The stars at night, are big and bright... as is the future of Texas wine. A brief drive west of Austin and you will find yourself deep in the heart of some innovative, passionate winemaking. With each year, comes new challenges and new growth. As our libraries grow in volume, so does the opportunity to find out more about ageability. These wines can age. The varieties that seem to be shining are Mediterranean and Rhône in origin: Mourvedre, Tempranillo, and Tannat. White stand-outs include Roussanne, Vermentino, Viognier, and Blanc du Bois. Rosé is gaining ground, not only for the quality of production, but because of its versatile appeal in our warm climate. A few years ago, I attended the Wine bloggers Conference and brought along a few Texas wines. Very few of the people I spoke with had ever had the opportunity to sample one. Most of the highest quality producers are still small, thus the lack of distribution. And yet, the word is getting out. High scores at competitions help; visiting writers are coming away believers. While many of the grapes are grown in the High Plains of Texas, some are estate grown or in nearby vineyards. Many of the High Plains producers can be found in Hill Country tasting rooms. Planning a trip to find out for yourself? Spring offers not only ideal temperatures but wildflower displays that will be sure to leave a lasting impression.
Mentioning you are from Texas evokes visions of cowboy hats, boots, steers and the inevitable “who shot JR reference.” For several years, even though I lived in Dallas and wrote under the name Dallas Wine Chick, I felt the Texas wine community had not yet evolved to command the prices and scores that were happening in other parts of the United States. Part of that was because often wineries were promoting varietals that were popular, but didn’t necessarily grow well in Texas. Today, Texas has eight AVAs, 350 wines, is American’s top five wine producer and the number seven grape producer and there is a new “don’t mess with Texas wines mantra” as wineries are rising to the occasion on realizing the grapes that grow best here and producing award-winning wines sourced from Texas appellation vineyards. I recently opened a bottle of 2011 Calais Cuvee Principale Reserve that I had in my cellar and it was fantastic. Owner and Winemaker Benjamin Calais is a friend of mine and combines his French heritage (born in Calais, France) with his passion for producing Rhone-style wines with 100 percent Texas grapes, makes a lovely Roussanne with notes of apple, tea leaves, almond and a very creamy finish.
Dallas Wine Chick
There are so many terrific wines being produced in states other than California. But if I'm going to talk about an unknown state that I think can use a bit of publicity, I have to pick New Mexico. It may seem odd to think about New Mexico producing high quality wines, but let me throw something even more unbelievable at you: they produce high quality sparkling wine! Yes, sparkling wines that are fresh, with lots of acidity, while giving delicious fruit flavors with an underlining sense of place. Gruet Winery is the one producer that is easily found in various retail stores around the US, and have not only won acclaim from top critics, they are one of my favorite producers making sparkling wine selling under $20 (I especially love their Rosé). The Gruet family, who has had a Champagne house (Gruet et Fils) since the 1950s, were impressed by the winemakers and their vineyards when they came to New Mexico in the 1980s while traveling through the southwestern part of the US. Their vineyards range from 4200 to 5100 feet in altitude and so the temperatures are moderated enough to be conducive for growing high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. New Mexico has been growing grapes for more than 400 years since the Spanish Colonists planted mission grapes for the traveling Monks who needed wine for their daily mass. Today, New Mexico has three main viticultural areas, Mesilla Valley, Middle Rio Grande and Mimbres Valley with such grapes as Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Malvasia doing well in their warm climate. But the Gruet family has shown that the diversity of New Mexico’s landscape can go beyond these varieties, and so, it makes one think that perhaps the potential of this wine making state is not yet completely discovered.
In 2014, I earned my wine certification through phillywine.com, which required me to travel to Philadelphia to sit for the exam. During my trip, one of my classmates convinced me that I need to try Pennsylvania wines, specifically three producers in Chester County, Pennsylvania: Galer Estate, Penns Woods Winery, and Va La Vineyards. Since discovering these three gems, I visit Chester County annually. Galer Estate, owned by vintners Dr. Brad Galer and his wife, renowned local artist, Lele Galer, showcases wines from their estate (home) vineyard and Red Lion Vineyard in Kennett Square, as well as vineyards within a 30-mile radius. Especially notable are winemaker Virginia Mitchell’s fruit-forward whites and rosé such as the Estate Albariño, Red Lion chardonnays, Huntress Vidal Blanc, pinot gris, and rosé of pinot noir. Their red wines, including the Estate Cabernet Franc, Huntress Red Blend, and Reserve Red Blend are also annual sellouts. Penns Woods Winery, founded by importer and winemaker Gino Razzi in 2004 with his acquisition of the former Smithbridge Winery in Chadds Ford, produced its first wine in 2005, a red blend called Ameritage. Penns Woods crafts a wide range of lovely wines for all palates, including cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chambourcin, chardonnay, grüner veltliner, merlot, moscato, pinot grigio, riesling, traminette, viognier, a recioto-style wine called Lacrima Dolce, as well as the endearing Ameritage. Va La Vineyards is the dream of winemaker and vintner Anthony Vietri and his family. Instead of taking the easier path and making wine in California where the climate is more favorable, Vietri decided to return home to his family’s farm in Avondale, now 6.73 acres planted to vine, which he lovingly calls “the little vineyard.” Naysayers advised Vietri that “nothing good can come of mushroom soil,” but he proved them wrong. Today he makes captivating, Italian-style blends, including a white, La Prima Donna, a rosé called Silk, and two reds named Mahogany and Cedar. Occasionally, he will make other wines dictated by what the vineyard offers, such as Barbera, Castana, and Zafferano.
Traveling Wine Chick
Beyond California (and Washington and Oregon) Virginia is one of the largest and most recognized American wine regions. Not only is Virginia rich with American history, the Commonwealth also has a long history with the grape — from Act 12 of 1619 that required colonists to plant and tend at least ten grapevines to Thomas Jefferson’s well-documented failed attempts with grape growing at Monticello. The modern-day Virginia wine industry started in the mid-1970s when Italian wine producer Gianni Zonin purchased a historic property north of Charlottesville, VA, and founded Barboursville Vineyards. Today, Virginia is home to seven AVAs, over 275 wineries and 330 vineyards with nearly 4,000 acres under vine. The local wine industry contributes $1.37 billion to Virginia’s economy and over 8,000 jobs. Virginia boasts a diverse viticultural scene with over 60 grape varieties now being cultivated for wine including well-known vinifera and lesser-known varieties. Cabernet Franc, Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc, Nebbiolo, Viognier, and Petit Verdot are thriving in vineyards across the state. Grapes like Petit Verdot that are relegated to minor blending status in more notable regions are playing major roles in the Virginia wine industry. There are 261 acres planted to Petit Verdot throughout the state. About 60 wineries currently offer a Petit Verdot. Look to Ingleside Vineyards, Linden Vineyards, Veritas Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, and Michael Shaps Wineworks for some of Virginia’s top varietal Petit Verdot.
Drink What YOU Like
Many people I come across are often surprised to learn that all 50 states produce wine. My introduction to the wonderful world of wine started in Virginia. And there are some really fine wines being grown here. Soon after my discovery of Virginia wines, I was trying Riesling from New York; Cabernet Franc from North Carolina; and Viognier from Texas. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough and curious enough to seek out and try wines from over 30 states. When family members moved to Colorado, I used it as an opportunity to become familiar with the wines of the “Centennial State” whenever I would visit. Then, as a member of Drink Local Wine, an organization whose sole focus was to highlight and give voice to wines from lesser-known U.S. wine regions, I had an opportunity to become more familiar with the wines of Colorado during our annual conference. I visited the Western Slope, a region approximately four hours west of Denver. This is where most of the state's wine grapes are grown. Both the Grand Valley AVA and the West Elks AVA are along the Western Slope and have a climate conducive to European grape varieties. The Western Slope has some of the highest vineyards in North America and its low humidity results in low disease pressures. The biggest vineyard challenge Colorado faces is frost, which can be a threat as late as May. For starters, I invite you to check out the crisp, pure, and refreshingly delicious white wines at Stone Cottage Cellars in the West Elks appellation. Their Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer are must-haves this warm weather season. In Evergreen, a charming mountain town that’s approximately 30 minutes outside of Denver, Creekside Cellars serves up a very nice Viognier and a robust Cabernet Franc; both grown at their vineyard in Palisades, Colorado. Last but not least, put Turquois Mesa Winery Syrah on your radar. Sourced from the Grand Valley AVA and aged in American (Minnesota) oak barrels, this is an interesting wine with a spicy character that’s chock full of dark berry fruit, tart cherries, herbal spice and bramble. Colorado has altitude, attitude, amazing scenery, great local food, and wines worthy of your attention.
I’ll admit it, I’m in love. For more than 20 years I’ve had a mad crush on California; thankfully I think she likes me too. The weather is mostly wonderful, I’ve forged numerous friendships, and oh they have a bounty of wine. The thing is I cut my wine teeth on California and it took me awhile to consider other wine producing places. When I started exploring the wider world of wine in the mid 90’s, it was different countries. However the last few years I’ve finally been exploring what other states have going on too, with far more attention than I had prior. Partially due to proximity, but mostly as a result of the range of wonderful wines from a myriad of producers I’ve sampled, I’m impressed with what New York State has going on. There are four significant growing regions in New York. One of them is Long Island and I just sampled a wine from the Northfork that I feel really strongly about. Macari 2015 Lifeforce Sauvignon Blanc ($28):
Like many Sauvignon Blanc’s that excite my palate, Lifeforce was fermented in a Concrete Egg. Peach and lemon ice aromas leap from the nose. The rich palate exhibits lemon curd, hints of sage, and a bevy of peach and apricot. The memorably long finish is mellifluous, gorgeously layered, and appointed with continued fruit and wisps of white pepper. What impresses most is the texture and mouth-feel of this Sauvignon Blanc. It’s layered and rich with a gravitas that begs you back to the glass for sip after sip. If you need proof that exciting things are happening in New York State, try Lifeforce it’s world class Sauvignon Blanc.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of Oregon’s great AVA’s (established in 1984) and it alone has six sub-appellations which offer tremendous wine from terrain and terroir that could be compared to France and Italy. Coincidentally, all three locations have tremendous wine regions that reside on the same parallel, 45° North latitude. Kevin Zraly calls Oregon “The Burgundy of the United States”. Over 1,000 wineries reside in Oregon with over 28,000 acres of grapes, predominantly Pinot Noir (more than half) followed by Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Along with the massive popularity in Oregonian wine has followed enotourism, which contributes over $200 million annually to the Oregon economy. If the Willamette Valley isn’t considered famous, it’s only by those with only believe in centuries-old vineyards, as the wines of the Oregon AVAs speak clearly for themselves in quality and complexity.
Jim van Bergen
A couple of years ago my wife, who had never been, and me visited to the Grand Canyon for her birthday. Aside from the sheer breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon, one of the highlights of the trip for us was Arizona wines. Winemaking in Arizona dates back to the 16th century when missionary Spanish Jesuit priests planted grapevines and made sacramental wine. The modern wine industry in Arizona was set in motion in the 1980’s. There are three major regions of vineyards and wineries in Arizona – Verde Valley, Sonoita and Wilcox (the latter two are also AVAs). Most of the vineyards are in the southeastern portion of the state. There, despite being surrounded by dessert on all sides, you’ll find areas in the altitude band between 3,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level where high sunshine levels are tempered by cooler temperatures and pronounced diurnal temperature variations that are well suited to grape growing. In these areas, exemplified by the Sonoita AVA, producers are crafting quality wines from Italian, Spanish and Rhone grape varieties. There now are over 100 wineries, vineyards and cellars throughout Arizona, including urban wineries in Phoenix and Tucson. We tasted at quite a few wineries. Our favorite was Caduceus, located in the quaint, artsy town of Jerome. Caduceus was founded in 2004 by Maynard James Keenan, front man of US rock band Tool. Caduceus produces a diverse range of red, white and rosé wines. Our favorites were his red and rosé field blends made from Italian grape varieties, and Kitsuné, a 100% Sangiovese made in the Brunello style. But there were many others we enjoyed too. While the Arizona wine industry as a whole is in its infancy, it has shown much promise. As its wine industry matures, I expect great things from Arizona wine.
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
Wine in Arizona? You bet, and some of it is darn good. I discovered the growing Arizona wine scene in 2010 when I had dinner at FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale which features Arizona wines on their wine list. At the time I had no idea wine was being made in Arizona, but I tasted several that night which made me curious enough to begin exploring Arizona wineries during subsequent trips to the Grand Canyon State. Willcox AVA is Arizona’s newest appellation, just officially designated in October 2016, and only the second in Arizona. This scenic region is located in the southeast corner of Arizona, about a hour’s drive east of Tucson on Interstate 10. The 526,000-acre AVA includes a relatively flat, closed basin at an elevation of 4100 feet (and above) that is surrounded by mountains. Cold air from the mountains descends into the basin at night bringing a significant diurnal temperature change. The region is arid, but monsoon thunderstorms can bring heavy rain between mid-July and mid-September. Soils are predominately loams and the first vineyards were planted in the area in the 1980s. For years winegrapes grown in Willcox have been used by winemakers in the Sonoita AVA, Arizona’s first appellation and next-door neighbor to Willcox, and in the Verde Valley 100 miles north of Phoenix. Willcox AVA is home to 21 commercial vineyards and 18 wineries. You will find many Rhône, Italian, Spanish and even a few Bordeaux varieties made as varietal wines and blends. Both can be compelling. Look for wines from Sand Reckoner, Pillsbury Wine Company, Carlson Creek Winery, Aridus Wine Company, Flying Leap Vineyards and Lawrence Dunham Vineyards. If you visit the area, by all means, spend time in the charming railroad town of Willcox.
Pull That Cork
Looking for a wine adventure? Try Wines from Idaho. The Snake River Valley AVA is one distinguished by high elevation, natural coolness and interesting soil types. On a trip to Boise (BOI-see), I visited Bodovino a great wine bar and was able to try several Idaho wines. My favorite producer is Split Rail. Their 2016 Split Rail Gerfuffled Pétillant Natural is a wine that is naturally sparkling, as it is bottled during fermentation. The bubbles come in as the wine finishes its fermentation in the crown capped bottle. Not starting with a finished wine makes the process unpredictable and surprising. The Split Rail folks blend Gerwürtztraminer and Riesling from the Snake RiverValley. This Pétillant Natural, or Pét Nat for short, leaps out of the bottle. Literally. The winemaker includes a warning with each shipment to Open Carefully with a vessel standing by to catch the spewing wine. Gerfuffled Pét- Nat is redolent with tropical aromas and laced with elderflower, tangerine, yellow guava and a subtle yeastiness. Looking more like pear nectar than champagne, its densely golden cloudiness holds refreshing acidity, interesting texture and lush flavors with a long elderflower finish. Giggles in a bottle. Although the edgy Biker Chick Bunny on the label looks as ready to shank you, as offer you a ride. She may aim closer to infamy than fame, but this fun Idaho wine delivers on the allure of off the beaten track.