This article originally appeared at Chris McGurn's blog Beltway Bacchus
The DC International Wine and Food Festival lived up to its name. There were wineries from all over the world – not just California, France and Italy. In fact, the representation of those three wine powerhouses was pretty scarce. Perhaps a better name for the Festival would have been the “DC Emerging Wine Regions Festival.” The large contingent of wine from New World regions such as South Africa, New Zealand, Spain and the Finger Lakes far surpassed the representation from more well-known wine-producing areas.
Even Virginia had a pretty good showing with about half a dozen wineries on-site. The Washington Wine Academy was also on-hand pouring local wine – and had good crowds throughout the day. I was impressed that there was such a big showing by Virginia wineries, given that the DC festival was held on the same weekend as the Virginia Wine Showcase.
There was a large turnout, making it difficult to get samples and tastings from some vendors, but that isn’t unusual. Regardless, there was enough to do and see that it was not a major issue except with a few vendors. And seriously, if you are giving out samples of foie gras, there is going to be a wait. Like most festivals of its ilk, there were cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs, food and wine vendors and myriad other businesses attracted by the demographics of the attendees.
South Africa had the largest presence of any wine region that I saw, with Spain being a close second. I am glad they did, as I am not all that familiar with South African wines and was glad to have the opportunity to try a number of styles of South African wine. Aside from more traditional varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa offered attendees samples of alternative varietals that they do very well: Pinotage (red) and Chenin Blanc (white). I tried both, which were both quite good. The Pinotage had a deep red color with a light-to-medium body and a lot of smoke, oak and blackberries on the nose and finish. The Chenin Blanc had a lot of vanilla and banana throughout.
Spain also had a big presence, too, but there was too much of a cluster for me to spend too much time tasting their wines.
The Finger Lakes also had a large turnout. From the wines on hand, as well as the marketing material about the region, it’s easy to figure out what the Finger Lakes does well: Riesling. Every winery was pouring at least two different styles of Riesling, and the literature quoted the rave reviews that Finger Lakes Riesling has received. Riesling is being embraced as the grape of the region. Sweet, dry, and semi-dry styles were all well-represented at the festival. Many of them were done very well. If you’re not a fan of Riesling, there were several Finger Lakes Pinot Noirs and Gewürztraminers available too - but they were supporting characters to Riesling. Chambourcin also has a lot of potential in the Finger Lakes. I have tried several very good ones, and have been impressed with the versatility and complexity of Finger Lakes Chambourcin.
There was, in fact, so much talk and literature about Finger Lakes Riesling that the region could run the risk of becoming a one-trick pony. The region should embrace what it does well, but it does wines other than Riesling well, too. I wrote about some producers making fantastic reds a while back, but the marketing collateral that the region is using so emphasized Riesling that it might make it difficult for other wines to get the respect and attention that they deserve. Still, Oregon's wine industry certainly hasn't suffered from emphasizing its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
It is interesting to contrast the strategy of the Finger Lakes to that of Virginia. They are both emerging wine regions that are gaining more and more recognition within the industry. But where the Finger Lakes is leaning on one grape varietal hard, the Virginia wine industry emphasizes its history, diversity and innovation. Even though Cabernet Franc and Viognier grow well in Virginia, neither varietal has been highlighted to the extent that Riesling has been by the Finger Lakes industry. It will be interesting to see which strategy is more successful in the long run. I hope that both regions continue to develop and produce great wine that is reflective of their respective climate and geography.
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