Still valid, though now I would add Chile’s Carmenere to the list, especially if you like a little peppery spice. Once thought to be a Chilean varietal of Merlot called Tinto, recent DNA testing has proven it to be the lost Bordeaux blender. Carmenere iin Chile arrived vefore the European Phylloxera epidemic and therefore did not require its rootstock to be grafted in order to prevent the dreaded louse that has killed thousands of vines.
Tis the season…
Americans consume more wine on Thanksgiving day than any other day of the year. If you have any interest in wine at all you will start to notice, much the same way Christmas decorations start going up in stores around the end of September, that everyone who has any opinion about wine will share their tips for choosing a good wine for your Thanksgiving celebration. So here are mine.
People often don’t realize that with all the many and varied side dishes served with the traditional turkey (not to mention all of the non-traditional hams, lasagnas, turducken, tofurky, and such), matching your wine to the meal is not so easy. Food pairing basics match the dominant flavors, how heavy the meal is, etc. Do you prefer red or white? The list below goes from crisp whites to reds, and includes dessert wines and digestifs.
Sauvignon Blanc –…
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Before the start of day two I did forget to mention some of the other wines we tasted at Fox Run Vineyards.
Arctic Fox – Cayuga grape, refreshing, leaning towards the sweet side. Not a complex wine. Enjoyable citrus and stone fruit.
Dry Riesling 2011 – Great minerality, acidity, lemony citrus
2013 Rosé of Lemberger – the only way I really enjoy Lemberger. Known as Blaufränkisch in Germany this grape is usually tannic and has herbal and spice characteristics. Fox Run’s rose shows it off to its finest advantage.
2012 Cabernet Franc/Lemberger blend – too herbal and woodsy for my taste. I have tasted these wines throughout the northeast and I have not found one I truly like but that is no reflection on Fox Run. Many people love this red blend.
Here is a little bit of information on the signature grape that is the pride of the Finger Lakes. Riesling is a grape varietal unique among its other noble cousins. It is more adept at absorbing the mineral characteristics of the soil in which it is grown. All grapes, all plant life for that matter is endowed with whatever it is able to glean from its soil and other climate conditions – that which the French have termed terroir. Riesling grows, and can be vinified, in vast array of styles from bracingly acidic and bone dry to cloyingly sweet. It is naturally high in acid, which lends itself to a better ageability than most other white wines. This acidity, combined with a particular year’s sun exposure, rain, diurnal temperature variations, and length of the growing season determine the ultimate crispness or sweetness of the final product in the bottle. Oh, and let’s not forget the winemaker’s contribution. The grape is a powerhouse but the winemaker still has to be the puppet master.
This grape, perhaps more than any other captures the concept of terroir and shows us that wine is a living thing made more on the vine than by any craft or manipulation of the winemaker. It is always the case that good wine starts and ends in the field but most other grapes have the capacity to be shaped by the vintner’s hand more than the Riesling grape. Riesling tells you in any particular year how it will express itself. It is one of the noble grapes ( a term widely recognized as meaning grapes of the highest quality and lineage, not hybrids), intensely aromatic, and its flavor profile stretches from citrus and tropical fruits to stone fruits and of course the minerals it picks up from the soil. It is an amazingly versatile grape from all aspects – in the field, in the barrel, on the palate, and makes one of the most food-friendly wines in the world. The bracing acidity of a dry Riesling makes your mouth water. A semi-dry Riesling usually exhibits the talents of balancing that acidity along a sliding scale of sweetness.
There is now an internationally recognized scale to tell you on the bottle the level of dry/sweet. It is called the IRF scale for the International Riesling Foundation. Without getting into the technical it has been agreed where the ratio between pH, residual sugar, and acid fall along the scale. It is up to the individual winemaker to determine where they set their wine on the scale. For more information on the IRF scale visit www.drinkriesling.com/tastescale .
Dessert styles do not need any other accompaniment. They can be as satisfying as a fine French Sauternes or Canadian Ice Wine. Growers, especially those who see themselves as farmers first, love Riesling’s ability to express its sense of place. On the world stage connoisseurs know the difference between an Alsatian and German Riesling. While growing in many great wine-producing regions of the world only the Finger Lakes, and Washington state are recognized as stand-outs in the United States. During a visit to the Finger Lakes one can sample every possible expression of the grape.
Finger Lakes Wine Tour – Day Two
We began our day by taking a short ride over to downtown Corning and the office of Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association to meet virtual friends in person. Any trip to Finger Lakes Wine Country should be planned using the resources they provide. The website even has a trip planner (which I used). They have a great smart phone app, and if you get on their email list you can stay informed year round of all of the events (and there are a lot) going on. They produce a beautiful guidebook for those who prefer something in print. I use all of the above. It was great meeting Stephanie Jarvis, their Program Manager. She has been the main voice of #FlxWineCountry on Twitter, and organizer of the Riesling Hour and other events celebrating the yearly vintage release. We also met Laury Poland, President, a great bundle of energy that you just don’t get when you communicate digitally. I showed her my printout of the events we planned to attend that I had downloaded from their website. She noted that she was attending nearly all of my choices as well. Together with Ginny, Teresa, and Christina they do amazing work trumpeting the virtues of a visit to this region. They gave us some very helpful tips on how to make the most of the visit. We would see Laury later on in our stay.
Their office is located in the Gaffer District of Corning, which is also known as the “Crystal City”. Corning was developed as a company town of the Corning Glass Works. The Gaffer district has a lot to see and do from shops for foodies and wineaux, to glass art galleries and museums. Our next stop was the Corning Museum of Glass. I can’t say enough about what a wonderful museum this is. It is almost inaccurate to call it a museum. Its mission statement puts it most succinctly: To Tell the World about Glass by engaging, educating, and inspiring visitors and the community through the art, history, and science of glass. You can spend an entire day in this place. There is the history, interactive exhibits, flame demonstrations, hot glass blowing, innovations for home and industrial uses and gallery after gallery filled with the jaw-dropping products of creative glass artists . It goes on and on.
The combo admission ticket allows you to visit the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. I was thrilled to see original Frederic Remington bronze work, and a rifle from the Revolutionary period that was made in Lowell, MA, near where I live today. This museum seemed a little oddly placed. Who expects to see a large collection of art depicting the American West in Upstate New York? Visit their website to learn more.
After lunch at the Market Street Brewing Company and Restaurant, where yes, beer was consumed, we drove up the eastern shore of Seneca Lake to Wagner Vineyards in Lodi. The Wagners are no newcomers to the area. With over 50 years of grape growing experience they’ve had some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We did spend some time in their tasting room, in their beautiful eight-sided building but we were there for the live entertainment and dinner. We each do our own tasting and then share so we get to taste just about everything they are pouring. Wagner also brews beers but I was itching to get to the wines. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to taste Wagner’s Riesling for at least the last four years so I know the quality is as good as it gets. It was a treat to taste some of their other wines. Outside of their Riesling and Chardonnay Wagner favors hybrid grapes, especially for their Alta B blends (named for Bill Wagner’s mother Alta Button Wagner). Our favorites:
2012 Caywood East Vineyard Dry Riesling – crisp, citrus, stone fruit, and mineral palate. Mouth-watering, lingering finish.
2012 Semi-Dry Riesling – peaches and pineapples sums this one up. Such a great sipper.
2012 Bottle Fermented Sparkling Riesling – a brut style, 90% Riesling from their oldest block, 10% Pinot Noir.
2012 Cayuga White – sweet but crisp. My wife’s choice and the one we chose to open for the concert.
After the tasting we exited to the large deck overlooking the vineyards. We chose a picnic table right in the middle and as the band was setting up we saw children playing down by the vines, and someone setting up what turned out to be a drone.
The entertainment was part of Wagner’s Fridays on the Deck Series and that night The Destination, a 9 piece dance band was packing in the locals. We ultimately shared our picnic table with an older couple, and a man who had a 1.5 liter bottle of the Alta B Blush, which he freely shared. Everyone seemed to know everyone.
While we did see a lot more of that swigging out of the bottle there was a lot of beer being drunk as well. The Wagner’s operate a restaurant, The Ginny Lee, and while closed, they had set up a dinner choice of chicken or fish. We walked through the line and each got the chicken dinner. Home-style food, and lots of it. This is how to do a summer night. The band played a full range of swing, funk, R&B, and Latin rhythms that made it impossible to sit still. At some point before it got too dark the band leader told us to turn around and wave (with all of our fingers). We were on camera. That drone was flying out far and wide taking photographs and video for the band’s website. There was one older (and by that I mean old) couple that had the moves. They danced all night. It was fun to watch. During the band’s break between sets we reluctantly chose to leave. Staying meant we would have more to drink (with all that wine sharing going on) and we already had a 45 minute ride back down to Watkins Glen. They were just opening up a pizza window as we were leaving too. Day Three will be all about the wine.
The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York was officially declared an American Viticulture Area in 1982, though records of commercial winemaking go back to the early 19th century. Located 4.5 hours north of New York City and 6 hours due west of Boston this location has finally convinced enough people that it deserves a big pin on the map of the wine world. Even the “acknowledged experts” have all been giving a shout out in the form of high praises, press, and points for the quality of the wines produced here. Riesling is the grape that nailed the Finger Lakes to the map. For the past four years each September has been a celebration of the new vintage releases. If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming events celebrating the 2013 vintage check out Finger Lakes Wine Country. Just ahead of the hoopla I took a trip and spent five days. Seriously, five days only scratched the surface of what I would have liked to see and do. My wife is not as interested as I am in the wine (though she does enjoy Riesling) so it was awesome to learn that there is so much more to do than visit wineries (I don’t see what’s wrong with that). In hope of whetting your appetite enough to make you want to travel there yourself I will give you my travelogue, similar to the posts I wrote about our trip to Long Island Wine Country. In October I will be attending Taste Camp in the Hudson Valley, so by then I will have a solid first hand familiarity with all of the wine-producing regions of New York State (there should be some sort of certificate for that. I’ll have to ask the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess – yes, there really is one!).
The Finger Lakes were formed so many bla bla bla million years ago by the advance and retreat of glaciers ultimately carving out 11 finger shaped lakes. A number of these lakes are particularly deep and many have steep slopes ensuring good drainage. There is no one soil type that characterizes the entire region’s terroir. Instead there is a great variation due to the advance and retreat of glacial deposits. Conditions of soil and climate convinced enough hardy pioneers that Vitis vinifera would thrive there. Native Vitis labrusca varieties such as Niagara and Catawba had already been growing there naturally, and for hundreds of years under cultivation as an industry. Many French/American hybrid grapes such as Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, and Cayuga were developed to withstand the cooler climate and shorter growing season prior to winemakers committing to growing vinifera grapes. While the Taylor family of Taylor Wine Company, Great Western (New York Champagne), and Bully Hill all worked with predominantly native or hybrid grapes, Dr. Konstantin Frank is widely recognized as the modern father of the Finger Lakes wine industry, largely due to his belief that vinifera could be successfully grown there. I’ll come back to him later. On to our travels.
Finger Lakes Wine Tour – Day One
The first stop we made had nothing to do with wine but was so interesting that I would encourage anyone to visit Seneca Falls. At the northern tip of Seneca Lake this town is well-known for numerous things. It is called the Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes. We got out of the car in front of the Seneca Falls Visitor Center to get our bearings. I learned the proper pronunciation for Lake Skaneateles. Go ahead and try. I was told it was pronounced as “skinny atlas, or atlees”. Were you close? Seneca Falls is the birthplace of the Women’s Rights, or Suffrage Movement. Situated along the Cayuga-Seneca section of the Erie Canal system this town also boasts a proud Industrial Revolution era water-powered manufacturing history. It was a hotbed of abolitionist activity and included stations on the Underground Railroad. Another of its claims to fame is that it believes itself to be the inspiration for Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
In 1848 Seneca Falls was home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and along with friends Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, and others they called to order the first National Convention on Women’s Rights. They drafted a “Declaration of Sentiments” that mirrored the Declaration of Independence. We visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park which included the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel where the convention was held, and the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Home. There are a good number of plaques and statues commemorating moments that contributed to the increased rights of women as citizens. Along the banks of the canal, just down the street from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home and across the canal from a beautiful Episcopalian church is a bronze statue of three women – Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer (wearing her namesake article of clothing), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This marks the place where Amelia introduced Elizabeth to Susan (who lived in nearby Rochester).
We also visited the National Women’s Hall of Fame. It was inspiring to see the contributions made by women from all walks of life, talents, and times – from Sacagawea to Sally Ride. This museum is in the process of expanding and moving into a historic knitting mill. So many women’s accomplishments to celebrate.
On the south side of the Bridge Street Bridge (the bridge claimed to be THE bridge George Bailey jumps off of in It’s A Wonderful Life to save angel Clarence Odbody) is the Ludovico Sculpture Trail, a lovely walk along a reclaimed railroad bed where over the course of nearly two miles there are statues to discover that tie to the themes of the area’s history.
From here we visited the Elizabeth Cady Stanton home where I sat for a spell on one of the white porch rockers feeling that vibe of history that always give me a thrill (Shut up! I know I’m geeky.)
After the five-hour drive and afternoon of touring we drove a little further down the west shore of Seneca Lake to the Fox Run Vineyards in the town of Penn Yan. I had planned to end our day there with a tasting and the kickoff of their annual garlic festival with an incredibly entertaining Celtic inspired folk/rock band called Town Pants. We were going to have the locals experience! We bought several bottles, set up our lawn chairs, bought some garlic white pizza from the food truck, cracked open a chilled bottle of their non vintage Arctic Fox, a slightly sweet French/American hybrid grape Cayuga. From the minute the band started playing people got up to dance and never sat down.
It’s not too often that you go an event where so many people eschew glasses in favor of just swigging out of the bottle but that was the common sight. No one was drunk but everyone was having a good time. It was a great end to our first day. Another 45 minutes down to the south end of Seneca Lake and we were in the town of Watkins Glen, which would be our base camp for the next four days. More wine and other amazing things to see and do on Day Two.
If you live in the New England area this is a great way to taste wine for a worthy cause:
Raise Your Glass for Jimmy presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston
Wine tasting event is Wednesday, Sept. 25
Raise Your Glass for Jimmy presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston will take place in the Main Ballroom of The Liberty Hotel in Boston on September 25 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Admission to the event includes hors d’oeuvres and live music. Enjoy a variety of wines with a good selection of whites and reds to appeal to all palettes. Participating wine vendors include M.S. Walker, Horizon Beverage, Plymouth Bay Winery, Federal Wine & Spirits, Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors and August West Wines. All proceeds support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
This event will also feature a wine drawing (buy a chance for $35 and you are guaranteed a bottle of wine worth at least $25) and a silent auction with a trip to a vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., including airfare, several large format wines, a four-course chef’s tasting menu for four at Strega worth $500, and many other great items.
Tickets for this event are $50 per person, and include a $25 gift certificate for Tresca, donated by Tresca restaurant, for the first 150 guests at the door. Tickets are available at www.jimmyfund.org/raise-your-glass or visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/595784407132064/
I felt today was a good day to re-post my visit to the 9/11 Memorial.
September 11th is such a solemn day of remembrance – of the heroes who answered the call, many who gave all, of the ones we lost, and the collective damage we sustained as a nation. I also remember in the days and weeks that followed many who didn’t know any other way to show solidarity with New York and express their anger and grief except waving large flags along busy streets. I remember a lot of flags being flown. We’ll all have forever that “Where were you when” moment that the Greatest Generation had after Pearl Harbor. So many tragedies both natural and man-made have come and gone since but on this one day we are galvanized as a people and we live and we endure. That’s what we do best – we endure. Take a moment to look at One World Trade Center. One World. Peace.
Some people “dance it out” when they have pent up emotion or frustration, like on Grey’s Anatomy with Meredith and Christina. While this is not normally a topic for this blog, this is my blog and I needed a place to “write it out”.
I visited New York last weekend to see the 911 Memorial. Of course it was the coldest day in a winter that has spoiled us with spring temperatures since October’s Snowmaggedon. I was prepared to be emotional. I have seen the endless replaying of the day’s events each year as the anniversary approaches, watched the documentaries, and was prepared to be moved to tears. I feel a weird kind of survivor’s guilt as a former New Yorker. I have many friends who were much closer to what happened than I, and feel fortunate not to have lost any loved ones personally but we all…
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Happy Independence Day fellow United States-ians! As you are enjoying your festivities today with friends and family, and posting all sorts of patriotic pics and memes on facebook and other social media consider this – do you live in one of the 11 remaining states that still prohibit wine shipments direct to the consumer? I do. In Massachusetts the state Supreme Court even ruled on it being unconstitutional but we have yet to pass legislation to rectify this. Why? Wholesalers and distributors have a more powerful voice in Congress than I do, or you. Why not start a conversation about it today at your Independence Day celebration. Perhaps it can help spark a consumer revolution. A new wine consumer advocacy group has sprung up called the American Wine Consumer Coalition. The hope of founders David White of the blog Terroirist and Tom Wark of Fermentation is to grow a paid membership based group that will become a voice powerful enough to be heard over the wholesalers’ lobby. Shouldn’t you, as a law-abiding, patriotic American be able to purchase a legal agricultural product from whichever state you want? Why should a wholesaler or package store be able to make that decision on your behalf? My hope is that the new AWCC along with the organization Free the Grapes, (an older grassroots consumer group aimed at educating the consumer and government about making changes to the current three tier system regulating alcohol sales that has been in place since the repeal of Prohibition) will finally be able to give consumers a fighting chance. Join one or both organizations. Subscribe to their newsletters. Read Robert Taylor’s Mixed Case column in Wine Spectator. Share your opinion. Express your right of free speech. Help make our voices heard!
WIYG? Twitterspeak for “what’s in your glass?” Summer is upon us and it’s time for lighter, more refreshing thirst-quenchers. So WIYG? I have already posted some background and great recipes for Sangria, and another post on summer white wine suggestions that diverge from the reliable standbys. Now let’s explore the idea of cocktails made with wine. I am already seeing them become a trend with mixologists. These wine concoctions will go great with food, friends, and festivities of all kinds. For those who like to get an early start there is the traditional brunch cocktail the Mimosa, made with champagne (or any sparkling wine you choose) and orange juice, or the Bellini, made with Prosecco and peach nectar. Try variations on these with any fruit juice or nectar you like.
This past spring, on a leisurely drive home from a weekend in Newport (collecting sea glass at Fort Adams Park and visiting mansions that keep up with the Crawleys of Downton Abbey) we decided to stop in Plymouth until the traffic died down. We didn’t go to see the rock (that’s rather disappointing actually). We were looking for some good chowder (and OMG we’d found some of the best we’d ever tasted at Cabby Shack – highly recommend). It was near five on a Sunday and strolling around by the waterfront we saw that the Plymouth Bay Winery was still open. You didn’t think I would just walk past an open winery that crossed my path did you? There was a woman at the tasting bar. We saw that there were two kinds of tastings, one complementary and one that included a souvenir glass. Of course we were going to choose the one with the glass. The man pouring for the woman was Michael Carr, the new owner. We looked around and waited while he finished up with the woman who was there to plan her bachelorette party at the winery. When she left and we sat down Michael gave us his full attention. We were going to be the last tasting of the day. We could have gotten the rush treatment. I’m sure he wanted to close up and get home to his wife Pam, whom he later referred to as the “Doctor” (along with some Austin Powers pinky action at the corner of his mouth) but he absolutely took his time with us and we enjoyed every minute.
For my wine geek friends, connoisseurs of the vinifera grapes that make what are known as fine wines you may not have taken this place too seriously but Michael really provides a great tasting room experience, showcasing his many fruit wines. He has a nice thing going on the waterfront of a small town with a bonafide landmark tourist attraction. We started tasting and talking and Michael told us a little background. I told him I was a wine blogger. He told us about his Playbook crafted with the “Doctor” (remember the Austin Powers pinky action) and then began giving us some flavor combinations to work with. He had made pineapple and limeade ice cubes to go with some of the wines which included Cranberry Bay, made with locally sourced cranberries, and the blush version that was a bit more tart. There was Raspberry Bay which he recommended drizzling over chocolate ice cream or cheesecake. For a cocktail he suggested trying with vodka and pineapple juice which he calls his sexy PBW martini. With the Blueberry Bay he offered us some pineapple ice cubes and it made a great match.
Our favorite was the Blackberry Bay wine. Michael’s suggestion for this was to marinate peaches in the wine to serve as a dessert. For a cocktail he floats the wine on top of a gin and tonic (works just as well with vodka) and calls it a “Billionaire” We have made this drink several times since that visit. Very refreshing.
We were in the winery long after closing talking and tasting. PBW also sells a number of wine infused jams and jellies. We particularly liked the Raspberry Spice jelly which got quite a kick from habanero peppers. Click here for more information on the Plymouth Bay Winery. His wines are offered for sale on the website, but even if you aren’t able to buy PBW’s wines you can usually find a selection of fruit wines in most wine shops. Be creative and make your own flavor combinations.
A classic wine cocktail:
1 oz Campari® bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 twist lemon peel
1 twist orange peel
Pour over ice into a collins glass. Garnish with lemon and orange twists and add club soda.
1 oz Chambord® raspberry liqueur
2 oz dry white wine
1 tbsp frozen strawberries
3 tbsp crushed ice
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pour into a champagne coupe, and serve.
Some of their cocktail suggestions:
• Lively Up
Pink Pinot Grigio + Raspberry Liqueur + Sour Mix
• Cherry Cobbler
Pink Moscato + Black Cherry Vodka + Sour Mix
Pink Moscato + Spiced Rum + Cranberry Juice
• Pot of Gold
Pinot Grigio + Orange Liqueur + Lemon Juice
• Love Potion Sangria
Pinot Grigio + Gin + White Grape Juice
• Hemingway’s Hangtime
White Wine + White Rum + Grapefruit Juice
• The Winemaker’s Squeeze
Red Wine + Orange Liqueur + Blood orange soda
Pinot Grigio + Ginger Ale
• Tropical Escape
Chardonnay + Pineapple Juice
• The Valley Breeze
Pink Pinot Grigio + Cranberry Juice
• Mint on Top
White wine + Ginger beer + Lime Juice
• Sauvignon Tsunami
Sauvignon Blanc + Coconut Water
White Wine + Orange Liqueur
• Wine Tai
Red Wine + Zacapa Rum + Orange Liqueur
You get the picture. By the way, for wine cocktails, similar to Sangria, my suggestion is that you do not need to use the good stuff – you know, that special juice you’re saving, aging, or cellaring. These drinks are perfect for those inexpensive, easy drinking, uncomplicated wines that can be found almost anywhere. When the weather turns cold again I’ll post some great cocktails made with red wines, brandies, and bourbon. They’ll warm you from the inside out. So for now go get your summer on and express it your way. Remember to give it a good name while you’re at it.
Before Jancis wrote her big book, The Oxford Companion to Wine, before Kevin Zraly took his position as Wine Director at Windows on the World, before Steven Spurrier instigated (or perpetrated upon the French) the American wine defining moment of the Judgment of Paris, and before Robert M. Parker Jr. created the much debated 100 point wine rating system there was Nathan Chroman.
Nathan was a California attorney who loved wine. He practiced personal injury law in Beverly Hill, which I can only imagine must have been lucrative. He taught a wine appreciation course at UCLA Extension. He wrote a weekly wine column for the Lose Angeles Times and in 1973 a book called The Treasury of American Wines. He was the reason a lot of people had the opportunity to cellar some of the best vintages California ever produced, including many judged in the spring of 1976 as superior to the French, by French judges. Until that singular moment the French claimed a monopoly on the world’s highest quality wines. His weekly newspaper column was devoted to the growing wine culture in California’s salad bowl valleys of Monterey and Sonoma. He tracked the changes in agriculture as fruit and vegetable farmers began tearing up fruit trees and vegetable fields and planting wine grapes. He got a lot of things right before most even knew there was a California wine culture.
I picked up his book at a sale at my local library (fill a bag for $2.00!). These sales make me happy and sad simultaneously. I think of libraries as safe havens protecting the printed page from extinction, preserving it for future generations. They are becoming more like arboretums everyday – places where we visit the books and obtain digital downloads. So I rescued the book for giggles to read what was being written about American wine back in the 70’s, which, as an easterner, I remember as the time of jug wine. I didn’t know what I was getting, and that it would become one of the cherished additions to my own wine library.
He began by summarizing wine appreciation such as it was back then. Remember that these were the days of literally jug American wine, sold by the gallon by the likes of Gallo and Masson. This was all most Americans knew about wine if you didn’t live close to the source. Americans had not yet developed its palate and preference for wine over other adult beverages such as spirits and beer. Those with more refined tastes indulged in wines from Europe, as they were believed to be the only fine wine. Prohibition, that noble experiment, all but eliminated any consciousness Americans may have had of wines of quality being produced domestically.
Parker developed his million dollar nose on Bordeaux. Nathan Chroman wrote mostly about local wine but his book was not limited to California. He did know of the work of Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Hungarian immigrant who first believed that vinifera could be grown successfully in the Finger Lakes region of New York. While more prominently writing of the wine regions of the Northern California, he did not neglect to note the indigenous Catawba in Ohio and the hybrids being created in Michigan, Delaware, and even Pennsylvania.
California was a magical place for wine in the 1970’s. It was on the launchpad (crushpad) of the world stage. Nate Chroman was a man in the know from early on. In his book he wrote of the “Visionaries” and the “Prodigies” and he made predictions for the future. He rated the wines of the day with a personal system of one to four x’s. He wrote of the origins of California wine from the time of the Spanish missionaries’ need for sacramental wines and development of the Mission grape, to the Gold Rush era migration of another Hungarian immigrant – Agoston Haraszthy, who brought European vitis vinifera vines. Haraszthy operated the Buena Vista Winery among his many accomplishments. The winery is one of the few to survive Prohibition and helped give birth to the modern American wine industry. Nathan attributes Haraszthy with bringing Zinfandel vines to California (the origins of which is still being debated today, even after numerous DNA studies), while many still believe it to be a native grape. Nathan remarked that in the 1860’s the industry was gigantic, with as many as 10.5 million vines planted. Today the number is closer to 275 million. I wonder what he would think.
Nathan died in 2012 at age 83 and was one of the most influential people on the subject of American wine. He lived to see the U.S. overtake the French as the largest wine consuming nation in the world. He noted that California produced 84% of U.S. wines in the 70’s and today it produces 90%, keeping pace with the rest of the country, with wine being produced today in every state. Personal wine consumption was 1.44 gallons per capita in 1957, 2.43 gallons in 1973, and stands at 3.03 gallons as of 2012. He quoted a Wells Fargo Bank of California report projecting that level of consumption to be reached by 1980.
He predicted that by the year 2000 the Salinas Valley would have over 100,000 acres of wine grapes under cultivation. Today the number of acres is roughly somewhere near 40,000.
Where he was so dead on in the book was how he picked the wines and winemakers. Of the Visionaries he called Andre Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyard the “winemaker’s winemaker” and rated his wines with four x’s. He considered David Bruce wines some of the finest Chardonnays made. In the 70’s he only rated Buena Vista wines as two x’s. He wrote glowingly of Chalone wines and the Chenin Blanc of Chappellet. Concannon, Freemark Abbey, Hanzell, Heitz, and Inglenook also received some of his highest praise. Back then California was still calling its sparkling wines Champagne and Korbell rated three x’s. Of the Prodigies he cited Robert Mondavi, Louis M. Martini, Paul Masson’s, Schramsberg’s, and Martin Ray’s Champagnes, Mayacamas, Mirassou, Ridge, Souverain, Sebastiani, and Wente. Of these wines Ridge, Heitz, Mayacamas, Freemark Abbey, Chalone, and David Bruce went on to win high marks against the French at the famous Judgment of Paris competition. He never mentioned Chateau Montelena, featured in the film Bottle Shock, as being anything special. He actually only listed them under “Other California wineries”, not far from Franzia (today a leading boxed wine), E & J Gallo (Hearty Burgundy), and Boone’s Farm (who doesn’t remember the precursor to wine coolers?).
No New York wines received x’s of any number but he did single out Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Vineyards, Bully Hill, Widmer, Boordy, Great Western, Gold Seal, and Taylor (I grew up with Taylor and Great Western Champagnes). Washington State’s sole mention was Ste. Michelle Vineyards, and Oregon received no mention at all.
If you don’t already own it, and I am sure it is out of print now, but if you ever have a chance to visit it in your local library it is a wine book well worth browsing. I think a great number of wineries owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the attention he paid them early on.