You’re in the South, an expert on Southern Italian and Sicilian wines...
Whoah, I’m not an expert on Southern Italian and Sicilian wines!
I’m an expert on all wines! That’s ethnic profiling, dude! I write wine guides on the entire planet and everyone pigeonholes me as an Italian expert. It’s the vowels, brother.
OK, so you’re a wine expert across the board. Sorry. [laughs]
But you just did give a seminar on Grenache, right? Grenache, South, what’s the connection?
So the festival gave us some parameters. They wanted everything to be Southern in some wink-wink way. And I said, "How far into Europe can we go?" And they said, “Try to stay Southern.” So Mediterranean, even though some of the wines were from Northern Spain, still not as far north as say Champagne. So I decided to do Grenache, because I think it’s worth talking about. A lot of people know a lot about it. It’s the fourth most widely planted grape on the planet. Number four and yet it’s always blended so it disappears. It gets blended into New World versions. So it doesn’t really get as much play as it should. Some of my favorite Australian wines aren’t the Shiraz that everyone goes towards. I love the Grenaches from Australia.
Do you see any correlations between American wines from the South and Italian wines from Southern Italy?
Do you mean emerging American wines from the Southern United States?
I don’t have much to say about that because I don’t think it’s easy to make good wine outside of the West Coast of the U.S., and I’ve tasted wines from Texas, and some of them were fine. It’s not about winemaking issues; it’s about grape-growing issues that really, really cripple so many great winemakers across the country. For instance, one of the pockets of surprise always is, I like to pour like Kluge sparkling wine from Virginia. I love to pour that for people. Because anyone who sees anything in a Champagne flute calls it Champagne. Just like anything in a cocktail glass becomes a martini. And I love to pour that and then say, “Do you love that first wine, everyone?” And they say, “Yeah!” And then I say, “That was a sparkling wine from Virginia.” And you hear the gasps. Because people can’t believe it.
So I think there are pockets of microclimates throughout the country where you’re capable of making great wine, or at least very competitive wines. But it’s not easy, so I don’t have much to say about the South in general. Which is why by the way all the seminars here, there’s really nothing here, there’s really nothing on Southern wines. No one’s doing Texas wines here, no one’s doing Virginia wines. You’ll find Biltmore Estate from North Carolina. A lot of those wines are very nice; I just think it’s hard for them to compete internationally or even nationally with the more-established regions because it’s a quality issue and a sweetness issue.
While we’re on the subject of upcoming regions, I noticed while up in Maine last year that there were a bunch of vineyards that were new, just starting, and I feel like I haven’t heard much about these yet.
I confess I’ve never tasted anything from Maine, but it doesn’t surprise me. It’s cool, and in the reverse of the South’s problem of it being too hot, it’s a cool region. I don’t know how they do on ripeness. I think in cooler climates it’s easier to make great white wine, which is why the Hamptons by the way for New York, the Hamptons, the big story is really about white wines there, but everyone likes to talk red, right? Because high acid is one of the components we need in white wines that make them refreshing. So even if it’s an off year you’re going to have a refreshing wine. It might not be as fruity as it should be, but you’re always going to have the acid that you can count on.
The Hamptons had to learn that the hard way that long-ripening grapes like Cabernet don’t do well because they don’t ever ripen. You get these green, vegetal wines. It takes a drought year to get really good wine out of the Hamptons, for example. And that’s a benchmark for the whole East Coast let’s say, that weather is such a humongous factor. But speaking of Maine, they’re making wine in almost every state. New Jersey makes tons of wine, but the problem is they’re using vitis lambrusco grapes, the native grapes because you can’t use vinifera grapes.
Now this is getting geeky, but all the European grapes are vitis vinifera and in the U.S., all the native grapes are vitis lambrusca and those are the ones, that you know, you get Concord grape jelly from. So you go to state fairs or even farmers’ markets where you see the local wines; they’re always going to be sweet. They have to disguise these wines in sugar and fruit wines, even if they have Chardonnay, it’s probably blended with something local. It’s a big challenge. But I think that it’s great that people are trying to make wine. It might be a little overstated to say that you’re going to make wines that compete with the West Coast when it’s really just their good luck of geography. That’s all there really is to it. It’s not about their inability to make good wine because they’re not good winemakers, it’s that they’re just not in a great location.