Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Election Day, Raise a Glass of American Wine

Election Day is finally upon us. And we have survived it — so far.

First, go fulfill your civil, personal, moral (spiritual, if you’re into that) obligation: Get off your ass and VOTE. After that, I think we all need to uncork some wine.

“This election season has been long, brutal, and exhausting,” says everyone, from every spot on the American political spectrum. 2016 has been sopping with negativity, divisiveness and vitriol. But we have a reason to hold our heads up high, Americans. We are living in the midst of the American wine renaissance. Seriously. That is a thing.

Blue states, red states, swing states, all of them are home to beautiful vineyards and winemakers seeking to represent their sliver of land by making wine from it. Wherever you live in this massive, diverse, amazing country of ours, you’re not too far from a winery.

“Oh,” you say, “I don’t live in the Bay Area. There’s no good wine around here.” Yeah… I’m going to have to go ahead and… disagree with you. Most of the American populace is located within a weekend trip away from some beautiful wine country and some delicious local wines. 

From sea to shining sea, America is packed with absurdly beautiful wine country. Get out there and check it out!
Long Island? Packed with exciting wineries. Ditto for the Finger Lakes region of New York. I live in DC, and in less than two hours I can hit the road and visit one of dozens of amazing wineries in Virginia and Maryland. Texas’ Hill Country is home to a bunch of exciting, spicy wine. Arizona? Don’t get me started about the kick-ass wines coming out of Cochise County and the Verde Valley. Washington State is a gold mine. Oregon produces some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world. And determined winemakers are bottling delicious wine in Missouri, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, New Jersey, Ohio, and on and on.

I’m rambling. Point is: America is a goddamn goldmine of wines. Get out there and explore.

Earlier this year, a fellow booze writer Dan Dunn published a hilarious book called “American Wino: Reds, Whites & One Man’s Blues.” In it, he recounts the true story of failed love, devastation from the death of his brother, and his means of escape: a cross-country trek across our great American viticultural landscape.

Basically, he drives, visits wineries, talks with locals, and drinks.
I reviewed the book here, but here’s the boiled down version: “A lot of wine writing can be either stuffy to the point of suffocation or uninspired to the point of meaninglessness. Dan’s writing avoids both of these pitfalls. He pretty much gets loaded, waits for hilarious shit to happen, and then writes it down.” Dunn finds good wine and good times all over this country, in states you may never have considered visiting. His cross-country trip is quite a feat, but there are wineries in your home state worth checking out.

Drive out to a vineyard. Walk around with a loved one or the family or your dog. Pop into the tasting room and order a flight. Taste through everything they have, and keep an open mind. Ask about where the grapes come from, why this particular place works for the type of grapes they are growing, and how they make the wine. Listen to winemakers — as a group of professionals they are among the coolest people you’ll ever meet. Wine snobbery exists, of course, but not in the vineyard, and not in the barrel room. It’s the perfect place to learn about wine and, by tasting, to learn what you like.

To give you a drop-in-the-bucket sampling of what I’m talking about, I’ve included a few wine recommendations from all over this awesome country of ours.


The Federalist “Dueling Pistols” (California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley)
To pair with this insane election cycle, a new red blend has hit markets around the U.S., The Federalist. It’s a blend of Zinfandel and Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, a haven of old school (and old vine) California Zinfandel. The label makes me think of our federalist voting structure — which can make things very frustrating on a local level, but which provides tremendously effective protection against anyone who would ever attempt to “rig” an election through “voter fraud.” (That’s not a real thing, by the way.) This wine, on the other hand, is a mouthful of fresh cherries and raspberries with some smoky oak and vanilla. A blend of 50/50 Syrah and Zinfandel, and better than a lot of other red blends in this price range ($17).

Stinson Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Virginia, Central Virginia, Monticello)
Pale straw color. Smells of tart green apples and limes mixed with juicy pears and an impressive amount of chalk, white pepper and sliced jalapenos. Rocking acidity on the palate, which balances nicely with the moderately waxy mouthfeel. This is a delicious but vibrant Sauv Blanc with limes, apples and peaches. The fruit is topped with mountain stream, honeysuckle, sea salt, chalk and sliced jalapenos. This Sauv Blanc has a little bit of everything rolled into its character. Crisp, refreshing finish. A consistently exciting and dynamic Virginia Sauvignon Blanc, vintage in, vintage out. About $25.

Old Westminster Winery Albariño Petillant Naturel Home Vineyard (Maryland, Central Piedmont, Linganore)
This is one of the coolest wines I’ve come across all year. It’s a rare (and wonderfully bizarre) style of sparkling wine made from Maryland grapes (the variety hails from northern Spain). It smells of lemons, limes and musky perfume. On the palate, this is so pleasantly vibrant with subtle bubbles, bright acidity and a light but somewhat waxy texture. Gushes with green apple, apricot and melon, but there’s a deep floral presence in this wine. Nerd level 11! But the deliciousness factor is right there, too. This is Maryland’s first wine of this style, and it comes from the state’s most exciting producer.

Lieb Family Cellars Bridge Lane (New York, Long Island, North Fork)
Smells of black cherries, tart raspberries, and some spicy-floral elements. Refreshing acidity, smooth and easy to drink with a tart appeal of cherries and plums. Mostly Merlot with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot, this is an impressive value. It comes in bottles, but is also available in box and keg, which is pretty cool. Yes, good box wine from Long Island is a thing. You can find this one for less than $10.

Sawtooth Malbec Trout Trilogy (Idaho, Snake River Valley)
Full-bodied (14.6% alcohol), silky tannins but plenty of structure, the refreshing acid really keeps this wine alive and bright. Chewy blackberry and plum fruit with charcoal, graphite and tar accents, definitely showing its oak signature with chestnut, mocha and dark chocolate shavings, but there’s a lovely balance and freshness to this wine, elegance even. Impressed.

Arizona has some gorgeous wine country
Arizona Stronghold Vineyard Chardonnay Dala (Arizona, Cochise County)
An infusion of white peach, honey and white flowers. Rich and creamy but bright and tangy at the same time. White peach, yellow apple and apricot mix with notes of hazelnut and honeycomb. Very nice, especially for $10-$15! Arizona wine country is remote, unique and shockingly beautiful.

Hawk Haven Talon (New Jersey, Outer Coastal Plain)
Impressive structure, refreshing acid. A cherry-driven wine (juicy but the fruit isn’t too sweet). Smoky cedar notes, with earth and candied nuts. A 50-50 blend of Merlot and Syrah from estate grapes. Pretty cool they were able to pull off Syrah, as it isn't easy to grow in coastal Jersey. If you’re traveling in South Jersey, check this place out! Not cheap (about $30), but this Jersey boy will call out anyone who says good wine can’t come from Jersey.

N.V. Gruet Winery Brut (New Mexico)
Such a solid sparkler for the price (about $12-15 depending on your market). Melon and lemon themes mix with crisp acid, a bit of creaminess and some nutty notes. A delicious wine that’s both inexpensive and wildly popular at parties. Did I mention this is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based sparkling wine (made via the same method as Champagne) is from friggin’ New Mexico? Do a Google image search for New Mexico vineyards and tell me that doesn’t look like a stunning place to visit.

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