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Concha y Toro
Carménère: The Chilean Grape

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In This Issue
Support your local winery
 Hogue 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot ($10.99)
 Concha y Toro: Carménère: The Chilean Grape
 Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Drinking and driving: How much is too much?
 Sponsorship opportunities
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

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For all past editions,
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Support your local winery

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Summer has been all too long coming in much of the Eastern U.S. this year, where an exceptionally cool and damp spring has made the belated arrival of warm and sunny weather all the more inspiring.

In celebration, I suggest a road trip!

Even for those of us who don't reside in traditional wine-producing areas, if you live anywhere in the world that approaches a temperate climate, the chances are that at least one or two small-farm wineries aren't all that far away. Virtually every state in the U.S. has at least one bonded commercial winery, as do most Canadian provinces. England and Wales are awash with wineries, as is Eire. I'm told that you can find a few in Poland, Denmark, even Sweden ... and so it goes.

In other words, if you think the only way you can enjoy a winery visit involves an expensive trip to California, Italy, Australia or France, you might want to grab your car keys and a local road map and take another look.

As one example of some of the issues facing wine producers in non-traditional regions, today let's review the wine scene in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. If you live elsewhere and really don't care, feel free to skip down to today's Tasting Report or to the intriguing article by our friends at Concha y Toro on Carménère. But I hope you'll stick with us for this short excursion for a peek into a less-traveled byway on the world's wine roads.

OVERVIEW: The "vitis vinifera" grapes that make traditional, European-style dry table wines - those that trace their heritage to the great wine traditions of France and Italy - thrive best in the Mediterranean climate that their ancestors enjoyed.

Away from Southern Europe, this benign climate with its mild, dry summers and gentle winters is found in coastal California, the southern edge of Australia, parts of South Africa and New Zealand and here and there in other isolated pockets around the world.

From Quebec and Ontario down to Florida and west to the Rockies, Eastern North America bears little resemblance to this climate pattern. Classic wine-grape varieties ripen too quickly (but not very well) under the region's searing summer sun, and continental humidity can foster rot and mildew. Tender vines don't enjoy icy winter weather, and periodic "hundred-year freezes" can wipe out entire vinifera vineyards in one quick cold snap.

What's a would-be wine producer to do? In my experience on the lightly traveled wine roads of the Eastern U.S. and Canada, I've seen a variety of approaches:

  • Hybrid grapes: One of the most common approaches involves breeding hybrid grape varieties, usually crossing traditional European grapes with wild American varieties to come up with new breeds that combine European character with American hardiness. Some of these varieties, including the white Seyval Blanc and Vignoles and the red Chambourcin, Marechal Foch and Baco Noir, have built loyal followings in the regions where these grapes are grown.

    Many are of commercial quality and make quite drinkable wines, although to be frank, many wine lovers accustomed to the flavors of vinifera find some hybrids difficult to get used to. I recently tried a Foch from Bravard Vineyards and Winery, a small-farm winery near Hopkinsville in Western Kentucky, and found it drinkable but odd, with a tart, tangy flavor and a volatile aroma that initially reminded me of a new vinyl shower curtain but with airing segued into raw beets. Huber Orchard & Winery near Louisville in Starlight, Indiana, often scores with unusually appealing wines made from blends of hybrids and sold under proprietary names like Indiana Heritage and Generations. Another good new Kentucky winery, Chrisman Mill, located in Nicholasville in the Bluegrass with a tasting room in Lexington, makes an exceptionally good 2001 First Vineyard Reserve, an oak-aged blend of Kentucky-grown vinifera (Cabernet Franc) and French-hybrid (Chambourcin) that stood comparison in blind tasting against a quality California Cabernet Sauvignon in its $15 price range.

  • Native grapes: Early settlers were disappointed to find that the wild grapes that thrive in the New World ("vitis labrusca") made a strong-flavored, grapey wine with the characteristic aroma and flavor that most of us know from Welch's brand grape juice; not undrinkable but far from the European standard. Traditional American kosher wines - Mogen David and Manischewitz - are the most widely available native-grape wines, but some Eastern wineries make them from such native varieties as Concord and Catawba, or in the Deep South, Muscadines.

    One rather rare native grape that makes an unusually "European-style" red wine is Norton, also known as Cynthiana. Not vitis labrusca but a different species, vitis aestiva, it was a mainstay of the 19th century wine industry in Missouri, which at the time was one of the world's leading wine regions. Stone Hill, a small winery in Hermann, Mo., makes a prize-winning example, although many wineries in Missouri and Arkansas also produce Norton/Cynthiana. Horton in Virginia makes a popular version, its public profile perhaps enhanced by the memorable label "Horton Norton."

  • Fruit other than grapes: Wine snobs tend to shun wines made from blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, pears and peaches and such, but fruit wines can make appealing drinks, either sweet or dry, and they form the economic mainstay of small-farm wineries in regions particularly chancy for grape culture, from Maine blackberries to Georgia peaches. Indiana's Huber, also a large and thriving U-pick fruit farm, makes many exceptional fruit wines along with its hybrid-grape bottlings.
  • Imported grapes or juice: Quite a few canny entrepreneurs in the East offer wines made from fruit grown elsewhere and shipped in as crushed grapes, juice or even finished bulk wine for sale under the local label. If the wine is made locally from fruit or juice shipped from a non-contiguous state, an odd quirk of U.S. law requires it be labeled with the appellation "American" and may not bear a vintage date. One Louisville producer, "In Town Winery," a facility located in an urban industrial building, produces a tasty $10 Merlot bearing a photo of the city's skyline on the proprietary label "Sud de la Riviere" ("South of the River").
  • Vinifera anyway: Taking a damn-the-torpedoes-full-steam-ahead approach, some of the most enthusiastic Eastern wine producers plant vinifera, spray for mold and fungus and pray for good weather. In a few isolated areas with relatively mild annual climate - New York's Long Island, a stretch along the eastern flank of the Appalachians from Southeastern Pennsylvania through Maryland and Virginia, and the Texas hill country in particular - truly persuasive wines are being made from European grapes. I've tasted excellent Cabernets, Merlots and Chardonnays from such producers as Chaddsford (Pennsylvania), Montdomaine (Virginia), Llano Estacado (Texas) and many more. But I've also seen producers in Kentucky, Indiana and Maryland lose entire vintages to frost, some bouncing back after a year with zero income; others closing their businesses and returning once hopeful vineyard acreage to corn and wheat. On the other hand, certain cold-weather vinifera varieties - Riesling in particular - do thrive in such regions as Ontario (with its world-class ice wines) and New York's Finger Lakes.

I hope you'll take today's sermon as your invitation to check out a local winery. You may not find next year's cult classic or Wine Spectator "Top 100" wine, but chances are that you'll meet intersting and hospitable wine makers and enjoy an unexpected tasting experience that will pleasantly surprise you ... an experience that few wine lovers can share, since most small-farm wineries sell their wine only at the winery or in the immediate region. If you discover a good one, I hope you'll take a moment to tell me about it, by E-mail to

North Carolina wine lover Bob Hodge produces "All American Wineries" as a labor of love. His outstanding site, carefully kept up to date, offers a wealth of information including a frequently updated database listing wineries in all 50 states, with contact information, links and much more. For U.S. wine travel, it's an indispensible resource:

For visits to Canadian wineries, the Wines of Canada site is an excellent resource. It's at

Links to information sites about many other world wine regions will be found in our Favorite Wine Links on Click to the index pages at then click "Wine Areas."

I won't subject you to a Kentucky or Indiana tasting report today, since most of you wouldn't be able to find the wine. Instead, here's a good, widely available Merlot from just a bit off the beaten path in Washington State.

Hogue Hogue 2000 Columbia Valley Merlot ($10.99)

This clear, medium-dark garnet wine offers heady, fruity cherry-compote aromas, leading into bright and juicy black-cherry flavors shaped by snappy acidity; time in the glass adds sweet cherry-pie nuances with a hint of charred oak oddly reminiscent of Bourbon in the finish. (June 21, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: Excellent with a rich stew made from chicken first roasted until brown with onions and garlic.

VALUE: Appropriately priced.

WHEN TO DRINK: I found this 2000 bottling more appealing now when last tasted in April 2002, so a year in the bottle has done it no harm. It should hold for another year or two, although its fruit may begin to fade.

WEB LINK: Here's the Hogue Website:

Today's Sponsor: Concha y Toro
Carménère: The Chilean Grape
Concha y Toro
Carménère: Chile's Signature Varietal from Concha y Toro

In a case (or two) of mistaken identity, the Carménère grape once was lost but now is found! Carménère avoided total extinction after the phylloxera crisis hit France because it was introduced, along with several other International varietals, to Chile in the 1850's prior to the French blight. Known in France as Grande Vidure and planted widely there in the early 18th century, Carménère was credited with establishing the reputations of some of the Medoc's best estates.

Rediscovered in Chile in 1994 by the French ampelographist (grape classification expert) Jean Michel Bourisiquot, Carménère had been mistaken by Chilean vintners for Merlot for nearly a century. Now, after separating the vines and crafting a lush red wine from this unique, fleshy grape, Chile, with its leading producer Concha y Toro leading the way, has claimed Carménère as its own. Considered Chile's signature varietal, Carménère thrives in the Rapel, Peumo and Cachapoal wine valleys where it develops the desired characteristics for the varietal - A deep carmine color, a well-balanced red that offers plum, chocolate and spice in the nose with sweet, round but firm tannins in the finish.

Terrunyo Hand-picked from a single vineyard and aged in French oak for 19 months, Concha y Toro's Terrunyo Carménère is opulent, earthy and lush with hints of chocolate, cigar box and spice and a powerful burst of blackberry. The finish is long and elegant. This wine pairs nicely with game, red meats and cheeses and retails for around $28.

Casillero del Diablo Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo Carménère is a nice introduction to the Carménère varietal. With grapes grown in the Rapel Valley, this wine is crimson red with aromas and flavors of plums, black fruit, and chocolate. Well balanced with round tannins, Casillero del Diablo Carménère is a nice match with ripe cheeses and grilled chicken and chops and retails for around $10.

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Drinking and driving: How much is too much?

This week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth takes a hard look at a controversial topic: When it comes to drinking and driving, where is the appropriate place for the community to draw the line that separates appropriate caution from dangerous, criminal behavior?

What's your opinion? Crack down on all drinking and driving with a tight limit or even "zero tolerance"? Or leave social drinkers alone while focusing on the repeat offenders and dangerous drunks who cause most of the carnage? You're invited to express your opinion, and compare your thoughts with those of wine lovers around the world, as we ask, "Drinking and driving: How much is too much?"

Click to
to add your opinion to the list and see how others have voted.

Sponsorship Opportunities

There is no quicker, better or more efficient way to deliver your wine-related message to 25,000 wine lovers around the world than a sponsorship in The 30 Second Wine Advisor! Sponsorships are limited to established wine-and-food-related businesses with a track record of customer service. For more information, write me at

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

Another Greek treat (June 20, 2003)

Random reds (June 18, 2003)

Technology and wine news (June 16, 2003)

Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

Wine Advisor FoodLetter: "African" Chicken stew (June 19, 2003)

Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, June 23, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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