When California vintners began to seriously cultivate the red wine grapes of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.) to compete on even footing with the French, it created both a successful business model, plus expectations among connoisseurs and collectors. The ante was then raised with the American “victory” in the Judgment of Paris.
The effect was almost a oenophilic duplicate of the American Revolution: the strident intent of the Declaration of Independence; and the closure (and location) of the Treaty of Paris. All was combined in a relatively peaceful swirl-sniff-and-sip – no bayonets, no musket fire. And delightfully, all to the chagrin of wine’s most obstinate Loyalists.
This accomplishment should not be diminished, especially with America’s 235th birthday celebration in the offing. Amazingly, the triumph occurred, albeit coincidentally, during the nation’s bicentennial, and on foreign terroi…. er, soil.
But one result was that California/Napa Valley Cabernet, and other Bordeaux blends and meritage wines now have a tough reputation to uphold. So, the better offerings end up being priced in a similar range as their illustrious French counterparts. And, at the truly inexpensive end of the spectrum, many California Cabs and Merlots can be insipid. These dullards are sourced from bulk grapes – not unlike the way watery beer gushes from behemoth breweries that compromise hops and barley.
“[We have proven that] we can make the greatest wines in the world,” says Italian Village Wine Director Michael Taylor. “What we didn’t do much of (and what many European countries have been doing for centuries) is cultivating grape varietals for wines that can be enjoyed on an everyday basis.”
Taylor’s hunch is that the recession might encourage American producers to set aside some land for lesser-known grapes to make exciting, interesting wines. California Zinfandel actually has an American legacy dating back to the Gold Rush, but it’s obscured by an obsession with greatness.
“What I’d like to see is some Cinsault or Grenache [cultivated] in American soil,” Taylor adds.
So, with the Fourth of July approaching, many American wine drinkers might feel a certain patriotic urge to purchase and enjoy wines that are indigenous to the homeland – our domestic terroir. Below are a few value-priced options that aren’t from bulk juice, aren’t trying to masquerade as challengers to Château Petrus, and arereflecting American innovation.
Windmill Estates Old Vine Zinfandel 2009: A delicious Zin from Lodi, California, it’s not overly jammy; good body and structure. Smooth, with black cherry and plum on the palate. All of the great American barbecue favorites would go with it, especially barbecued chicken and pork chops, and Sheboygan bratwurst, too. $12 at Binny’s.
Hinman Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir 2009: Perhaps there’s nothing all that revolutionary about a Pinot Noir from Oregon. But this wine’s value pricing would have impressed even the most parsimonious Boston patriot – while modern drinkers would swear this light-to-medium-bodied Pinot is from tiny cult plots, or even Burgundy. Has a smooth flavor of cherry and raspberry, with soft tannins and a long finish. Serve slightly chilled (about 20 minutes in the refrigerator). $14.
Alexander Valley Vineyards Rosé of Sangiovese: One truth that is self-evident: Sangiovese can thrive outside of Tuscany. Its use here precludes Rosé’s tendency to overemphasize strawberry flavors. Instead, the aroma is of fresh cherry pie, and flavors tend toward melon and tangy stone fruit. To eat? Burgers: Turkey; lamb; beef; veggie. But be careful. It’s easy to drain the bottle before the meal is ready! $11.
Note: Be sure to check out my column in the Examiner, too.