Summer time, the livin' is easy, and it's a splendid time of year to explore a few wineries in your own neighborhood!
If you happen to live in Northern California, say, or Tuscany or South Australia, you enjoy the benefits of world-class wineries nearby. But just about anywhere in the world with a climate temperate enough to make wine-grape cultivation possible, chances are that you'll find at least a few of your neighbors making wine and, better yet, offering tastings and tours.
Even if your locale isn't world-famous for wine (yet), and even if you're in a relatively marginal climate where viticulture is constrained by winter cold or summer heat and humidity, the chances are that your nearby small-farm wineries will nonetheless reward a visit. Even if the local vintages are made from unfamiliar grapes or even fruits other than wine, there's still a lot of wine education - and fun - to be had from tasting with the wine maker and touring the facilities to see just how this stuff is made.
You shouldn't have far to go, Even in the East, where the distinct four-season climate may bear little resemblance to the Mediterranean conditions where wine grapes thrive, quite a few wine regions are gaining serious credibility.
New York State (where I'll be judging commercial wine at the State Fair this weekend) is one of the nation's leading wine producers outside the Pacific Coast. Ontario in Canada is famed for its pricey ice wines but actively producing a broader range of table wine. Michigan is gaining real respect for its wines, and Ohio and Virginia claim around 100 wineries each.
Currently there's at least one bonded commercial winery in every state in the U.S. and most Canadian provinces, and virtually all of them reward a visit. Some weekend soon, I urge you to jump in your car, stash any lingering prejudices about local wine in the glove compartment, and head out on the local wine road. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised.
<B>WEB LINKS:</B> Creative Googling will uncover scores of Websites with information about wine roads in many parts of the world. Here are just a few favorites to get you started:
* <b>All American Wineries</b>. Honest and non-commercial, North Carolinian Bob Hodge's site is my go-to source for information and links to wineries and wine-tour information across the U.S.:
* <b>Uncork New York</b>, produced by The New York Wine & Grape Foundation:
* <b>Michwine</b>, all about Michigan wines, private site produced by old friend and wine enthusiast Joel Goldberg:
* <b>Ohio Wine</b>, produced by the Ohio Wine Producers Association.
* <b>Virginia Wineries</b>, from the Virginia Wine Association.
* <b>Wines of Ontario</b>, the Ontario Wine Council's guide to the provinces wine routes.
Now, tying in with today's topic, here are two reports on recently tasted wines from Eastern U.S. producers. Salmon Run is the second label of Konstantin Frank & Sons Vinifera Wine Cellars of Hammondsport, N.Y., one of New York's pioneering wineries, which recently won a Platinum medal for its 2006 Dry Riesling in national competition at Los Angeles; as a result, that wine will be available to California consumers through all the state's Ralph's grocery wine shops, perhaps a first for a Finger Lakes wine.
Today's tasting, the Salmon Run "American" non-vintage Pinot Noir, represents a different side of Eastern wine making: the challenge of weather. Because the successive record-cold winters of 2004 and 2005 severely limited Finger Lakes Pinot Noir production (although Frank's carefully protected vines survived), winery president Frederick Frank said the winery kept up production of the Salmon Run Pinot by blending in some quality Sonoma fruit with Finger Lakes Pinot Noir. The result is an unusual East-West blend but a very good one: We tasted it "blind" against a similarly priced 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and the Salmon Run showed surprisingly well. Today's second wine is a Seyval Blanc (white French-hybrid variety) from Persimmon Creek, a small but well-regarded winery in North Georgia that's beginning to make a name for itself.
Two from the Eastern U.S.
<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/salm0616.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Salmon Run American Pinot Noir ($13.49)
Clear ruby in color, its typical Pinot Noir aromas blend ripe red cherries with a cola element that gains presence with time in the glass. Juicy and a bit soft, sufficient acidity shows primarily in the finish. Tasted alongside a decidedly modest 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir, this entry was a bit less structured and tannic than the Burgundy, but in all fairness, the wines were much more alike than different. Versatile and food-friendly as you'd expect of a Pinot, it went beautifully with a charcoal-grilled turkey thigh. (June 17, 2007)
<B>WHERE TO FIND THE WINE:</B>
Salmon Run and its parent winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank, has wide albeit spotty distribution around the U.S. Look up "Distributors" on the winery Website,
or check limited online sources on Wine-Searcher.com:
<table border="0" align="left" width="150"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/pers0613.jpg" border="1" align="left"></td></tr></table>Persimmon Creek Vineyards 2006 Georgia Seyval Blanc ($12.99)
This French-hybrid white grape is widely grown in more northerly U.S. and Canadian wine regions, where it is often sold as a legitimate local alternative to Chardonnay. In Georgia's more southerly climes it ripens fully; Persimmon Creek makes it as an aromatic and off-dry white. Transparent and almost watery pale, its aromas focus on white fruit and a distinct whiff of spearmint. It's a bit soft with a hint of sweetness, on the light side at 11% alcohol. Clean, short in the finish, it's a well-made, balanced Seyval, serving well with seafood and fish. (June 13, 2007)
<B>WHERE TO FIND THE WINE:</B>
The greatest challenge for wine lovers seeking wines from small producers in non-traditional wine regions is limited distribution. Under "Where to Find Us," the Persimmon Creek Website
lists a number of restaurant and wine shop sources, but only in Georgia. Resources on Wine-Searcher.com are limited:
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