Pack your shopping bags and set off for the grocery store – that’s all you need to take a wine region road trip across the United States this summer.
Wine buyers often become excessively loyal to a handful of favorite wines. But if you let your adventurous side do the driving as you cruise the wine aisle, you’ll discover just how exciting off- the-beaten-track wines can be.
Take the same grape varietal and plant it in different locations around the globe and you will see wildly different results. Grapes, much like people, adapt to the environment they are in. One of the stunning attributes of wine grapes is that each berry on the vine becomes a shiny little gem of the climate, soil, terrain and growing traditions of the area in which it is grown.
Within the U.S., wine regions have boundaries based on distinguishable geographic features. Each region in which wine grapes are grown is designated as a distinct American Viticulture Area (AVA) – the U.S. has 230 AVAs. While not all grapes grow well in all AVAs, there are enough commonalities in regions that varietals can be grown in various places across the country. This means that if you are a Pinot Noir fan, for instance, you can explore the way bottles of Pinot Noir variously reflect the Russian River Valley AVA, the Santa Maria Valley AVA and the Willamette Valley AVA. It’s palate-pleasing to taste the similarities of a varietal across different regions, and thrilling to explore how very distinctive they are.
Emmett Welch, wine department manager at Draeger’s Market in Los Altos, strives to include lesser-known wine regions on his shelves. His efforts enable customers to access wines with small production numbers and limited availability outside of a winery’s tasting room.
On my trips to Tahoe, I often promise to make time to visit some of the wineries of the El Dorado AVA. After recently discovering The Withers Rosé ($21.99), thanks to guidance from Draeger’s staff, I’m all the more motivated to make that goal a reality.
Made with primarily Mourvedre grapes, The Withers’ elegant and dry rosé purposely evokes notions of a Bandol region wine. The luscious nectarine and peach notes will make you feel as if you are luxuriating in Provence, where the highly acclaimed Bandol rosé wines are produced. But there is something beautifully Sierra Foothills about this wine, too. Serve the passionately made rosé chilled alongside fresh seafood, like oysters.
Heading farther north to Oregon, you’ll encounter a huge variety of wines to explore. While Oregon is already known for the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays it produces, it’s a Gruner Veltliner from the Chehalem Mountains AVA that you should consider for filling your summer glass.
The Chehalem 2014 Ridgecrest Vineyards Grüner Veltliner is like a playground of freshness – lime, tangerine and white pepper all happily mingling together on the palate. On the nose, this wine has crisp green-apple aromas. The firecracker of stunning acidity makes it an exceptional summer food wine, pairing with all manner of al fresco fare.
Ravines Wine Cellars’ Dry Riesling gained the New York winery impressive recognition in recent years, earning the family-owned winery a spot on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” list in 2014. Located in the Seneca Lake region of the Finger Lakes AVA, Ravines makes a truly special Cabernet Franc, too.
“This wine is reminiscent of something you might discover while having a bistro meal in the Loire Valley of France,” Welch said of the Ravines 2015 Cabernet Franc he stocks at Draeger’s ($21.99). “Beautiful layers of black cherry and a round, bright finish make this an excellent wine to enjoy beside a grilled steak.”
Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. To read her blog, visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com.