“The best way to learn about wine is in the drinking.” – Alexis Lichine
Every time summer comes around, I find myself thinking “how did I survive this heat last year?” The same answers always run through my head: “I wouldn’t make it if I had to this without AC”, “can’t drink enough ice water”, and most importantly, “there’s no such thing as a wine being too cold.” In my past Spirits 101 writings, I have seemed to have been neglecting our homegrown juice; it is no due to not liking it, because I absolutely love American wine. I have focused on European wine because it can be very nuanced and intimidating and I wanted to make it more approachable for others. Wineries can be found in every state, even Alaska has four winemakers, and below you will find my favorite American grapes and the best regions to source those wines.
Chardonnay is America’s favorite white wine and for a good reason too. Chardonnay has the ability to speak to a range of different profiles that fit any person’s specific taste. One main identifier to consider is oaked vs un-oaked. Many people equivalate Chardonnay with butter or creaminess; this is mainly due to the flavors imparted from an oak barrel and the process of malolactic fermentation which turns tart malolactic acid into creamy and rich lactic acid. Un-oaked Chardonnay will have crisp taste and will focus more on citrus notes, which I think is much preferable during the summertime! Now, of course, when looking at where to find the best Chardonnays in America, the Napa Valley must come to mind. Napa has fantastic bold and creamy Chardonnays that you can age in your cellar for years. The Sonoma Coast has fantastic Chardonnays as well. Being a little more northern, Sonoma has a great selection of un-oaked Chardonnays that are higher in acidity and a great example of the citrus forward fruits. It’s easy to find great Chardonnays from either region, but what is important is finding the right one for that fits your tastes!
Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite grapes right now. Sauvignon Blanc is often the overlooked and misunderstood wine due to its perceived sharp bite and lack of flavor, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Again, I believe finding the right region and the right style for you is crucial to enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The profile of Sauvignon Blanc can range from an herbal green pepper with notes of lemon zest to a nectar-like honey and white peach that aren’t overly sweet because of the wine’s acidity and the fact there’s little residual sugar left in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The best Sauvignon Blancs to come out of the states, in my opinion, are those that come from a comparatively warmer climate than those of other regions: Napa, Sonoma, and (a little cooler) Willamette. Napa and Sonoma both provide a warmer growing season for the grapes to soak up the heat and produce the lighter stone fruit flavors I discussed. Willamette is a great region that has put its name on the map for their pinot noirs, but they also make stunning Sauvignon Blancs. Their Sauvignon Blanc’s provide the more acidic and crisper version of the wine that many enjoy; with this profile you’ll get more of the lime and honeydew notes. As I said, I think Sauvignon Blanc is a spectacular grape, but you just need to find the right region and flavor profile for you to enjoy!
Rieslings were made for summer drinking and beating the heat. They tend to be sweeter due to the high amount of residual sugar (measurable sugar in the bottle of wine after the wine-making process) and have a great level of acidity to balance out the sweetness. Riesling is predominantly found in cooler regions, like Alsace or southern Germany to help boast the wine’s acidity. The State’s best-known regions for Riesling are the Finger Lakes and Washington state. Upstate New York provides the cooler weather needed and brings out great citrus flavors to make the wine refreshing. Washington state Rieslings have rich soil to feed from and the wines come out in a floral and zesty profile. Again, these wines typically tend to be sweeter making them a great poolside partner!
The recommendations above should help stock your cellar to help you cool down this blazing summer. I’d love to hear from you if there’s a region or a grape you would like to read about! As the quote at the top says, I am always willing to learn more about wine and the best way is to drink it!