Hang around a wine geek long enough and you will inevitably hear the word "terroir." It is a term coined by the French to explain the influence of a particular vineyard site on the structure and taste of the wines produced there.
Terroir takes into account factors such as sunshine, soil composition and annual rainfall. This is the reason vineyard-designate wines typically cost more than more generic regional wines.
The concept of terroir can be viewed in a broader context as well. While wine is produced in all 50 states, it would be fair to say some states are more successful than others with the most popular grape varieties. From a consumer's point of view, knowing which grapes do well in which states provides a good first step in the never-ending quest to find good wine.
Here is a brief rundown of the most popular grape varieties and the states where they tend to thrive:
Cabernet Franc — Virginia, New York, California.
Cabernet Sauvignon — California, Washington, Virginia.
Chardonnay — California, Washington and Oregon.
Gewurztraminer — New York, California, Washington.
Gruner Veltliner — New York, California.
Merlot — Washington, California, New York.
Norton — Missouri.
Pinot Gris — Oregon, California, Washington.
Pinot Noir — Oregon, California.
Riesling — New York, Washington, California, Michigan.
Sauvignon Blanc — California, Washington, Virginia.
Syrah — Washington, California.
Viognier — Virginia, California, Washington.
Of course, there are any number of states not on this list that produce credible wines that win significant awards when competing against world-class wines from the most favorable terroirs. I've tasted beautiful gewurztraminer from New Jersey, wonderful riesling from Wisconsin, delicious sangiovese from North Carolina and exceptional albarino, syrah and tempranillo from Texas.
This guide is merely a glimpse at where the most popular grape varieties tend to succeed more often than not.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Wakefield 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley ($16.99) — Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, this is one of the finest cabernet sauvignons you are likely to find for less than $20. Showing a nose of violets and spice, on the palate, the wine delivers a complex mix of blueberry, cherry and boysenberry with hints of oak vanillin. Balanced, with supple tannins, it's ready to drink now. Rating: 90.
Flora Springs 2016 Trilogy, Napa Valley ($85) — This is the flagship wine from the Komes-Garvey family that owns Flora Springs. It was among the first proprietary Bordeaux-style blends produced in the United States and arguably has long been among the best. Yet it remains a bargain, maybe even a steal, at today's price of less than $100 a bottle. Rivals that came along at about the same time retail at far higher prices. This vintage is cabernet sauvignon dominant, with petit verdot and malbec fleshing out the "trilogy" blend. Beautifully structured and precise, it offers plush, ripe dark fruits, exquisite tannins and hints of mocha and oak vanillin on the finish. A stunning wine at a stunning price (relative to similar blends from the Napa Valley) that can be consumed now or cellared for another 15 to 20 years. Rating: 97.
Wakefield 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Andrews, Clare Valley, Australia ($70) — This is Wakefield's big-boy cabernet, a hedonistic red that is weighty and rich on the palate, showing notes of blackberry and cassis and a subtle use of oak that complements rather than overpowers the gorgeous fruit. Well balanced with impressive length, this wine finishes with an attractive note of spice. Rating: 95.
Chappellet 2017 Viogier, Cold Creek Vineyard, Carneros ($35) — My issue with most domestic viognier is the general level of ripeness and alcohol, which I attribute to growing conditions, for the most part. Too much is simply planted in areas too warm to deliver the high-toned aromas and fresh acidity that would remind anyone of the refreshing viognier wines of Condrieu in the northern Rhone Valley of France. The Chappellet is an exception, harvested from the Cold Creek Vineyard in the Carneros district, at the bottom of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. It shows refreshing mouth-watering acidity with notes of honeysuckle blossom and persimmon and a generous touch of spice. Bingo! Rating: 94.
Domaine de Cala Prestige, Coteaux Varois en Provence, France ($24.95) — This nearly colorless rose is a blend of grenache, syrah, rolle and cinsault from the deep south of France. It's given a few months to age in oak barrels to add structure and complexity. On the palate, the wine shows a touch of richness but with fresh acidity and an inviting note of fresh strawberry. Beautifully balanced with a silky finish. Rating: 93.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]
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