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The United Grapes: why wine drinkers should look to the USA

Fri 09 Apr 2010 09:49


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It's a surprising fact that all 50 States of the USA make wine. For a couple of the more unlikely candidates - Alaska springs to mind - the wine is made in the state, but the grapes are grown elsewhere and shipped in.

However there is also a bone-fide grape growing and wine industry, not just in California, which is easily the biggest name in US wine, but in New York State, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and many more.

The presence of wine from the USA on our shelves is significant, if limited. Some of the biggest selling brands in the UK are from North America, with well-known labels regularly making an appearance on the top 20 list of all wine sales.

Beyond the handful of mega-brands from the US, American wines do tend to fill the niches at higher price points. Part of this is down to the fact that making wine in the USA is very expensive - a prime strip of Californian farming land or the cost of employing workers is a lot more than in Chile or South Africa for example.

Wine connoisseur Tom Cannvan has picked three of his favourite wines from the USA, which he believes show off the key strengths of a country whose wines might very well not be the cheapest, but are generally of a good quality. Here are his top three selections.

1. Boulders, Viognier 2008, priced at  £4.66 from The Co-Operative

Viognier is an often rather expensive white grape from the Rhone Valley in France, which is now appearing in other countries, but rarely does it come at this bargain price. There's no oak in this wine, so Viognier's peachy freshness shines through in a well-balanced wine with a creamy texture.

There are lovely flavours of peach and apricot in this wine, which teams up really nicely with foods such as grilled scallops or tiger prawns, or with mild curries.
2. Ravenswood, Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2007, priced at £8.99 from Waitrose
Zinfandel is a real speciality grape of California, and though it can make the easy drinking "blush" Zinfandel style, it is actually a peppery, powerful red grape that makes big and juicy reds too.

This one comes from Ravenswood, one of the great producers of Zinfandel. With rich flavours of peppercorns, raspberries and raisins, this wine matches up nicely with dishes such as spare ribs with barbecue sauce, chilli, or roast turkey with stuffing.

3. Robert Mondavi, Fumé Blanc 2007, priced at £14.99 from Majestic
The 'fumé' style of Sauvignon Blanc (fumé being French of 'smoky') was popular in California in the 1990s but fell out of fashion. But now there's a bit of a revival of this style, taking the vibrant, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc grape and maturing it in oak barrels to add smoky depth.

Tasting cues of figs, honey and grapefruit can be found in this wine. It goes nicely with dishes like mussels in a cream and garlic sauce and asparagus risotto.

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