The U.S. really is the essence of New World wine.
They were the first to name grape varieties on their wine labels which led the way for the consumer, helping all of us to recognise our favourite flavours and styles and to empower us all- the concept of Wine Angel itself!
Like many countries, their wine is very much a reflection of the people themselves. You have wines, like the Americans, from both extreme ends of the spectrum- big, bold, no-nonsense wines with a dose of pizzazz; to highly developed, educated, refined and expensive ones!
The US is the fourth largest wine producer in the world! Almost EVERY state in the whole of the US has vineyards. From the infamous California (where a staggering 90% of the country’s wine is produced) to New York and even Hawaii!
They grow a huge variety of different grapes due to them being brought over by all of the different immigrants, alongside their native US varieties of course.
Development, structure and winemaking skills have come on in leaps and bounds, assisted by superb technology, research and finance really only over the last forty years.
This is because the US winemaking industry has had obstacle after obstacle. From the soil being unable to sustain European ‘International’ varieties due to the infection with the dreaded Phylloxera louse, to Prohibition in 1918 where alcohol was totally banned for nearly twenty years! This still has an influence today as in some states alcohol is still restricted for sale, the drinking age is 21, and a third of Americans are teetotal!
Also, a lot of Americans don’t accept wine as part of a lifestyle culture and American’s mainly drink beer. This is purely historical and through no fault of their own. You have to remember that the US is a relatively new country compared to the rest of Europe!
So the US wine industry relies hugely on an export market and a growing home interest, as they do have a highly demanding local market in California. There are, however, many Americans with a fervent passion for wine, it’s history and some of the largest and most expensive cellars are housed in the States!
Regarding the Phylloxera louse, this has had an incredible impact on the US and Worldwide wine industry. Over half of the US vineyards of International varieties have had to be replanted due to this.
This is where the American native varieties, though mainly grown for jelly and jam as they taste, well, not nice (!), have been a saviour for Europe and therefore the World’s wine. As these native varieties grew well in the soil and were ‘immune’ to phylloxera, when the louse swept through Europe in the 19th Century destroying all the European vines, it was the discovery that planting the American rootstocks (V.lambrusca) and then grafting on the European varieties (V.vinifera), was the only way to grow and therefore save the vines. This two section marriage of different vine species, root and scion, is still how we grow vines of all the common known grape varieties today! Thank goodness for the US!
We still don’t plant the European vines directly into the soil, as a precaution. They are still grafted onto American roots. This grafting also has an advantageous benefit to the wine industry in the US, as they are very fashion driven in which wines the consumer likes to drink. If one year more people demand to drink Cabernet Sauvignon and last year it was Zinfandel, then they just change the cutting (the scion), on the top of the plant and a new vine species (grape variety) is grown that year! Grapes on demand! Incredible isn’t it?
Currently, the industry in the US is booming on a massive scale from low cost $2 wines to specialist wineries blending Bordeaux varieties of extraordinary quality. These top the chart as some of the most expensive wines in the world! No expense is spared on technology and production.
There aren’t many restrictive rules in the US either, unlike in Europe, so this has been a fantastic opportunity for winemakers to grow, produce and develop wines of their own passion-what they want, how they want and where they want!
Go to each Region to find out more about Classic Styles, Grapes and Must Tastes but Please read on for further information about each of the regions, starting with California:
In California, where 90% of US wine is produced, fabulous day long sunshine marries perfectly with the cooling breezes and fogs blown in from the sea in the morning which totally immerse the vineyards, cooling them, providing humidity and this, in turn, slows down the ripening process.
This is really important to allow complex flavours to develop. Irrigation is widely used and provides the perfect amount of water for the vines.
California’s most famous region is Napa Valley, but there are many amazing wines produced in other regions of California such as Sonoma Country, Carneros, Monterey, to name but a few.
Varying climates in these areas allow different grape varieties to be grown to their full potential, in many different styles, so it is worth discovering them all!
Most Californian wines have high alcohol levels due to the time that the fruit is left to ripen. This is because the riper the grapes, the more the sugars in the grapes have been converted into alcohol. Be careful as there are a lot of Californian wines, mainly in the low cost bracket, that are unbalanced and can lead you to a burning mouth!
These high temperatures on the other hand, have a positive effect, as it affects the flavour of the wine. This full ripening gives exotic fruit flavours in white wines and complex, ripe red wines. Only if managed properly though! It has to ripen slowly for the potential of the grape variety to reach its peak- this is where the morning mists lend a hand.
Another pitfall with a lot of Californian wines is overproduction. In some vineyards, they push the vines to the limit to produce the maximum number of grapes per vine. This is mainly due to being fashion focussed and the industry being consumer driven. They grow grapes depending on what wine is currently in fashion, replacing whole vineyards with different grape varieties depending on this! This affects quality dramatically.
Remember, the least amount of grapes produced on a vine, the better the quality. At the other end of the scale though, you have the no expense spared, Bordeaux style blends (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) from boutique wineries. These are so amazing, I can promise you, that they will take your breath away! And so will the price! The best can rival the Bordeaux Premier Crus….
California has its own, famous grape variety, Zinfandel, which produces very high alcohol, raspberry and strawberry flavoured, spicy and full-bodied red wines. This is, actually, the same grape variety as Primitivo, which is grown in Southern Italy.
There is also White Zinfandel which is used to make rosé wine, not white, so beware! Often referred to as ‘blush’ wine in the States, don’t make the mistake and think it’s a white wine like someone I know or you’ll be the one blushing when you order a bottle in front of your friends!
It’s also worth noting that Sauvignon Blanc is usually aged in oak in California (which is rare elsewhere in the world), and is referred to as ‘Fumé Blanc’. This is done because it is really too hot to grow this grape here and they cannot produce the atypical Sauvignon Blanc flavours- crisp, grassy and refreshing. Remember then that this is a Californian style of Sauvignon Blanc only. So by no means tastes like the French, New Zealand or Australian styles of Sauvignon Blanc.
Here, in California, is where the famous Wine Research Centre is based, called the Davis Campus at the University of California. They are wine science leaders in the world of wine and people come from all over the world to study here and take back ideas to their own countries to improve their skills, and in turn, production and quality of the wines they produce.
Further north, above California, are the states of Oregon and Washington, where it is cooler and coastal. They produce high quality wines from grapes which are much better suited to the climate, such as cooler loving Pinot Noir, rather than the sun worshipping Cabernet Sauvignon of California!
East Coast New York State has a harsher climate and most of the wines are used to make jam and jelly! But there are some surprisingly good wines, especially aromatic Rieslings and juicy Pinot Noirs coming from the Finger Lakes Region of this area. And you have to visit Long Island’s vineyards just so you can have an excuse to be in the Hamptons!
Even though just about every State has vineyards, the main areas of wine production are: