The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

California and Oregon

The bulk of wine produced in the US comes from California, with Oregon closing in second. The California sunshine intensifies the sugar content of the grapes, so the wines tend to higher in alcohol and usually richer and bolder in taste. American wines are usually strictly separated by grape type, with Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay the most popular. "Cab."s are typically full-bodied, high in tannins, robust with currant and berry aromas; Merlot appears more feminine, softer with plum aromas, Pinot Noir tends to be lighter with earthier notes, Sauvignon Blanc has more of a typical floral acidity and Chardonnay is usually richer with tropical and stone fruit flavors, often oaked and/or displaying a buttery taste created by 'malolactic fermentation'.

Then there is Zinfandel, spicy, peppery, full-bodied. It is the original American grape (although rumor has it derived from the Italian grape Primitivo) and it is a perfect match for American BBQ grilled hot dogs, ribs, burgers and steaks, even chicken, but keep it away from cream sauces or seafood.

Oregon with its colder climate produces some world class Pinot Noirs, especially in the Willamette Valley, somewhat similar to Burgundies, but a little cleaner in taste and richer in body, pairing well with meat, game, even salmon. Also Pinot Gris does well in the Pacific Northwest, and exhibits much of the same characteristics as Pinot Grigio from northern Italy.

Particular mention should go to vineyards from Carneros just south of Napa, as the particular microclimate is well suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; look for Schug vineyards for a great example of Burgundy-style wine. German-born Walter Schug (pronounced 'Shoog') learned the winemaking trade there in the seventies before settling down in Carneros.

There are plenty of other wine growing areas starting with Washington State up north all the way down to Santa Barbara County down in southern California, each with it's own distinct qualities and affinities to certain grapes. Washington State has made itself a name for great Merlots, Mendocino is known for organic and biodynamic practices, Lodi for big 'juicy' Zinfandels, Paso Robles for big rich Cabernet Sauvignon and the colder east-west valleys of Santa Barbara County again for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Plenty to discover, plenty to experiment, just take a look at the wine label and take note where your wine comes from. You will find your own favorites pretty fast.

Tagged: Wine, Wine Experiments, california wine