Guide to Understanding American Wines
History of American Wines
The history of American wine dates back centuries to the first settlers of North America who brought with them vine stock from their homelands. This early history was further bolstered in 1619 when William Tucker became the first individual to cultivate and make wine in what is now Virginia.
While these pioneers of American winemaking were certainly making progress, it wasn’t until after Prohibition that American wine experienced a real surge in popularity. After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Americans began experimenting with new varieties and techniques for producing quality wine.
In 1976, an event occurred that would forever turn the tide for American wines: a blind-tasting event in Paris where California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons bested some of France's finest wines.
This result placed America on the map as a legitimate international player in winemaking and continued to propel quality improvement into modern times, placing the United States as a wine country.
Grape Varieties Grown in USA:
There are many types of American wines, as the United States is a major wine-producing country. Some of the most well-known types of American wines include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon: This red wine is known for its bold flavor and is often aged in oak barrels, which gives it a distinct vanilla or caramel taste. It is grown in many parts of the United States, but is particularly popular in California.
- Chardonnay: This white wine is known for its buttery, oaky flavour and is often aged in oak barrels. It is grown in many parts of the United States but is particularly popular in California.
- Pinot Noir: This red wine is known for its light, fruity flavour and is often grown in cooler climates. It is popular in California and Oregon.
- Zinfandel: This red wine is known for its spicy, fruity flavour and is often grown in California.
- Riesling: This white wine is known for its sweet, floral flavour and is often grown in Washington and New York.
- Merlot: This red wine is known for its soft, fruity flavour and is often grown in California.
- Sauvignon Blanc: This white wine is known for its crisp, refreshing flavour and is often grown in California.
There are many other types of American wines as well, including Syrah, Pinot Grigio, and Gewurztraminer.
Classification of American Wines
Classification of American wines is a complex process that involves both qualitative and quantitative factors. American wine classification systems vary by state, with some states having their own unique systems, while others rely on guidelines established by the federal government.
When it comes to American wine, each state has its own unique identity. You can find "American wine" or "vin de table", which refers to a blend of grapes from one area or several neighbouring states.
If the label names a specific county, then at least 75% of the grapes must come from that region. When a specific vineyard is cited, 95% of the grapes need to be grown there.
On top of all this, there are generic classifications like 'Chablis' and 'Loire', but these can't be used for export to the EU
Many states also require additional labelling information regarding the method used to produce the product and whether it qualifies for special designations such as "American Classics".
Some designations include awards from national competitions which offer standards for quality assurance with respect to production and marketing practices in order to ensure consumers get what they are paying for.
If the wines comply with these regulations, then they can have the American Viticultural Area (AVA) certification:
An AVA stands for ‘American Viticultural Area’ and is a special type of appellation which can be seen on some bottles of wine, similar to the AOC of France. Basically, an AVA is a specific area where grapevines are grown, and it has certain geographic or climatic features that set it apart from the surrounding areas. This affects how the grapes are grown, meaning the final product will be different depending on where it comes from.
The Most Popular Wine Regions in The United States
The US is one of the world’s biggest wine-producing countries, and it’s home to many of the most well-known and popular wine regions in the world. The most popular wine regions in the US are located in California, Washington state, Oregon, New York and Virginia.
California is located on the west coast of the United States. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular wine regions in the US, making Californian wines very sought-after. The rolling hills and mild weather make for optimal vineyard conditions and yield excellent Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.
In California, the two most popular areas are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, where Sonoma County is located. With over 400 wineries, Sonoma County offers opportunities to experience world-class wines from some of the best vineyards in the world.
- Washington State
Washington State is located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is bordered by Idaho to the east, Oregon to the south, and Canada to the north.
Washington’s Columbia Valley is the biggest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the country (Columbia valley ava), famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grape varieties.
Oregon's Willamette Valley has also become increasingly popular for its high-end Pinot Noirs. Washington State produces a variety of white wines as well as luscious reds such as Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot
- New York
New York is home to the Finger Lakes AVA which produces delightful Rieslings and aromatic Gewürztraminers
Virginia is quickly becoming a leader in the wine industry. The state produces some of the highest quality Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Francs, Viogniers and much more.
With its long-standing tradition of winemaking and excellent grape-growing climate, Virginia has certainly grabbed the world's attention. From picturesque vineyards to award-winning wines that have been heralded by critics all over the globe, it's clear that Virginia has made quite an impression on the wine scene in recent years.
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