Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
July 7, 2003 "Get Thee to a Winery!"
The weather here on the East Coast is finally beginning to warm up and, maybe, just maybe, dry out. As we shake off the last rain drops and pull our sunny dispositions out of storage, we can think of pleasant things to do once the grass is mown.
Like visiting wineries.
Winery visits can be hit-or-miss affairs. You may learn something about winemaking, a winery or a wine region, taste some decent wines and have a pleasant time. Or you might get stuck behind a noisy group that hogs the tasting room counter, which is manned by someone rich in attitude and poor in interest. Such visits are a waste of time, no matter how good the wine.
This year, WineAmerica, a winery trade association that recently morphed from the American Vintners Association, is offering consumers a way to ensure that their winery visits are, well, fruitful. A modest membership fee ($20) gains one the title "WineAmerica Champion" and "VIP access" to participating wineries. Through the organization's Web site, members can arrange appointments for private tours and tastings (both barrel and reserve tastings) with winery principals, often the winemaker. Members will also receive a discount on purchases at participating wineries.
Time for a disclaimer: I have a small role in this program, contributing some content to the Web site and media materials. I will also be writing and editing a bimonthly electronic newsletter for members. So I will spare you the hype and pass along details.
The program kicks off this month in Maryland and Virginia, with the expectation that it can go national next year. The winemakers hope the program will draw consumers to the wineries so that producers can have a direct connection to the people who drink their wine – the "end users," in bizspeak.
One of the most rewarding aspects of writing about wine has been the opportunity it has given me to meet winemakers and learn from them about their craft. This program offers everyone that kind of access.
You may find out more and sign up at http://www.wineamerica.org.
Summer's delayed arrival here on the East Coast has left plenty of time for drawing up a shopping list for warm-weather wines. Here are a few that I'll be looking for as I shop for short-term gratification.
St. Supery 2002 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, $16. California Sauvignon Blanc has become a cliché among wine writers, code for ersatz over-oaked Chardonnay. But St. Supery has led the way in carving out a California style for this grape, somewhere between the mineral quality of the Loire in France and the over-the-top herbal nature of New Zealand. This one features melon, apricot, mango and cream, with good complexity and layered texture that keep drawing attention back to the bottom of the glass. And creating a desire to refill it ...
Carina Cellars 2001 Viognier, Santa Barbara County, $16. California Viognier too often obscures the floral characteristics of this grape with excessive oak and alcohol, and those that don't charge Condrieu prices for the privilege. Carina Cellars gets the fruit and the price right. Peach blossom, apricot and a hint of jasmine are wrapped inside a plush viscosity that caresses the palate with the essence of summer.
Dry Creek Vineyards 2002 Dry Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, $11. I've always championed Chenin Blanc as a "forgotten varietal," and Dry Creek has consistently offered one of the best from the States. Rich, apple and pear flavors with good body and medium depth, this is an excellent wine for summer fish dishes or cheese.
Mayoral 2001 Syrah, Jumilla, Spain, $13. Earthy, smoky nose, a bit harsh on the attack, but this mellows to nice Syrah fruit and length; an excellent wine for red meats or sausages on the grill.
Abundance Vineyards, 2000 Syrah, French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles, California, $18. Blueberry fruit, firm tannins, meaty. Tasted blind, I might mistake this for a top-level Malbec. It does not have much smoky/bacon flavor; nor does it have the vanilla-syrup notes that many California Syrahs get. Nice effort from a new winery.
Annie's Lane, Copper Trail Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre 1999, Clare Valley, Australia, $21. Okay, I've obviously got Syrah on the mind this month, but the grape can hardly be beat as a partner for grilled foods. The Annie's Lane "SGM" is dry, with firm tannins and structure that almost hide its Aussie pedigree. But the fruit is nice and ripe and promises to develop further with some cellar time, if you can wait for it. (Annie's Lane is part of the BeringerBlass empire.)
Subscriptions are free (send a blank e-mail to join: email@example.com), and readers are encouraged to forward WineLine to anyone who may be interested. Dave can be reached at McIntyreWineLine@yahoo.com.