It is likely that most northern Californians do not venture far from Sonoma and Napa wines even when they are searching for something new and exciting. It is, therefore, quite interesting that the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg recently hosted a wine tasting event by the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association (ASWA).
Carl Brandhorst and Dave Barber represented the association and offered 30 wines for tasting from some of the seventeen (17) states which the association represents. The sold out event kicked off with Dave providing a brief but fascinating history of the association and explaining the difference between vitis vinifera (Latin for 'wine bearer') grapes, those most commonly grown for wine production, and several other grape species native to North America such as V. Labrusca, V. Riparia, and V. Aestivalis. It is these native grapes and often hybrids as well as blends with v. vinifera grapes that distinguish many of the ASWA wines from those most familiar to wine drinkers.
Dave also provided a guided tasting of six (6) of the thirty (30) wines brought to the event. This offered a special opportunity for Dave to help the participants understand and then appreciate these wines. The wines were different, even the ones using familiar grapes like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, but different does not connote bad, in fact, to the delight of the participants, these wines were very good. Most were lower in alcohol percentages. The ripeness scale (usually expressed in brix) that can be achieved in the eastern part of the country is so different from California or the Mediterranean climates of Europe. From the cold short summers of Maine to the hot humid summers of Virginia and the Carolinas, the farmers have different challenges in growing the grapes and then in the vinification process. Add in the different types of soil and one better understands the unique flavor profiles and aromatics of these wines.
Participants were guided through these 6:
Pollak Vineyards, VA, 2011 Viognier (100%), $22. The state grape of Virginia, this Viognier was smooth and soft in texture and very aromatic.
Candia Vineyards, NH 2011 Diamond (100%), $16. The Diamond grape is a cross between the Concord grape (of jelly fame) and the Iona grape, both native to NY State. Very different but quite pleasant with a fruity bouquet with light citrusy tartness. Would be perfect pairing for spicy foods.
Elk Run Vineyards, MD, 2010 Syrah (100%), $26.50. The tobacco aromatics stood out with some vanilla from the oak barrels. Could be laid down for a couple years and retain its good flavors.
Hopewell Valley Vineyards, NJ, 2007 Rosso della Valle, a blend of Chambourcin (75%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), $16.95. Chambourcin is a north American-French hybrid developed in the early 1960s in the Loire region of France. Probably includes Cabernet Franc. This bottling had Cherry notes and a leathery finish.
Heritage Vineyards, NJ 2010 BDX (Bordeaux) Blend with 66% Cabernet Saugivnon, 27% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, ~$24. This had many of the characteristics of a Bordeaux blend including nice structure and complexity and would also lay down well.
It is important to note that each of the 30 presented were medal winners from recent wine competitions. As an example, at the January 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition held in Cloverdale, CA over 160 medals were awarded to the vintners from seven (7) of the ASWA member states. This included more than eighty (80) from the Finger Lakes (NY) appellation, thirty-eight (38) from Virginia and nearly twenty (20) from as far away as Maine.
Despite efforts to promote these interesting and unique wines, it remains difficult to find very many at Bevmo! or other retail wine outlets on the west coast. This, in spite of the typically reasonable pricing. The principal reason is that most of these wineries are small, family owned operations with production in the low (1,000 cases or less) to medium (3-5,000 cases). They sell most wine through their tasting rooms and wine clubs. Most are able to ship their wines into California so don't be reluctant to order online.
Established in 1973 as the Vinifera Wine Growers Association, the ASWA is one of the oldest wine organizations in the United States.
The Sonoma County Wine Library is at the corner of Center and Piper Streets in Healdsburg at 139 Piper Street.