Episode 37: Alabama

Welcome to Episode 37 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we focus on the Heart of Dixie: Alabama. Our wine is the 2013 American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Maraella Winery, located in in the foothills of the Appalachia Mountains near the town of Hokes Bluff. Maraella Winery is, from what I have been able to discern, home to the only Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the state. Maraella winery is a bit unusual since it is one of only two vineyards I could find which are growing vinifera varietals in Alabama; most others are exclusively growing muscadine varietals, or some French-American hybrids. The reason why Maraella is able to do this is the higher elevation of their vineyard site; located away from the humid lowlands, issues such as Pierce’s Disease are mitigated.  In this episode, new guests Nicole Silvestri and Joey Estrada join me in a discussion about the usage of American vs. French oak, as well as just how fascinating this wine really was: suffice to say, this wine bucked most of the traditional stereotypes we tend to associate with Cabernet Sauvignon.

The history of Alabama wine post-prohibition begins in 1979, with the signing of the Alabama Farm Wineries Act.  This bill, heavily influenced by the owners of what is now Perdido Vineyards, allowed a “native farm winery” to produce up to 100,000 gallons a year, and sell not only to the local ABC board, but to wholesalers, retailers, and consumers for off-premise consumption. The Alabama wine industry received a further boost in 2002 when additional agricultural reforms lifted additional restrictions on wineries; Maraella is one such winery to benefit from these reforms. Today, Alabama has over 15 vineyards and wineries, though no established American Viticultural Areas as of yet.

I acquired this bottle from the winery website specifically for use in this podcast.  I am regretting not acquiring the French Oak version of this wine as well, it would have made this episode even more fascinating to us than it was already!

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The 2013 Maraella Cabernet Sauvignon, aged on American oak, is our introduction to the wine industry of Alabama.

 

Episode 21: Missouri

Sorry for the slight delay in uploading this episode, as I am editing several new recordings.   Hopefully, there will not be any additional delays.  Onward!

Our focus for Episode 21 is Missouri, which has a very long history and pedigree of winemaking here in the United States.  It also has one of the largest viticultural industries in the Midwestern US, with roughly 1,600 acres under vine and around 400 wineries, producing approximately 971,031 gallons of wine.  Missouri is also home to the oldest AVA in the United States, the Augusta AVA, which gained its federal status on June 20, 1980–eight months before Napa Valley.  The state of Missouri also has the Herrmann AVA, and the Ozark Highlands AVA.  All three of these AVAs are enclosed within the greater Ozark Mountain American Viticultural Area, which is actually the sixth largest American Viticultural Area in total size, covering 3,520,000 acres. In short, wine in Missouri is big business and is one of the few states outside of California to actively focus on marketing its wines to the public and for tourism.

While perhaps leading the market in terms of vintages produced by the Norton Grape, Missouri is also the home of a lot of viticultural experimentation, which eventually lead to the bottle Tiffany Poth (the Wine Hippie) and I drink in this podcast: the 2015 Crimson Cabernet from Lachance vineyards in DeSoto, Missouri.  (Possibly within the Augusta AVA, though my geography of American Viticultural Areas in the Midwest is lacking) Crimson Cabernet is a new varietal; a hybrid cross between Norton (Vitus aestivalis*) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Vitus vinifera) that seems to be taking the Midwestern United States by storm.  I had never even heard of this varietal before Tiffany brought this bottle to me to drink, so this was a fun wine to try.

(This cross between Norton and Cabernet Sauvignon also produced a white grape, Cabernet Dore, which may be the focus of a future podcast, or maybe bonus episode once I create a Patreon for this podcast.)

*Probably.  As we talked about a bit in our first episode, the genetic origins of Norton are a bit mysterious.

As mentioned above, my friend and fellow wine geek, Tiffany Poth, brought this bottle for me after acquiring it directly from La Chance vineyard.  Next week, Gary returns and we catch a little bit of sun.

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The 2015 Crimson Cabernet from Lachance Vineyards is our first focus wine from Missouri.

 

 

 

Episode 18: Georgia

It is said that Georgia is a state of mind, but perhaps in actuality, wine in Georgia can be considered a state of confusion! The reason for this, is, of course, the American state of Georgia shares a name with the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, which has a very long history of winemaking going back an absolute minimum of 6,000 years.

The history of winemaking in the State of Georgia, on the other hand, is decidedly recent by this timescale.  While Georgia was an important winegrowing region of the United States in the 19th century (ranked sixth in production among U.S. states by 1900) this state suffered very early on from Prohibition.  The prohibition movement in Georgia took hold in 1907, derailing the industry here until, like so many states, the early 1980’s.

Today, Georgia is the leading producer of wines made from the various Muscadine grape varietals–a type of grape we will eventually meet on this podcast, I promise.  Georgia is also home to two AVAs, the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, a bi-state appellation which covers parts of Cherokee and Clay counties in the southwestern North Carolina; along with Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in northwestern Georgia, and the Dahlonega Plateau AVA, (established in 2018) which covers most of Lumpkin, Dawson, White, Pickens, and Cherokee Counties. This AVA is about 133 square miles in size and includes (at last count) 7 wineries and 8 commercial vineyards totaling just over 110 acres of planted vines.

The wine we are looking at today, the 2011 Propaganda from Frogtown Cellars, comes from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA itself.  This wine is a blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, and 13% Malbec.  This, as we discussed in the Idaho episode, makes this wine a Bordeaux-style blend, which are often called Meritage blends in the USA–though that’s a subject for a later episode.

(As a tangent, I found myself rather impressed with the list of varietals they’re growing as a whole, incidentally: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tannat, Touriga National, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Chambourcin, Teroldego, Norton, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Seyval Blanc, Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc, Greco di Tufo and Muscato.  Dang.  Some of these are grapes we will visit in future podcasts, but I digress.)

This bottle of the 2011 Propaganda was kindly provided by friends Aileen and John, who also form my drinking cohorts for this episode, alongside an appearance from Mark Beres, the CEO of Flying Leap Vineyards.

It’s time for some Pro-Georgian wine Propaganda. Specifically, the 2011 Vintage.

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.)

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 Six: Idaho

Welcome to Episode 6 of Make America Grape Again! In this episode, we visit Idaho and meet up with one of the most abundant styles of wine blends: the Bordeaux Blend. Blends in this style, often referred to as “Meritage” blends in the New World, typically are a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, with additional grapes associated with the Bordeaux AOC of France in these blends. The wine in question is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hells Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.

This wine provides us with an introduction to a region associated with Wine Gags (Like Arizona, Idaho has been subject to a number of gags over the years). The 2014 Seven Devils Red is also a fantastic introduction to the nature of Wine Flaws–are they always bad, or can they provide additional points of interest into a wine? (In this case, the flaw was VA–volatile acidity.)

Again, sorry for the choppy audio quality in this episode– Audacity was being difficult. This bottle was purchased for this podcast by Gary Kurtz, my erstwhile cohost, while he was on vacation.

Cabernet Franc Count: 1

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The focus of Episode 6 is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hell’s Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.

Episode Two: Nevada

In Episode Two of the Make America Grape Again podcast, we will look at Nevada.

Nevada is a bit of a frontier in winemaking, due to the unwieldy nature of legislation focused on winery and vineyard production in this state.  Indeed, Nevada serves as an excellent example of the often ridiculous and Byzantine nature of alcohol legislation that can be a major challenge to winemaking in the United States; something we will explore in this episode.

The wine in question for this episode is the 2015 Silver State Red, a blend of eight different red varietals from Nevada Ridge winery; a label focused on Nevada-grown grapes found at Pahrump Valley Winery.  In this episode, along with exploring a textbook example of viticultural legislation as mentioned above,  we will also be examining the practice of blending wines, along with a discussion about what exactly makes a “good wine.”

This bottle was acquired directly from the winery by myself while visiting Pahrump Valley Winery with a dear friend of mine last year.

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Wine Number 2: 2015 Silver State Red, Nevada Ridge Winery