Mar 31 2009

American Blend: Global Heritage Evident in Domestic Wines

Yesterday, Expedition Wines & Spirits hosted a homegrown American wines tasting at Crofton on Wells, and Don and I attended in search of new Pinot Noirs to bring into the store.

I was impressed to see the variation in acidity, tartness, and finish from California Pinot to Oregonian Pinot. The redder fruit in the cooler climate wines gave them a noticeably brighter hue and notes of cranberry and Bing cherry, while the warmer climate wines had a slightly darker hue and notes of red plum.

I’ve spent so many years eating as much ethnic food as I can get–from wholesome Japanese noodle soups to fiery Indian curries to Ecuadorian Parillada to Vietnamese pastries to the heart-attack inducing Uruguayan chivito–that I sometimes forget the (to quote Sarah Palin) “vast variety” of foods across the United States. I love the fire-engine red tomatoes from my childhood hometown in New Jersey; the sweet white corn on the cob covered in butter during the summer; pulpy Florida orange juice; a perfect cheeseburger; Vermont and Wisconsin cheddar cheeses; a Chicago Dog char-grilled from Hot Doug’s. American wine, like American food, is rich in diversity, a dizzying array of colors and flavors and textures.

Being part-Mexican (as those who attended the BYOB class at Just Grapes learned when sampling my Aztec-style guacamole), I was delighted when Don and I reached table seven, and Tom Bracamontes of  Mi Sueño Winery (located in Napa). Initially beginning as a dishwasher and then a line cook, El Llano, Mexico-native Rolando Herrera joined the reputable Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a laborer (building a stone wall around the house’s perimeter) before harvesting grapes, and finally being promoted to Cellar Master. Now the owner/winemaker of Mi Sueño (Spanish for “My Dream”), Rolando is living his dream, producing Chards, Pinots, Cabs, and a special El Llano Red (65% Cab, 35% Syrah) that I can’t wait to try with my homemade mole sauce.

Right beside the Mi Sueño table, another family vineyard mixed blended culture with blended wine. McCrea Cellars (based in Washington State), helmed by winemaker Doug McCrea, specializes in Rhône varietal wines, a nod to Doug’s New Orleans’ upbringing. “I am drawn to a wine that connects to my primal nature,” he says. “Rhône wines are like liquid soul food, they’re rustic, inviting and hedonistic.”

In the 2003 Syrah Cuvée “Orleans” (91 pts from Wine Enthusiast), we not only found a lush wine with dark berries in the nose and chocolate in the finish (perfect steak wine), but a little-known insider winemaking tip: Doug added 3% Viognier (yes, the white grape) to 85% Syrah and 12% Mourvedre to neutralize the tannins in this red. For the same reason you can wash red wine stains out of a shirt with white wine, adding a little bit of white wine to this dark red reigns in the tannic qualities slightly. Tasting McCrea’s 100% Syrah immediately after the “Orleans” blend proved the difference a little Viognier can make.

I was also surprised at the blend in the McCrea 2007 “Sirocco Blanc” (37% Marsanne, 33% Grenache Blanc, 20% Picpoul and 10% Roussanne). I’ve only ever had Picpoul from Languedoc, and this Picpoul (which literally means “lip-stinger” in French) adds wonderful acidity to the Rhône whites in the blend. Notes of just-ripe banana, papaya, and melon whisk you away with just a sip, and the Picpoul keeps the finish clean… but certainly not too short.

American wines–and food–are not only an homage to our country’s culinary and agricultural tradition, but a tribute to the traditions and histories that so many winemakers and chefs carry with them.

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