Episode 14: Washington

In Episode 14, we focus on Washington. Washington produces the second largest amount of wine per capita in the United States, after California.  Established in 1984, the Colombia Valley AVA is the largest wine region in the state of Washington. This AVA includes over 11,000,000 acres (4,500,000 ha), of which over 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) are under vine.  Indeed, about 99% of the vineyard area in Washington is under this AVA, and subsequent Sub-AVAs.  (American Viticultural Areas, like some of their Old World Counterparts, can be nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls.)  This particular suite of AVAs has become well known for producing traditional Bordeaux varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

But you know me. (Or, at least, are getting to know me at the very least.) I don’t like to review and look at the common stuff, necessarily. I like to look at the less usual things, when possible. Which is why I chose to look at the 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery, instead of, say, a Washington Merlot. (which I do have lined up for the second episode discussing Washington Wines at a much later date).  Gary and I found ourselves extremely disappointed with the 2012 Colombia Valley Pinot Gris, and it is telling that it seems that Maryhill has uprooted their Pinot Gris vines since the production of this wine.  Why is it disappointing?  Take a listen to find out.

(In retrospect, we should have talked more about Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris in this episode, but we ended up far too disappointed in this wine to do that.  Suffice to say, they’re largely the same thing, except not; there are some stylistic differences. Italian-style Pinot Grigio vintages are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice, while Pinot Gris, especially from Alsace, tend to be more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture, meaning this particular vintage does align more on the Gris side of the spectrum.  And now you know.)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly via Underground Cellar.com

washington wine
The 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery is our introduction into Washington wines.

 

Episode 13: Connecticut

Connecticut is the focus of our lucky 13th episode of the Make America Grape Again podcast, centered around the 2015 vintage of the Dry Summer Rosé from Sharpe Hill Vineyard, in Pomford, Connecticut. This wine is a really fun dry rosé with one of the most intense colors I’ve ever seen, made from the American Hybrid varietal known as St. Croix.  We touch upon Hybrid crosses a little in this episode, but the main focus for hybrids will be at a later time.  Gary and I also talk a bit about the Rosé phenomenon, and what sometimes makes a good Rosé.

The state of Connecticut has two AVAs; the Western Connecticut Highland AVA, and part of the Southeastern New England AVA also crosses through the state.  Interestingly, Sharpe Hill Vineyard resides in neither of these two American Viticultural Areas, which shows that you don’t necessarily need to be in an AVA to make stellar wine.  Indeed, Sharpe Hill vineyard is probably the most critically acclaimed, and famous, vineyard in the Northeast, with a host of awards having been won by vintages made by their winemaker, Howard Bursen.  Their most famous wine is probably the “Ballad of Angels,” which will be covered in a (much) later episode.

This bottle was acquired on the vineyard estate in June of 2017 by yours truly.

2015 Dry Summer Rosé
The 2015 Dry Summer Rosé from Sharpe Hill Winery is a really fun exploration into St. Croix

Episode 12: California

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the grape (and region) that is most associated with California wines to the average consumer and wine drinker. However, there is a LOT more to California wines than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays which have been buried in oak so much that they may as well be coffins. There are a lot of cool things going on in California Wine that aren’t really talked about, which is why the focus of this episode is the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer, from Winc. (They usually have some fun and interesting goodies available, so use that link if you want to join in the fun… it gets me some more wine, and gets you some too.  For the record, they are not a sponsor.)

I chose the 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cab-Pfef for a couple of reasons.  For one, it is a wine that can easily induce conversation on several topics, such as the winemaking technique of Carbonic Maceration, and the increasing popularity of “natural wines,” especially in vintages from California. (Just what counts as a “natural wine,” anyway? Which reminds me, I want to give a shout-out to my other new favorite wine podcast: Natural Disasters. I only found out these guys about after recording this episode. They’re hilarious folks, go and listen.)  Gary and I also dabble with the great mystery surrounding Cabernet Pfeffer–namely, just what the hell IS Cabernet Pfeffer?

Also, this bottle was kind of a “Screw You” to the people who are demanding I review a California Cabernet for this podcast.  Here you go.  This is your California Cabernet.  (You didn’t specify WHICH Cabernet, bitches.)

I acquired this bottle with my own cash from Winc.com, and while this bottle is long gone, there is another Cabernet Pfeffer there right now.

2016 PYT Cab-Pfef
The 2016 Pretty Young Thing Cabernet Pfeffer is a lovely introduction in this podcast to the Natural Wine phenomenon… and it’s freaking delicious.

Episode 11: New York

The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estates provides our introduction to New York State in our eleventh episode of The Make America Grape Again Podcast.  This wine is sourced from a number of different vineyards in the Finger Lakes AVA.   With 100 wineries and roughly 11,000 planted acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes AVA has one of the highest concentration of wineries outside of California.  Indeed, New York as a whole ranks third in terms of grape production (by volume) after California and Washington.

In this episode, we talk a little bit about the history of Riesling, and about the etymology of grape names, which can be a fun, exciting philosophical endeavor.  We also talk about how simplicity can be a very good thing with wine, and why Riesling does not have to be sweet, despite what the few bottles in your grocery store seem to tell you.

From the Tech Sheet for the 2016 Dry Riesling (which we did not have when we recorded this episode, sadly): Harvest occurred over a two-week period from October 6th right up to a major rain event on October 21st; allowing the grapes to be picked at peak ripeness. Each vineyard site was vinified entirely separately to best bring out individual character; from cold soaking decisions, to fermentation style, to storage in stainless steel or neutral oak. After resting through winter and spring, the wines were then blended together and bottled in early summer. The vineyard sites have a mix of mineral soil types ideal for dry Riesling, including: shale & gravel, shale & clay, sand over shale, and limestone & shale.

This bottle was donated for the cause by my friend Nicole Silvestri.

Empire Estate Dry Riesling
The 2016 Dry Riesling from Empire Estate in New York provides our introduction to the Finger Lakes AVA.

A Snooth Interlude: Murietta’s Well Tasting

A few days ago, I did an online tasting with Snooth, focusing on the wines from Murietta’s Well, which is located in the Livermore AVA in California.  It was my first experience doing an online wine tasting; the center point was the winemaker, Robbie Meyer, on video chat talking about his wines while we all sipped along and inquired about the processes and ideas behind each wine–something I enjoy doing rather often with local winemakers over on podcasts at The Arizona Wine Monk wherever possible–the main difference was in the distance, and tasting with a group of others was particularly fun.

All the wines from Murietta’s well are small lot (though larger lots than anyone in Arizona, by and large), and wild-fermented, which is fascinating.  Wild fermentation can be difficult to do well, after all, as wild yeasts can be a bit… Well, cantankerous to deal with, to say the least.  Overall, these wines had a more Old World feel to them than most wines I’ve encountered from California.  Here are the wines we tasted, and some thoughts I had about each.  The next podcast episode will load in another six days–we will stick to the every tenth-day cycle which has worked so far. (There won’t be any Riesling to miss it, so stay tuned.)

muriettas well tasting
Here is their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which was fermented in neutral oak; resulting in something very like a Sancerre. This was nothing like the over-bearing oak bombs I usually encounter with California Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of pear, apple, gooseberry, and apricot intermingled with crisp minerality and high acidity.

 

muriettas well tasting
Next up was The Whip (2016), a blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat, and 10% Viognier. This was a well-balanced white blend that really struck me as quite sophisticated and versatile. What was particularly interesting for me was that I could pick out the role of each grape in this blend, which is always a fun exercise. The Viognier provided the strong apricot character, the Sauvignon Blanc provided most of the skeletal structure, while the Semillon provided the heavier body to this blend, and so on. I honestly wanted to pair this wine with Pad Thai, which is odd to me because I normally don’t want to pair white wines with this sort of body with such spicy food.  (I also think it could work well with enchiladas, but that’s just me.)

 

Third up for the tasting was their 2016 Dry Rosé. This was a well-structured, high acidity savorfest blend of 42% Grenache (farmed specifically for rosé), 39% Counoise, and 19% Mourvèdre. Watermelon/Cotton Candy notes imparted by the Counoise were especially prominent,. intermingling with the bright strawberry notes imparted via the Grenache. Overall, this wine was evocative of some of the heftier rosé blends from Provence or Bandol. This wine was probably tied for second out of all the wines. I really do wish more winemakers played with Counoise.  I would serve this wine as it is–no food needed–it is a great summer sipper.

 

muriettas well tasting
The rosé was tied with The Spur (2015) for second place in the tasting as far as I was concerned. This was a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Livermore Valley is apparently well-known for Petit Sirah, which adds in a dimension of place, according to Robbie Meyer.  Apparently, it is pretty common in the Livermore Valley to blend in a bit of Petit Sirah into otherwise “Bordeaux-Style” blends there. (This aspect made me think of how often in my homeland of Arizona, we add in Petit Sirah to our GSM-style blends for color and tannins.)  The 2015 vintage of The Spur (named, of course, for a part of the grapevine) was savory, fruity, and well-balanced, with an elegant scaffold of tannins. Nothing was over the top here on this vintage, which again struck me as unusual for most California “Bordeaux-style” blends which usually require me to decant extensively to enjoy them in any form.  This elegance will lend this wine to being paired with a wide variety of foods–I ended up pairing the rest of this bottle with a crockpot pork roast with root veggies and green chili and it worked fantastically.

 

muriettas well tasting
My favorite wine of all the Murietta’s Well vintages was the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pre-release preview. Now, I normally do not like California Cabernet at all; I find them generally to be too brusque, masculine, and inelegant. I usually find that I either need to decant wines of this sort for three hours, or smoke a cigar with them, to peel back the insane use of oak that seems to be the de jure style.  I am convinced that many winemakers in Californa use this insane level of oak to hide flaws that are resulting from potentially shoddy winemaking, or to hide an otherwise unexciting vintage.  Now, that being said, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Murietta’s Well was completely the opposite of that.  I was amazed by this wine.  This was an elegant, balanced, well-structured and sophisticated vintage–sort of like a well-dressed professor in tweed. Notes of olives and Connecticut shade-grown tobacco wrapper intermingled in this wine with earth, vanilla, cassis, and blackberry, alongside hints of lighter fruits such as plum and raspberry. It is, I think, a wine well suited for a New York strip steak and a nice cigar like an Ashton Symmetry. I was deeply impressed by this wine and was sad when I finished it off. If I didn’t already have all of my wines lined up for the California episodes of this podcast, I would have used this bottle in a heartbeat.  It is everything that a California Cabernet Sauvignon *should* be.

 

 

 

 

Episode 10: Illinois

Welcome to the Tenth episode of the Make America Grape Again podcast, showcasing Illinois.  Today’s wine is the Blue Sky Vineyard 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc, from Blue Sky Vineyards in the Shawnee Hills AVA.

The Midwest is a pretty active wine region, overall, as I am constantly reminded by visitors to my tasting room for my day job. The Shawnee Hills AVA is a thriving wine scene in Southern Illinois that currently has about 55 vineyards and 300 planted acres, and is booming. Already, this AVA has dramatically improved the economic setting of the region. The soils here in this area, thanks to the lack of Pleistocene Glaciation. This wine provides our first brief encounter with how local geology affects the terroir of a wine region.  While a Cabernet Franc, this wine is very different from the Colorado vintage in our previous episode; this wine is a lovely fruit bomb with the classic Midwest musty character.

This bottle was acquired thanks to Scott Albert, who is the winemaker for Kite Hill Vineyards, also in the Shawnee Hills AVA.  He was kind enough to do a bottle trade for some Arizona wines when he approached me when I first announced this podcast over on The Wine Monk.  Thanks, Scott!   I was really impressed by this vintage and am looking forward to recording more episodes with the wines you have contributed.

Cabernet Franc Count: 3

blue sky vineyard cabernet franc
The 2014 Estate Cabernet Franc from Blue Sky Vineyards was a delightful fruit bomb.

Episode 9: Colorado

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast; in this episode, we will be exploring Colorado for the first time!

Colorado is a land of extremes, with everything from towering mountains that scrape the heavens to high plains and deserts. It is also a land with some fascinating viticultural potential, producing both vinifera and fruit wines. The Palisades region, also known as the Grand Valley AVA, is perhaps the central point of the thriving viticultural industry in Colorado. Our wine of the day, the 2015 Colorado Cabernet Franc from Sutcliffe Vineyards, is sourced from this AVA.

This episode provides an introduction on how to approach making wine tasting notes, and Old World versus new world approaches to viticulture, as we were all gathered to help my friend Jen Condon (who provided the bottle) with some homework for her classes in the viticultural program at Yavapai College.  An entire podcast featuring Old World vs. New World wines and their approaches will be posted on my other website in the near future.

Cabernet Franc Count: 2

The 2015 Colorado Cabernet Franc from Sutcliffe Vineyards was sourced from the Grand Valley AVA. Here it is at dusk.