WineLine No. 56
August 2006

Open Your Mind to "Local" Wines

Although I live along the East Coast, I find a distressing amount of consumer resistance to the idea that good wine can be grown here. "Oh yeah, I hear there's good wine in New York, but we can't get it here," is a common complaint (or excuse) in the DC area. Or I hear this one: "Yeah, this is an excellent wine from Virginia, but the nerve of them to charge 20 bucks!"

There is also consumer resistance to unusual grapes. Wines from Petit Manseng or the tongue-twisting Rkatsiteli (think of it as Fluffy channeling Animal Planet) can be ripe, beautifully structured and thrilling (yes, I'm thinking of Horton and Dr. Konstantin Frank, respectively), but they are also unfamiliar to our palates, and many people just can't get over their fear of the unknown.

There's an unspoken bias that says, "If the wine is from [insert name of any one of 47 states here], it must be crap, unless it proves to me otherwise. If it's from California/Oregon/Washington, it must be good, unless it proves otherwise."

There's logic to that, of course. California, Oregon and Washington have a track record of quality, while anyone who has tried "local" wines likely has some unfortunate experiences to remember. But as local wines get better, we as consumers have to stop expecting them to taste more like California wines.

Good wine is grown here, and it really is irrelevant that $20 will give you more options in California Merlot than equal quality Virginia wine. There's plenty of bad wine produced in California, after all. We can no longer assume that local wine is bad and insist that they prove otherwise - we just have to learn to accept these wines for what they are, even while we encourage winemakers to keep improving.

We as consumers (and writers) need to open our minds to new grape varieties and new flavors, and stop mentally subtracting points from East Coast wines simply because they are not from California, Italy, France or anywhere else. They are what they are, and they are getting better all the time. Let's applaud that. (Note to winemakers: You can help us change our outlook if, whenever you manage to ripen your Cabernet Franc, you stop comparing it to Cheval Blanc.)

Okay, I'll climb down from my soapbox long enough to tell you about the Second Annual Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, held in late July. I am a member of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association (VWGA), which initiated this competition last year (see WineLine 54) in order to promote consumer awareness of the advances in winemaking along the East Coast.

The Best of Show award this year went to Ospreys Dominion 2002 Merlot Reserve from the North Fork of Long Island. This may seem like no surprise, as New York leads the East Coast in winemaking and Long Island is justly famous for its Merlot. Yet the Best of Category winners were dominated by Virginia wineries, with a smattering of winners from Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia as well. Any of these could have been Best of Show.

Virginia's dominance of New York in the medals is not really surprising. The VWGA is based in Virginia and has strong roots there; for nearly three decades it sponsored a Virginia-only competition before branching out to embrace the entire Atlantic Seaboard. The expanded contest has been well received by wineries in North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey and other states, but not in New York (with some notable exceptions, like Dr. Frank, Lamoreaux Landing and Ospreys Dominion). Either the New York wine industry considers itself above its neighbors, or it doesn't recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats. This closed-minded attitude hinders the advancement of winemaking all along the East Coast.

So I lift a glass, first to Gordon Murchie, president of the VWGA, and his team that put the contest together. But most of all I toast the winemakers up and down the Atlantic seaboard who have made such a competition possible and worthwhile. Because of my experience these past two years I've half a mind to visit the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, the Georgia hills north of Atlanta, or the Jersey shore. In the future I will be paying more attention to those wineries that would have contended for Best in Show had I been the sole judge:

Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, 2005 Rkatsiteli (NY)
Horton 2003 Petit Manseng (VA)
Chateau Morrisette 2002 Cabernet Franc (VA)
Childress Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Franc (NC)
Childress Vineyards 2004 Cabernet Franc Reserve (NC)
Windham Winery 2004 Cabernet Franc (VA)
Rappahannock Cellars 2004 Cabernet Franc Reserve (VA)
Rappahannock Cellars 2004 Meritage (VA)
Fabbioli Cellars 2004 Tre Sorelle (meritage) (VA)
Paradocx Vineyard 204 Leverage (meritage) (PA)
Horton 2001 Tannat (VA)
Oakencroft 2004 Petit Verdot (VA)
AmRhein 2005 Pinot Grigio (VA)
Fox Meadow 2005 Pinot Grigio (VA)
Stone Mountain 2005 Pinot Grigio (VA)
Barboursville 2005 Pinot Grigio (VA)
Cooper 2005 Chardonnay (VA)
Unionville 2005 Chardonnay (NJ)
Horton 2005 Chardonnay (VA)
Rappahannock Cellars 2005 Chardonnay (VA)
Oakencroft 2005 Chardonnay (VA)
Waterford 2005 Viognier (VA)
Keswick 2005 Viognier (VA)
Dr. Frank's 2005 Riesling Reserve (NY)
Lamoreaux Landing 2005 Semi-Dry Riesling (NY)

This is not to say that I don't believe some of the Best of Category winners deserved to be there! This reflects my initial judging (based on my score sheets matched with the entry lists) of the wines I tasted - about half of the 300 or so entrants.

Written and © copyright by Dave McIntyre
August 2006

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Dave McIntyre is the restaurant and drinks columnist for DC magazine (Modern Luxury Publications) and Wine Editor of Foodservice Monthly, a trade publication for the restaurant industry in the mid-Atlantic region. His writings, most of which are available at dmwineline.com, have appeared in Wine Enthusiast, The Washington Post, Wine Review Online and WineToday.com, among other publications. He has appeared on radio on NPR's Kojo Nnamdi Show and on WTOP's "Man About Town" segment. Dave McIntyre's WineLine is archived on Robin Garr's WineLoversPage.com. E-mail Dave at McIntyreWineLine@yahoo.com.

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