In the American Southwest, celebrations around the Fifth of May are a big thing. Known as Cinco de Mayo, American pop culture seems to hold that this date is the independence day for Mexico, but this is actually a misnomer. May 5th actually celebrates the Battle of Puebla, where a Mexican army defeated a French army that was trying to install a puppet regime there. The day is not even celebrated in Mexico, often passing by unremarked. But this podcast isn’t about cultural movements and deep cultural reasons why one day is celebrated my immigrants and their white neighbors, while natives in the homeland ignore the same day (and there is a lot to deep dive on the subject, this just isn’t the place). This podcast is about wine.
And, as it turns out, Mexican food is a great pairing for wines made from Riesling. Not only that, as it turns out, Mexican food and German food form really delicious fusion cuisine. So I invited some friends over and took blatant advantage of the day to make some sauerkraut and pork tacos with Pico de Gallo brought by Nikki… and we had a lot of Riesling. Bottles came from Arizona, Italy, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Germany, from a wide variety of styles. Grab a taco and dig in while you take a listen. You’ll be glad you did.
Last week, I went to visit the rocky landscape of Moab, Utah, in pursuit of the state’s oldest wineries. This is not a podcast about this experience, though the winemaker for the vintage in this episode, Evan Lewandowski, is based out of Utah, and features the state on his fantastic labels.
Ruth Lewandowski Winery, named after the Book of Ruth from the Old Testament is a natural wine label that focuses upon minimum intervention in the cellar, and Evan tends to only use sulfites at the very end of fermentation. (Coming up soon will be a whole episode where we talk Natural Wines, so stay tuned). The operating philosophy of this winery is based on a cycle of death and redemption, both in physical and spiritual realms. After all, as Evan states: “Death is, indeed, the engine of life. Nothing that is alive today could be so without something having died first. This is the nature of our universe, of our planet, of our soils, plants, and ultimately you and I.”
With this philosophy in mind, I decided to take my bottle of the 2018 Dinos to Diamonds on vacation to Maryland with me last spring. The idea was to drink this bottle with my paleontologist friend John-Paul Hodnett, hopefully, to talk about deep ideas such as extinction, ecosystem rebirth, wine and deep time, and fossilization. Instead, this wine, a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Merlot, proved to be a surprisingly perfect beach wine for the Calvert Cliffs. You won’t hear much philosophy and paleontology in this podcast (if you want that instead, go check out the episode JP did in the Paleo Nerds podcast), but what you will hear is him, his wife, and me enjoying a good bottle of a vaguely Super-Tuscan wine by a beach while we are taking a break hunting for fossil9 shark teeth. Cheers!
Diamond is a grape you might know better than you think. You may not have heard of this hybrid varietal, but there is a decent chance that you might have tasted it… but not in wine. Also known as Moore’s Diamond, this hybrid cross between Concord and Iona is, along with Niagara, one of the main grapes grown by Welch’s for use as white grape juice. If you know us in this podcast though, you know full well that we are all about trying some of the odd and unique wines made from varietals not commonly found along the beaten path.
Enter Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report. Along with the stellar blog, Lenn has a fantastic wine club focusing on some of the wines from off the beaten track, and in the February shipment came this fantastic bottle, the 2018 Diamond Petillant Naturel from Fossenvue Winery in the Finger Lakes AVA of New York. Also called the Eighteen-Forty-Eight (the year in which a famous Woman’s Suffrage Camp in Lodi, NY was created), Lenn described this wine, saying, “Even if you’re not typically a fan of ‘weird’ grapes, I think you’re going to dig it.”
We here at the Make America Grape Again Podcast are fans of ‘weird grapes,’ as well as strange wines in general (just look at our back catalogue which contains such wonders as Dandelion wines, Tomato wines, and amber wines made of La Crescent from Vermont, just to name a few), so of course, I dragged my friends kicking and screaming into drinking this bottle. It started out a little weird, and a little funky, but opened up to become something amazing and fun, and we’re glad we recorded that time to share with you all. Enjoy!
With the world in the current state, what better time is there to drink, right? Even though I recorded this episode last summer… better late than never! Apologies. Life has again gotten in the way of things.
But, never fear! In this episode, a massive group of folks who are friends with our intrepid Judgemental Graphics Designer, VeniVidiDrinki, join us in meeting one of the most interesting white grapes that is slowly beginning to take the market by storm: Grüner Veltliner.
Grüner Veltliner is probably the Austrian wine industry’s greatest claim to fame, as the country has 42,380 acres of this vine planted there. This bright, highly acidic grape likely had its origins in Italy, as the name literally translated means “Green Wine of Veltlin,” Veltin being a community in Northern Italy. Grüner Veltliner has a reputation of being a particularly food-friendly wine, and is rapidly becoming a popular offering on wine lists in restaurants, or even in grocery stores here in the US.
It is made into wines of many different styles – much is intended for drinking young, some is made into sparkling wine, but others are capable of aging long-term in a cellar. As an example, the steep vineyards near the Danube produce very pure, mineral-driven Grüner Veltliners referred to as Smaragd (etymologically related to Smaug, by the way), intended for long-term aging in the cellar. Meanwhile, down in the plains, citrus and peach flavors tend to be more apparent in wines of this grape, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco, and these are intended to be imbibed sooner, rather than later.
As for the wines in this podcast, only one, the Crazy Creatures, is from Austria. The other two are vintages from the USA; one from Michigan, courtesy of a #winestudio exploration of the region (the same which lead to our Chardonnay comparison), and the other is from Crane Creek Vineyards, in Young Harris, Georgia. The state, this time, not to be confused with the country we’ve been exploring a bit in the last few episodes.
Along with exploring this grape with folks who have never tasted it, we delve a little bit into the world of wine marketing and label design… I hope you enjoy!
In the same early episode where I mentioned that Rkatsiteli was the viticultural equivalent of Goldberry, Co-host Gary had asked what grape would be the equivalent of Tom Bombadil. “Why, that would be Saperavi, of course,” I replied.
It’s about time we meet this grape. Like Rkatsiteli, Saperavi originates from the cradle of viticulture, the Republic of Georgia. This is also a varietal I’ve wanted to explore on this podcast for a long time, as it is a personal favorite of mine. Years ago, before I started this podcast, two members of the wine club at the winery I once worked for, Anita and Ken Colburn, told me they were going to visit the Finger Lakes, and asked if I wanted them to bring back anything. I said that I had heard very good things about Saperavi from that region, and if they found one, I’d happily trade something from my cellar for a chance to taste.
Lo and behold, they were kind enough to bring back with them the vintage which is the keystone of this podcast: the 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Saperavi. It seems that currently, the Finger Lakes is the seat of Saperavi’s throne in the United States, though there are plantings in other parts of New York, and Kansas. I have also heard rumors that there are vineyards with this grape growing in Virginia and Maryland, but have been unable to substantiate these rumors.
We compared the 2014 vintage from Standing Stone with the 2014 Saperavi from Merani Cellars in the Republic of Georgia sourced from Kakheti; the probable homeland of this ancient grape varietal. Take a listen, and enjoy!
Way back at the beginning of season one, I tangentially mentioned a fascinating grape in our first episode talking about wines in Massachusetts: Rkatsiteli. This was just one of the five grapes in that particular blend, the 2014 Cinco Cães from Westport Rivers Winery. If you remember, I casually compared Rkatsiteli to Goldberry, Tom Bombadil’s wife in the Lord of the Rings books. I decided though, at some point, it would be fun to take a look at this varietal in-depth at a later time.
But trying to find single varietal takes on this grape here in the United States is a hard thing to do. Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery does produce a single varietal version (and an amber version I would dearly love to get my hands on), but the fact of the matter is that Dr. Konstantin Frank himself did so much for the viticultural industry on the East Coast that I wanted to do a deep dive episode on him, specifically–tackling two deep dives in one episode might make the resulting podcast too long.
But then, VeniVidiDrinki went to New Jersey and found a bottle at Tomasello Winery during the same visit she picked up the Blaufränkisch we enjoyed back in season one. Problem solved! I picked up a version from the Republic of Georgia at my favorite Russian import market in Phoenix, and we sat around and drank the two side by side to produce this episode. It wasn’t the best comparison, as the two wines were produced in slightly different styles, but mayhem still ensued. Enjoy!
First of all, let me apologize for the erratic upload schedule this January. There is a lot of stuff going on in my life right now; a struggle with depression, a struggle with finances, and my mother is on her deathbed. I beg pardon for not following my every 2-week schedule as I planned. Now, onto the blog. (If you want to help, please support the Patreon for this podcast!)
One of our very first episodes of season one focused on the supposed wonder of Virginia Viognier. As you may remember, neither Gary or I were impressed with the 2016 Horton Viognier and were deeply confused as to why Viognier was supposed to be the state grape of Virginia in the first place. I told this to my friend Michelle Petree, who asked which one I had imbibed, and she proceeded to be horrified by my selection. “Don’t worry,” she said, probably shaking her head sadly, “I’ll fix that for you. I know the good ones. The 2017 Viognier from King Family Vineyards is especially great.”
In return, I promised her my favorite bottle of Viognier from Arizona, the 2016 Rune Viognier, made by James Callahan. (He will be a guest in later episodes in season 2, so stay tuned!) At some point, one of us (I can’t rightly remember who, lots of alcohol was involved…) decided we should drink these two wines side by side with a vintage from Viognier’s homeland, Condrieu… and settled on the 2017 De Poncins, from Francois Villard, as a comparison. And so this podcast was born.
Viognier, if you are unaware, has made a huge comeback in the last 60 years from near-extinction (in 1965, there were only 30 acres of this grape remaining) to a worldwide sensation, being grown across the world, from Arizona to New Zealand. Most of the Viognier acreage planted in the United States can be found in California, but it is also grown in 15 other states. One of the main reasons for Viognier’s fall from grace until the 1960s is due to the fact that this varietal is very difficult to grow, being prone to Powdery Mildew, as well as suffering unpredictable yields from one vintage to the next.
However, this grape is increasing in popularity as an attractive alternative to Chardonnay, so I feel we can only expect more Viognier to appear as time goes on. Watch this space!
Over my holiday hiatus, I was thinking recently about what 10 varietals might define the overall Wine industry in the United States. Would it be defined by which grapes are grown by highest amount of acreage? What about grapes that may not tip the scales in terms of total acreage, but have found themselves to be widespread around the country? Would it be defined by which grapes have had the largest influence in the history of winemaking here? Would it be defined by grapes used to make historical vintages that alerted the Old World to the New?
I haven’t quite finished that list yet, but I will say that Norton, a grape we’ve metseveral times before on The Make America Grape Again Podcast, should qualify for that top ten list. After all, any indigenous American varietal that manages to have its own Riedel Glass is definitely important. This glass, unveiled in 2009 at Les Bourgeois Winery, indicates the importance that Norton has to the wine industry in the American Midwest. As a matter of fact, the vintage we drink in this podcast comes from Les Bourgeois. Kim, a longtime Norton aficionado and friend of mine, has for years been trying to convince me that Norton is actually worth my time and energy to understand, but I have been tragically dubious. She comes from Missouri, where this grape is, unquestionably, the king of the local industry there.
I first became convinced there was something to Norton with our first ever episode, featuring a Norton from Kentucky, but when she brought this vintage over, I was truly smitten. Take a listen, and learn about Norton.
We explored Michigan once before, but that episode was recorded about a month before I got the chance to drink some fantastic Michigan wines courtesy of a #winestudio event and the Michigan Wine Collaborative. Among the bottles sent were two bottles of 2016 Chardonnay; one from Amoritas Vineyard, and the other from Chateau Chantal. These wines are from the Leelanau AVA and Old Mission AVA, respectively. The original idea for this episode was to focus on vine age and resulting vintages, but the conversation quickly shifted to different modes of making Chardonnay–not all Chardonnay vintages are made for the same purposes, as it turns out!
These two bottles, provided through the kindness of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and #winestudio turned out to be perfect examples of the two main styles of New World Chardonnay: Buttery and oaky, and crispy stainless steel. Both of these wines had us saying Chardon-yay, for sure, and allowed us to take a deep dive into a grape varietal that is perhaps overlooked due to its prominence in the wine market but is really just as fascinating as any hipster varietal you may not have ever heard of.
I learned a lot about Michigan wine thanks to the interactions on #winestudio with the folks tweeting at the Michigan Wine Collaborative and the veritable host of winemakers (most of whom were women, which is freaking awesome) over the course of the three weeks of this program. Emi Beth was fabulous at answering all of our strange questions about the wine scene that is exploding in Michigan currently. Another wine from this particular #winestudio program, a Grüner Veltliner, will appear in a later episode this season for a deep dive of this unique Austrian varietal.
We’ve had a couple of sparklingwines in this program before, but we’ve never really had a traditional method sparkling wine on the show before. Let’s change that, with a look at the 2007 RJR Brut Cuvée, from Westport Rivers Winery, in Massachusetts.
In case you were not aware, “traditional method” is code for the same method which is used to make Champagne in France; it’s just that nobody outside of Champagne can use this word to describe a wine method, due to very strict provisions laid down by the EU and France. You will occasionally see wines made in this method labeled as ‘Classic Method,’ also. What these words mean is that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented; that secondary fermentation which produced the bubbles occurred in the bottle in which the wine was sold. This can be a time-consuming process if done by hand, but other places (such as Gruet in New Mexico, as an example) have figured out how to do mass-production of such bottles.
As you may have guessed from the implication above, sparkling wines made in the traditional method undergo two separate fermentations. The first, which is usually carried out in tanks, creates what is known as the base wine, which is still–no bubbles. If the wine in question is a non-vintage blend, the base still wines will be blended according to whatever style and quality requirements exist for the given produced to produce a unified flavor for the brand; or still wines from a given year will be blended together (which is likely what happened with this wine in question). This process, known as assemblage, ends with the blended wine put into bottles, along with a mixture of yeast and sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation. The bottles are then closed with the same sort of cap you see on a beer bottle. (In case you wanted to expand your French wine terms, this mix is known as the liqueur de tirage).
Next up, the bottles are then placed on their sides in cellar environments, while that secondary fermentation begins. It is this secondary fermentation that creates the CO2 which gets trapped to become bubbles. After the second fermentation is complete the wines are left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – wine terminology for the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for any period of time the winemaker wishes. This could range from a mere 6 months to upwards of several years, like in the case of this vintage. The longer the wine rests on these lees, the more amino acids and other compounds that are in the dead yeast cells will break down and be released into the wine. Known as autolysis, this process is what adds toast, bread, and the yeasty character and aromas that are often associated with higher-end vintages made in this style.
The final steps of this process are known as remuage and disgorgement, where the lees are removed from the bottle. The bottles are carefully rotated and shaken and slowly moved upside down so that the sediment in the bottle is slowly moved towards the neck of the bottle. This process is known as riddling–it can either be done by hand, or by automatic machinery. After the sediment has been gathered to this part of the bottle, the material must be disgorged–something done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing brine bath. After being frozen, the cap is removed, and the bottle of frozen lees sediment will shoot out. The final step of this disgorging process is quickly topping off the bottle with a mixture known either as the dosage or ‘liqueur d’expédition. This is a mixture of wine and sugar, the amount of which is determined based on the eventual style of the wine. As an example, the dosage for the RJR Brut Cuvée probably contained somewhere between 6g and 15g/l of sugar; pretty standard for wines labeled as ‘Brut’.
After this, the bottle is closed with the traditional Champagne-style cork, with the wire cage (known as a muselet) and foil. The wine can now wait and age as long as the winemaker demands before being released to the adoring public. These styles of wine can age very well; as evidenced by our reaction to this bottle in the podcast.