I am admittedly biased when it comes to wine. My favorites are Italian and French—I know what to expect and they never leave me disillusioned or unsatisfied. There’s nothing like a robust and unabashedly honest Tuscan blend or the practiced elegance of Burgundy.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Spain and Greece along the way, which inspired a healthy curiosity for their salty coastal whites and indigenous varieties in all shades. Maturana (Rioja) really knows how to spice things up and the right Assyrtiko will blow you away in a sea breezy kind of way.
Germany and Austria charm me over and over again–strapping and sweet all at once. Riesling will catch you off guard that way.
When it comes to the New World, South America is still uncharted territory for me. I know my way around Argentina and Chile but have yet to find my comfort zone amid the meaty Mendoza Malbec and the high-altitude Carménère and Cabernet.
And yet my very own America has always been the exception. Until recently, a good bottle of Californian wine—or more shockingly, New York—was exactly that. A shock. An exception to the rule.
But whose rules? In honor of Independence Day I’d like to share the details of my recent love affair with America.
This country is young and evolving. We make mistakes but we’re known for our ambition. As a nation made of immigrants, an exploration of our own roots and an appreciation for what is genuine and “ours” has given rise to a local and seasonal movement I can definitely get behind (or in front of…any position really).
It’s important to remember where we come from and I’m proud of what my fellow countrymen and women are producing from sea to shining sea.
I visited Sonoma County for the first time this year. Until then, my idea of a California wine was audacious and obtrusive, like that guy or girl (we all know one) who gets to the party and hijacks the conversation. Never before have I been so happy to be wrong.
The wines were so good that I began to formulate a conspiracy theory (I had been catching up on old episodes of “24” but this felt real). Were they keeping their best bottles to themselves? Understandably so. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve had my jealous moments and who wouldn’t keep their pure, un-oaked Chardonnay, balanced and delightful Sauvignon, and terroir-rich Pinot Noir under lock and key? They all exuded character and good honest winemaking. Or perhaps it was the East Coast taking the rivalry to a new oenological level. After all New York is a rising star on the wine scene, and the last thing they need is big, shiny modern California stealing all the glory.
Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc – a ripe and character-full incarnation of the oft-overpowering grape with balanced acidity and a quenching quality.
Merry Edwards Pinot Noir – California ripeness with Burgundy quality. The produce wines from a variety of vineyards with strikingly different character, but an overall thread of elegance.
Schramsberg — Blanc de Blancs is a sparkling wine I’ll proudly serve in celebration. It’s no Champagne, but for a sophisticated, homegrown sparkler there’s no comparison.
Peay Vineyards — Superior and complex Chardonnays that make me shiver with pleasure (as opposed to shudder) at the thought of California Chardonnay.
And then there’s New York.
At the moment I’m swooning over Paumanok’s Sauvignon Blanc. It’s delicate and fragrant with the telltale Long Island quality of lingering salt. Other island favorites include Macari (even their base line Merlot and Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc have an honest elegance to them and if they’re good enough for the White House, they’re welcome in mine.), Channing Daughters (Their rosato di Merlot is the best rosé I’ve had outside of Provence. It’s pale, herbaceous, and smells of the seashore.), Bedell makes some incredibly interesting and exotic red and white blends – some in the Bordeaux style and others of their own invention.
Upstate, Millbrook makes a lush and dry Riesling and Hosmer’s Cabernet Franc had me at the first sip with its crispness, frank qualities (pun intended, it was Cab Franc in its truest form).
I’m no freedom-fighting patriot, but as an upstanding American I respect what my country has provided for me and I will proudly defend it (in my glass).