The path all of us took to our life's relationship with adult beverages is strikingly similar. We began with something decidedly on the sweet side. Most of us, but not all, were either shamed by our harder-drinking peer group, aka according to our parents, The Wild Ones, or we took it on ourselves to see what other concoctions could make us appear even more sophisticated than we were already. At least that was our take on the situation.
Wine was not considered the coolest liquid at that point. It seemed rather mundane and if we wanted to experiment, we had no idea where to begin.
Still, many waded into those deep waters and found something in wine, if not profound, at least adequate. The next step was a youthful curiosity that took us still further into new tastes and aromas from countries and states we knew of, but with grapes we knew nothing about except their strange sounding, sometimes unpronounceable names.
And for many of us, there the journey ends. We, along with our drinking buddies – in New Orleans, that's about everyone we know or ever will meet – are perfectly satiated/satisfied with what we know now; the flame of youth and youthful curiosity burning very dimly. We like our cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley; our chardonnay from Sonoma County; our zinfandel from Dry Creek; and our sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
Never mind that those places are not the original home for those grapes, or even that other places, if you insist and persist in drinking those wines, are doing some pretty fantastic work with fruit you love. Let's not over think the situation. You know what you like and you have come to a satisfying conclusion for you.
Well, I am not here to give you affirmation for your gone-on-way-too-long drinking habits. So if it is a pat on the back you seek, sorry. You will need to flip over to another website that is the equivalent of every player getting a trophy just for showing up. Ya' gotta earn your stripes here. No gimme.
What has been happening out in the real world while you have been content to order "anything red" is nothing short of a wet revolution. Places where since the beginning of time no grapevine could exist are now turning out some damn fine juice. Think Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. And other places that were growing grapes and making wine at nothing better than a swill level are now winning awards and satisfying consumers who are no where close to the vineyard, which takes the scenario out of the "provincial pride" category. Think New York State, Virginia, Michigan, and Indiana.
Let's take quick trip around the horn and touch the surface of wines that you may not associate with that place.
New York State – the Finger Lakes area is becoming renowned for Dry Riesling. The wines are not sweet. They are luscious, elegant, and pair fantastically with our cuisine. Step right up. Don't be afraid. There is now also a bit of pinot noir trickling out of the Empire State.
Virginia – Thomas Jefferson wanted to make wine with all of his being. That great man could not pull it off. Today if Jefferson were around, he would be outrageously old, but more importantly, he would be smiling ear to ear. The Cynthiana Norton grape he thought would work at Monticello is now thriving on his ground. The same is be true for an authentic French grape, Cabernet Franc, and that successful planting would please Jefferson's Francophile leanings.
Texas – This state's desire to grow good grapes and make fine wine is likely unmatched by any other state. Desire does not always make for a happy outcome, however, and results have been a long time coming. But Texas is finding success in a few most unlikely grapes. The Spanish workhorse grape, tempranillo, is acclimating to hot and dry conditions up near the Panhandle. On the white side, the Italian grape, vermentino, has demonstrated aromatic and palate-pleasing qualities rivaling some fine examples from the Old Country.
Arizona – What was once High Desert is now home to over 100 wineries, most specializing in French and Italian varietals. They all are not really good but they are working towards the goal. About 10 wineries, however, are ringing bells.
Interestingly one of the hardest wines to make, sparkling, is having happy successes in New Mexico and on the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. If that were an answer on Jeopardy, would you have known the question?
So all this good stuff going on, and why haven't you found out about it? Actually, it is probably not your fault. The way the alcohol distribution is structured, there may not be an interest in a distributor bringing in cabernet sauvignon from Red Mountain in Washington State. After all, you seem perfectly happy buying those wines from other, more well-known points of origin and the distributor is making a profit selling what they have. Why rock the boat?
The other consideration is that a new wine from a new place may not have enough juice to make it all the way to our market. Lots of people from lots of other places are curious and adventuresome. They too have an interest in wines from off the beaten path.
Here's how to make it happen: next time you face the Wall of Wine at your retailer, veer. Purchase just one or two bottles from somewhere other than Your Usual. Maybe toss all caution to the wind and even buy wine made from a grape you know nothing about. Or team up with some friends who would consider a cost-sharing adventure.
Could be fun, huh?