Independence Day is a good opportunity to explore some of the great wines this country produces. From California, which alone is responsible for about 85% of the nation’s production, to minor players such as Montana, Alabama and Louisiana, wine is made in all 50 states -- including the Sunshine State.
Viticulture in American soils dates back to the 1500’s, but it was not until the late 1620’s that winemaking started to develop in a more organized and consistent way. At that time, Spanish priests in New Mexico started to produce sacramental wine in the upper Rio Grande Valley using the Mission grape (an old Spanish variety), and they were followed years later by Catholic missionaries in California.
Events such as the spread of phylloxera, an insect that devastated grapevines globally, the enactment of Prohibition, and the Great Depression had a tremendous negative impact on the US wine industry. Nonetheless, the country overcame those challenges and today ranks number four in worldwide wine production, and number one in wine consumption.
American wines are recognized and respected everywhere, not only due to the efforts of industry pioneers such as Agoston Haraszthy, Charles Krug and Robert Mondavi, but also as a consequence of the Judgement of Paris, a competition that took place in 1976 in which wines from California, Bordeaux and Burgundy were tasted “blind” and judged by experts. Californian wines got first place in both white and red categories. This outcome helped put the Napa Valley and the local wine industry on the wine map, resulting in both prestige and an expansion of American wine production.
Although known for producing wines that are relatively high in alcohol, and lush and fruity in style, the US also crafts wines that are more “old world style” – meaning, wines that reflect more the terroir (the environmental characteristics of the vineyard) and less the techniques applied in the winery.
There are, in fact, pretty much all categories and styles of wine in the US - from still to sparkling, from bone dry to super sweet, from highly mineral to very oaky, from light-colored whites to deep-colored reds. Even orange wine is produced! There are wines for every palate. You just need to find yours!
Our suggestions for the 4th of July:
Zinfandel. The flagship variety of California (known as Primitivo in Italy, and as Tribidrag in Croatia) makes lush, fruit forward wines with aromas and flavors of blackberry, strawberry, cinnamon, tobacco, mocha, and smoky spice notes. It pairs magnificently with barbecue!
Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The signature wine of this world-known AVA (American Viticultural Area) is known for its rich flavors and high tannin content. Look for aromas and flavors of black cherry, black currant, cedar, graphite, baking spices. Good pairing for grilled meats, peppery sauces, and dishes with intense flavors.
Pinot Noir from Oregon. This elegant grape is native to Burgundy, France, but it found great growing conditions in the northern Pacific coast of the US, where it makes world-class wines that are nuanced and subtle in style, with aromas of cranberries, earth, mushrooms. Combine it with salmon, roasted chicken, or a light-sauce pasta.
Chardonnay from Russian River Valley. The famous AVA in Sonoma is home to outstanding Chardonnays (and also Pinot Noirs) and offers wines that range from lean to lush, from oaked to unoaked. Chardonnay is a food friendly variety and pairs well with many types of cheese (try a Brie or Camembert for 100% chance of success!).
Rosé from Long Island. The region produces delicious rosés (and reds) made of Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are also great whites (try Riesling or Gewürztraminer) and top-quality sparkling wines made by the traditional method.
Cheers and enjoy the holiday weekend!