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Adventurous American Winemaking

American Red Wine Collections from

Great Falls

McLean

Vienna

European winemaking, particularly in economies that heavily rely on a consistent product for export such as Spain, France, and Italy, is (more often than not) heavily bound by government regulation regarding what grapes can be planted where, what winemaking techniques are allowed, and how long wines must age before release. This creates two situations. First, winemaking traditions are refined over many generations and come to reflect the practices of the place. Second, there isn’t as much room for experimentation in many areas of the European wine world. This is where themes of American adventure and experimentation come in! In California, for example, if you want to plant Sangiovese, Merlot, or Tempranillo in the same American Viticultural Area (AVA), go for it! The United States hosts some of the widest arrays of grapes and styles in the world, and here, let’s examine some grapes that have grounded themselves in the American wine scene as well as bottles that represent some of this American ingenuity.

Wine map of California from Wine Folly: https://shop.winefolly.com/products/california-wine-maps

The wines we have selected represent some of the bigger and bolder wines that come out of the States, and certain grapes such as Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Rhone varieties standout as examples that any of us would love to accompany heartier meals especially as we head into the fall. Zinfandel is grape that has found a unique home in California whether that is in Napa Valley, Paso Robles, or Lodi. Single varietal bottlings of Zinfandel such as those from Ledge and Easton show not only how Zin can be expressive on its own but also how well it can age. The 2012 Ledge Zinfandel from the Dante Dusi Vineyard is the first vintage of Zinfandel from this particular vineyard, and it is outstanding. The wine is aged in mostly neutral oak (meaning the oak will not impact the flavor of the wine), so this is truly an excellent chance to see how the fruit of Zinfandel vines ages over time. Look for layers of flavor that include stewed red and black fruits, lavender, black pepper, and leather. For a great side-by-side tasting, open a bottle Easton’s 2015 Zinfandel from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. This particular wine is from a cooler area than the Ledge, and it may have a slightly more restrained fruit profile; however, in tasting both of these next to each other, you can start to hone in on your Zin preferences!

Easton Vineyard in Amador County from Amador Vintners: https://amadorwine.com/terre-rouge-and-easton-wines/

Zinfandel is commonly used in blends as well. Paydirt’s “Going For Broke” Zinfandel-based blend shows how Zinfandel can be complemented smaller traces of blending grapes. To add darker fruit flavors and tannic structure, this Zinfandel is mixed with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre, while the Grenache in the blend adds a dash of acidity and additional notes of cherry and strawberry. For another delicious Zinfandel blend but with flavors of American Oak (vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg), Venge’s 2018 Scout’s Honor Proprietary Blend is extremely rich and expressive with herbal notes, present but smooth tannins, and dark fruits. These wines would also be fascinating to taste side-by-side while noticing your preference for oak usage on your Zinfandel-based blends.

An image of Zinfandel grapes and their color in the glass from Wine Folly: https://winefolly.com/grapes/zinfandel/

Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends have found new homes in the U.S. from Central California to Washington State. Brassfield’s Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County California boasts an extremely balanced palate from the cooling effects from the ocean as well as lake effects near Brassfield’s vineyards. Look for a great balance of red and black fruits, smooth tannins, and crisp acidity that make this a crowd-pleasing Cabernet for all types of red wine drinkers. For an exciting comparison, try the 2017 Jax Cabernet Franc from Napa Valley. This may help your taste buds distinguish these two distinct yet related grapes. For something with a bit more age, Darby’s 2013 “Chaos” blend is a classic Left Bank Bordeaux blend with notes of slightly raisonated blackberries, dark cherries, anise and cedar. This is the most heavily oaked wine out of those mentioned in this paragraph, but the oak has softened its tannins and the wine can age easily 5-7 more years into the future.

Jax Vineyard in Napa Valley, California from Gold Medal Wine Club: https://www.goldmedalwineclub.com/winery/jax-vineyards-calistoga-ava

Last but not least, let’s highlight a few American wines that take inspiration from the Rhone Valley. Up first, we are heading back to Ledge for a classic Rhone Blend of Grenache and Syrah. In the Southern Rhone Valley, Grenache tends to be the dominant grape with Syrah following behind in the blend and this is what Ledge give us in their 2015 Rolph Family Vineyard blend. Famed wine critic, Jeb Dunnuck, called this “a perfectly balanced wine” with “spiced cherries, strawberries, dried flowers, and incense,” which can be found in a variety of other Rhone wines. Paso Robles has increased its Rhone-style wine production under the term “Rhone Ranger,” and this is a must-try for Grenache fans. While not traditionally thought of as a Rhone-style blend the Jax Y3 Taureau contains Cabernet, Merlot, and 20% Syrah. Syrah is mainly associated with the Northern Rhone along with Australia as Shiraz; however, California is boasting more and more world-class Syrah plantings. In a blend like the Jax, the Syrah adds darker fruit notes along with a salty or briny character to the wine that makes it both mouth-watering and age-worthy.

All of the aforementioned wines can be found at the top of the blog post, and we highly recommend you try some of these selections side-by-side to see where in the U.S. your palate leads you! Cheers!

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