns Lucia in Dallas with chef-husband David. David is a Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest. Even if he doesn’t win, they will have the satisfaction of knowing Lucia is one of the best restaurants in the country.

Michigan wine 2019

michigan wine 2019Michigan wine 2019: Another regional wine state that offers quality – and even value

One of Drink Local Wine’s great regrets was that we were never able to do Michigan wine. The state had some of the best regional wine in the country, and its efforts have only improved since then.

I know this because I was lucky enough to get Michigan wine samples last fall, and the quality was consistent and impressive. Wine is made throughout the state, but the best known region is along the northwestern Lake Michigan shore, centered around Traverse City. That means weather is a challenge every year, and cold, snow, and ice have wreaked havoc with any number of vintages. Riesling is its trademark grape, but some cold climate reds are also outstanding.

The following wines were the best I tasted – all were samples. Availability may be limited in other parts of the country.

Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Resling 2017 ($14, 12%): One of regional wine’s biggest challenges is producing affordable products, but this long-time Michigan producer has done just that. It’s a little tight, but reflects Michigan’s style and terror — almost stone fruit instead of citrus; a crisp, steely finish; and an appealing and pleasing riesling softness. Highly recommended.

Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017 ($26, 13%): This red is a trifle pricey, but impeccably made and just as delicious. Again, a terroir-driven wine that is less fruity (tart cherry, perhaps?) and more noticeably spicy than a Beaujolais from France, which is also made with gamay. This vintage is sold out, but if the 2018 is anything close to the 2017, it’s a must buy.

2 Lads Cabernet Franc 2016 ($35, 13.5%): This is an intriguing approach to cabernet franc, a red grape that does well in many regional states and is best known as the red from the Loire in France. It doesn’t have the pencil lead that marks some Loire wines, and it’s not as fruity as a west coast label. Instead, it features blackberry fruit and baking spice, plus an almost zesty mouth feel. It’s well made and top quality, but the price is a problem.

Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio 2016 ($27, 13.5%): Excellent example of what Michigan can do with a red blend. It’s brisk and spicy with well-developed berry fruit. There’s an appealingly lean structure, save for a bit of ashy heaviness on the back and a touch too much oak.

Hawthorne Vineyards Rose 2016 ($12, 13.2%): A dry pink wine that is heavier than I prefer, but still well made and rose-like — dark raspberry and strawberry fruit. And, again, an affordable price.

Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2016 ($19, 8.5%): This white dessert wine is just so close to being the kind that wins double gold medals and best in shows. It’s sweet – think honey and ripe peaches – balanced by an almost fresh orange juice acidity. That’s where it falls just a smidge short, since a little more acidity would balance the sweetness. But it’s still a delicious wine and well worth the price.

Mini-reviews 116: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

New Year's wineReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.

Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%):  Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.

Five things I noticed about Texas wine during an Amarillo road trip

texas wineTexas wine is making inroads in the least likely places

• The shock of seeing a Hampton Inn – yes, a Hampton Inn – with a Texas wine on its Happy Hour list is almost indescribable. I’ve been in chain hotels in some of the biggest cities in the world that didn’t have any local wine. But a Hampton Inn in Amarillo? It’s hardly the garden spot of wine country. But the Bar Z winery is in the area, and someone, somewhere in the chain bureaucracy let the hotel do the right thing. This is just one more example of drink local’s move into the mainstream.

• Even more amazing: Much of this part of Texas has historically been dry, but has embraced the state’s wet trend. Since 2004, almost 80 percent of wet elections have been successful.

• I grew up in Chicago where you can buy any kind of booze at the drugstore; a fifth of Scotch at midnight, anyone? And I’ve spent lots of time in California, where you can buy a bottle of gin in the grocery store at 7 on a Sunday morning. But I will never understand the drive-thru liquor stores so common in so many small towns in rural Texas. I passed a couple of them between Dallas and Amarillo, and there were cars in line in each.

• One is never out of Texas wine country. It’s 350 miles or so between Dallas and Amarillo, and almost all of it is in the middle of nowhere. So what did I pass, about 40 minutes northwest of Denton? Brushy Creek Vineyard. Again, if someone had told me there would be a winery in this part of the state when I started writing about Texas wine, I would have laughed.

• The owners of the legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch want to do the Hampton Inn one better. Owners Bobby and Danny Lee want to expand the Texas wines on their list, since they see the tie-in between Texas wine and Texas food. That’s impressive enough. But they also want to price them so that customers can afford to buy them – $20 or $25 Texas restaurant red wine. Could they be on to something that the rest of the restaurant wine world hasn’t figured out?

Ask the WC 17: Restaurant-only wines, local wine, rose prices

restaurant-only winesThis edition of Ask the WC: Are there wines sold only in restaurants, plus local wine’s success and the cost of rose

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .

Hey Wine Curmudgeon:
What can you tell me about wines sold only in restaurants? I’ve seen restaurant-only wines that I don’t see in any retailers. Why is that?
Dining out

Dear Dining out:
Yes, there are wines sold only in restaurants. No, there isn’t a simple explanation about how this is possible, given the requirements of the three-tier system. There are two kinds of restaurant-only wines — those made exclusively for specific chains (our old pal private label), and those the producer decides to sell just to restaurants. The latter are often more expensive and are usually sold by the glass. The theory is that there will be more demand in restaurants for those kinds of wines than there would be in stores. None of this, of course, explains why restaurant wine prices and markups remain ridiculously high.

WC:
You keep writing that local wine has been a huge success. I don’t see it — I know I can’t buy wine from other states besides California in my local store. What am I missing?
Drink Local

Dear Drink Local:
The very fact that you’re asking this question speaks to local wine’s success. How many people would have know quality wine was made in the other 47 states 10 years ago? That you can’t get anything else speaks to the distribution problems plaguing wine more than the popularity of local wine.

Hey WC:
Someone left a comment the other day about the price of rose, that it was more expensive than $10. I’m seeing the same thing. Where are you finding $10 rose?
Drinking pink

Dear Pink:
The majority of $10 roses I buy are from quality specialty stores and independent retailers. I agree — it’s not easy finding $10 rose in grocery stores, given the phony pricing model that supermarkets use. So, if you can buy from other retailers, do so. Otherwise, you’re buying $1) wine marked up to $18 and then put on sale for $12.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 16: Grocery store wine, Millennials, canned wine
Ask the WC 15: Wine consumption, wine refrigerators, wine tastings
Ask the WC 14: The wine availability edition

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018

colorado governors cup5 things I learned judging Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018 last weekend in Denver

1. The quality of Colorado wine keeps getting better. It’s not so much that the best wines are the equal of wines elsewhere in the country, or even that there are more of the best wines (and both were true). Instead, it’s that there are more professionally made, competent wines – all those in the middle that don’t win big awards but are necessary if you’re going to have a local wine industry.

2. Particularly impressive were red wines made with Italian varietals, something I haven’t seen much of in the decade I’ve been judging in Colorado. We tasted a nebbilio and a teroldego; the latter did better in the competition, but both were terrific wines.

3. Drink Local. I’ve been writing about regional wine for so long – I wrote my first piece in the early 1990s – that it never dawned on me that the second and third generations of drink local didn’t know how the movement started. So I got to tell several of the old war stories to a new audience. And yes, I’m enough a ham that I got a kick out of it.

4. Quality of judges. It keeps getting better, too. Four of the 18 judges were MS or MW, an impressive percentage for a regional competition. That’s a testament to Doug Caskey, who runs the Governor’s Cup. He’s one of the most respected people in regional wine, and I hope his bosses and the Colorado wineries appreciate that.

5. The state of 21st century air travel. The less said about flying in and out of Denver the better. Just know that the two men sitting next to me on the way up, who were in their late 20s or early 30s, were complaining. This means the airline business has alienated customers who aren’t old enough to know about a time when we didn’t have pay to check bags, when seats hadn’t been made smaller to cram more people on the plane, and all of the rest. Which, in a perverse way, is an impressive achievement for the airlines.

More evidence that Drink Local is here to stay

drink localThe Winestream Media continues to say nice things about regional wine and Drink Local

The irony is not lost on those of us who endured the slings and arrows of the Winestream Media a decade ago when we said Drink Local and the idea of regional wine mattered. Today, mainstream wine publications, on- and off-line, are racing to see who can hype local the most.

So allow me a smile. And I promise not to say I told you so too loudly, or to say it too often. Right, Dave?

This summer, it seemed like everyone from the Guild of Sommeliers to a trade magazine run by the people who do the Wine Spectator have waxed poetic about local wine. Plus, I’ve been told that a major wine website, run by a big-name critic, is doing a huge blowout about regional wine this fall. Plus, these:

Vinepair’s screaming headline especially pleased my inner cranky newspaperman: “Your Guide to the Finger Lakes, the Most Exciting Wine Region on the East Coast of America.”

• SevenFiftyDaily, an on-line trade magazine, has discovered Texas wine: “Why Cotton Farms in West Texas are becoming vineyards.”

• The Guild of Sommeliers has run one piece and is doing another, both written by the very knowledgeable Jessica Dupuy (full disclosure: she interviewed me for the second story). They look at “emerging American wine regions.”

• The Los Angeles Times found out that Colorado had wine, which surprised the writer given the state’s reputation for craft beer.

Finally, my favorite regional wine story was in Market Watch, a trade magazine owned by the same company as the Spectator and notorious for its parochial, New York-centered view of the world (which I know because I used to write for it). The story looked at Texas wine; that it did speaks volumes about how far we’ve come in convincing people that Drink Local is a legitimate part of the wine business.