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The New Wine Regions of the U.S.

Vineyards of Long Island, New York

When most of the world (and even citizens of our country) look at the US wine industry we immediately think of three areas as the dominate wine producers:  California, Oregon, and Washington.  With the expansive space and different climates our nation offers though, it is just a matter of time before the ‘Big 3’ become five or even ten.

After reading a recent article about the next up and coming wine regions of the world (click here to read), I was inspired to do a little research on the up and coming wine regions of the good old U.S. of A.  Sure, most of us are aware that New York, New Jersey, and even Virginia make wine.  But Idaho, Texas and Ohio?  And which of these shows the most promise?  Below is some research notes I put together and my votes for the ones to watch out for.

NEW YORK

Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir
Regions: Long Island, Finger Lakes, Hudson River, Lake Erie, Cayuga Lake
History: Some vines were planted as long ago as the 1850’s, however the New York wine revolution in the northern part of the state in the 1950’s with Long Island following in the 70’s.
Evaluation: With fifty some years under their belt, I think New York shows the most promise as the new U.S. wine region. Press from popular wine magazines, like Wine Spectator, has been extremely positive for the most recent vintages.
What I’m Excited About: Red Hook Winery. Based in Brooklyn, New York; Red Hook is a partnership of Abe Schoener (Scholium Project) and Mark Synder (Angel’s Share Distributors).  Under the direction of Robert Foley, the grapes will come exclusively from the North Fork region of Long Island.  They are debuting with a Chardonnay which I tasted the other day.  Very Burgundian in style, with a balanced oak finish.  I guess the really can make everything in NYC.

NEW MEXICO

Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
History: The second oldest wine growing region in the U.S. (Florida is the first!), planting of grapes began in the early 1600’s.  Although traditionally focused on Sparkling, the region is starting to grow in whites and spicy reds.
Evaluation: Close your eyes when you are drinking sparklings from New Mexico and you could swear its a great value Champagne.  The high altitudes of the Rockies provide perfect growing conditions.  Paired with some excellent and focused producers, I think wines in this region will continue to excel.
What I’m Excited About: Gruet. This sparkling producer makes a Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blanc that is fantastic on the palette and wallet.

VIRGINIA/NORTH CAROLINA

Primary Varietals: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
History: Established during the Jefferson area (Jefferson is one of the most famous American wine connoisseurs), Monticello is the heart of this region although it spans the length of most of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Virginia and North Carolina provide some of the arguably most picturesque wineries in America displaying architecture much older and classic than their Western counterparts.
Evaluation: The wines from this region tend to be a little on the sweeter end for my palette, however with the amount of wineries and land the area and winemaking skills continue to develop to produce some premium products.
What I’m Excited About: Cabernet Franc. Some of the better value Cabernet Francs I have had lately have come from the southern Virginia/northern North Carolina areas.  A sucker for 100% Cabernet Franc, I’m still a little price conscious and not willing to spend the amount that the Californians demand – this area offers a great alternative.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Texas
Relatively young (really started in the late 70’s), Texas grows about fifteen varietals most notably Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Cabernet.  I haven’t tasted any Texans wines so I can’t completely comment, however I do feel they have some things to prove.

Michigan
Our neighbors (from Michigan) tell us everyday how good the wine is.  So one day we’ll have to go up for a research trip.  Producing Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, and Gamay (only area I know of in this country) does peak my interest a bit.

Ohio
Some wine regions here date back to 1825.  The climate seems promising, especially in low-lying areas.  The wineries here are also starting to experiment with European vines and hybrid grapes.

HUH?

Idaho

This is the newest I have heard of and some are preaching that this could be the next ‘wine region.’  However with the could winters, I expected sweet, high residual-sugar wines that will be out for some debate.

New Jersey

Ah, good old Jersey.  Since I’m from New Jersey I can say this.  Although the state has potential (it’s close neighbor is currently making good wine – see above), the stuff they are making now is just flat.  Oh and wine made out of cranberries will never be good, even if you’re a few bottles deep.

Picking the Right Champagne for your New Year’s Party

As New Year’s Eve approaches, we are all perplexed as to which bubbly to celebrate with. 

And with that, let’s begin with a quick ‘bubbly’ lesson.  Bubbly or Sparkling wine is technically any wine with bubbles in it, while Champagne (notice the capital C) ONLY refers to sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France.

Enough with the tangent, back to the problem at hand…picking one of these sparklers for the big day next week.  The first question I ever ask anyone who is looking for wine in my store is, ‘how much do you want to spend?’  Some people are thrown off by the question, but it is a perfect jumping off point for selecting any wine.  If you don’t set a spending limit per bottle you could wander around the store and hem and haw all day.  With that said, I’ve compiled a list of sparkling wines that can fit any budget and still impress your host.

PROSECCO

Prosecco is a native grape in the Veneto region of Italy used to make their sparkling wine.  I like to call Prosecco the recession Champagne.  Best bang for your buck by far.  It delivers complexity and can be produced dry, off-dry, or sweet just like Champagne.

Best bets: 
Bortolotti Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut($19):  Although I consider this their best, dryest prosecco, you can’t go wrong with any selection from Bortolotti. 
Soligo Prosecco ($14):  Great surprise, nice dry prosecco paired with the sweetness of crisp pears, sure to be a crowd pleaser!

CAVA

Cava is the Spanish version of sparkling, made throughout the country but mainly Penedes region (just south of Barcelona).  Cava is produced in the traditional manner with second fermentation in the bottle and can include any one of the following grape varietals:   macabeo, parellada, xarel-lo, chardonnay, pinot noir, or subirat.

Best bet: 
Marques de Gelida Brut ($17):  This blend of macabeo and parellada is surprisingly crisp and clean. 

SPARKLING

I use the term sparkling to include any wine that is made in the Champagne style, but is not made in Champagne, France.  For example, producers in South Africa, the United States, Austrailia, and even France (outside of Champagne) have been making wonderful sparkling wines for years.  These wines are usually a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, but can also include other grapes as they are not regulated.  They range from brut (dry) to demi-sec (sweet).

Best bet: 
Graham Beck Demi-Sec ($16): 
Graham Beck is a producer out of South Africa who produces a brut, rose brut, blanc de blanc (100% chardonnay), and demi-sec sparkling.  His demi-sec sparkling is one of the best I’ve had.  With a sweetness at the front of the wine, the progression surprises you with a strong, crisp, and dry finish.

CHAMPAGNE

And for those of you who want to stay traditional for the holidays, check some of these great, but small production champagnes out.

Best bets:
Ayala Brut ($70):  This champagne is strong and dry, with reduced calories.  A zero-dosage champagne (less sugar than the rest of them), this brut also delivers less calories giving it the ‘diet  champagne’ nickname.
Egly-Ouriet Brut Grand Cru ($73):  This 100% pinot noir champagne is a grower champagne, basically meaning that the producer owns the vineyard the grapes come from as well as the production house.  Many large Champagne houses buy their grapes from a negociant and therefore lose a portion of control as to how the grapes are grown.  Grower Champagnes have become a new phenomonen due to their excellent quality and relatively inexpensive price.