July 4th weekend and Thanksgiving are the two times in the year when I insist on serving only American wines. Every year the array to choose from grows, and can become mind-bogglingly confusing, especially if you want to stray from your habitual wines and venture into something different. Read on for some delicious suggestions to get your July 4th party going.
American Wine, 2011
Did you know that the United States is now the largest wine consuming country in the world? Amazing progress thanks to consistent positive growth over the past twenty years. We surpassed France in 2010, which was quite significant, as it held the title for many years. However, when you look at per capita wine consumption the U.S. is still quite low, at 2.6 gallons per capita. So a bit of a way to go on that front!
When it comes to wine production, the United States is the fourth largest producer in the world, behind France, Italy and Spain. California accounts for the lion's share of U.S. wine production (a whopping 90%), followed by Washington State, New York State and Oregon. However, wine is produced in every single U.S. state. As wine consumption and production continues to expand, and interstate wine shipping laws continue to liberalize, it has become easier to buy wines form the less well-know wine-producing states such as Virginia, Idaho, Texas, Maryland and North Carolina.
American wine region AVAs
Within each wine-producing state, official wine-regions are known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). These are geographical designations and unlike most European appellations do not impose restrictions on which grape varieties to grow, or on viticultural or winemaking practices. The geographical boundaries for each AVA are defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Wines for July 4th Celebrations
For most people July 4th celebrations involve lots of people; large gatherings of family and friends, outdoor grilling and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. This is probably not the occasion to bring out that serious, expensive and aged Napa Cabernet that you have been saving and that requires everyone's full attention.
For me July 4th gatherings call for more easy drinking wines. This does not have to mean compromising on quality. Rather it means carefully picking wines that are probably a little softer and rounder, more easy-drinking but equally delicious. For me, it is important that the wines do not demand too much of my attention, allowing me to chat and relax with guests.
As I've pondered this post, I've though back on the wines that I have most enjoyed in casual settings over the past year, as well as tasting new wines that I was less familiar with. Here is what I've come up with: a selection of sparkling, red, white and rosé wines that won't break the bank and will work with a wide selection of outdoor summer foods.
Sparkling Wines for the 4th of July
• Gruet NV Brut Sparkling Wine, New Mexico, $13 – I recommended this last year also, but it is such great value and crowd pleaser that I felt I should include it in this year's line-up. The bottle I tasted last week was as usual crisp, smooth and creamy. Predominant citrusy and green apple aromas and flavors with hints of fresh baked bread.
• Roederer Estate NV Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley, California, $20 – Regular readers will know that this delicious sparkling wine is a firm favorite and go-to wine in our house. Amazing quality for the money. Crisp, racy and taut on the palate. Persistent tiny bubbles and delicious biscuity, brioche aromas and flavors.
White Wines for the 4th of July
• 2009 Long Shadow Vintners Poet's Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington $20 – Washington State is developing quite a justified reputation for Riesling. This example is crisp, zesty with a flinty minerality. Attractive stone and tropical fruit aromas draw you. Deliciously clean and refreshing flavors follow-through – exotic citrus, white peach, cantaloupe. Stony minerality persists to a moderately long finish.
• 2009 Cadaratta SBS Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington $20 – A white blend of predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Subtle waxy lemon, dried hay, and pineapple aromas gently draw you in with intrigue. Crisp on the attack and packed with a medley of flavors that combine citrus cocktail, white peach, lemon custard alongside nuances of dried herbs and flowers. An appealing waxiness persists to a long juicy finish.
• 2010 Patricia Green Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon, $18 – Sauvignon Blanc accounts for a tiny amount of vine plantings in Oregon (circa 22 acres). When I visited Patricia Green Cellars back in 2007, I believe she was one of the few producers making Sauvignon Blanc in Oregon. It is a delicious wine, as it seems to fuse the exotic ripe fruit flavors of New World Sauvignon Blanc, yet retain a restraint and stony minerality more associated with Old World Sauvignon Blancs like Sancerre.
Rosé Wines for the 4th of July
• 2010 Charles & Charles Rosé, Columbia Valley, Washington State, $12 – Produced by dynamic duo Charles Bieler (of Three Thieves and Bandit wines fame) and Charles Smith (Charles Smith Wines). Almost neon pink in color. I was half expecting it to be off-dry but it is dry, crisp and almost racy with a wonderful spritz that tingles the palate with liveliness. A cocktail of spring and summer flavors dance across your palate - rhubarb, raspberry, cranberry, redcurrants and bitter orange. A lovely creaminess on the mid-palate balances the fruit vibrancy. A perfect summer sipper.
• 2010 Barnard Griffin Sangiovese Rosé, Washington State, $12. – Slightly more brooding and broad aromas of jammy strawberry, red cherry flavors with a subtle savory earthiness. Refreshing, dry, smooth and medium bodied. Predominantly vibrant red berry flavors – strawberry cheesecake, cherry compote with hints of spice and underbrush. The savory earthy minerality persists on the finish.
• 2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Vin Gris de Cigare, Central Coast, California, $15 – Very pale salmon color. Attractive nose with notes of white cherries, redcurrants showing hints of dried herbs and an earthy savoriness. Refreshing with lively flavors of wild red berries that persist to a moderately long finish.
Red Wines for the 4th of July
• 2009 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvée le Bec, Santa Ynez Valley, $18 – A Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah. Mourvèdre and Counoise. This calls for some nice juicy barbecued ribs. Enticing nose of warm spices, jammy red fruit, clove and anise. Round, smooth and richly flavored on the palate. Juicy with supple tannins. Flavors of warm baking spices, ripe berry and plum fruit, hints of vanilla, butterscotch and licorice.
• 2008 Decoy Napa Valley Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $20 – Enticing aromas of ripe black fruit compote, creamy mocha, sweet vanilla and wild raspberry. Smooth, rich and creamy with soft voluptuous tannins that caress the palate. Bright, showing flavors of creamy forest fruits, chocolate, vanilla and clove. Smooth, rich, lingering finish.
• 2009 Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Sonoma, $25 – Inviting spicy, ripe red fruit aromas with nuances of vanilla, butterscotch and a savory wild earthiness. Warm, soft, ripe flavors prevail across the palate. Black cherry liqueur, sweet plum compote, clove, bramble fruit and a delicious spicy earthiness. Tannins are smooth and round. Quite a long, juicy, spicy finish. A wine made for barbecue.
• 2007 Concannon Vineyards Petite Sirah, Nina's Cuvée, Livermore Valley, California, $30 – While a little on the higher price side I really wanted to include this wine for its deliciousness. Concannon is a highly regarded producer of Petite Sirah. The wine is named after the daughter-in-law of Concannon founder. Giovanina 'Nina" came to California from Italy in 1919 and met Joseph Concannon (son of founder) whom she married. Intensely aromas of black and blueberries draw you in, sweet spices, pepper, coffee and a wild earthy note. Robust and full-bodied, this is definitely a grilled meat or charred vegetable wine. Tannins are supple, with just enough grip and it has a warm, lingering spicy finish.
Happy July 4th grilling! I would love to hear what wines you have planned for your gatherings.
Until next week have fun!
See also recent post on California Cabernet Sauvignons for Chillin' and Grillin', Long Island Wines and Sokol Blosser Oregon wines for more ideas.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Mary Gorman)