The word “locavore” seems so much a part of our language it’s hard to imagine that it was coined only in 2005. Two years later, in 2007, “locavore” was chosen as word of the year (WOY) by the Oxford University Press (which selects both an American and English WOY every year). Locavore, the American WOY, refers of course to people who show their support for keeping the environment as clean as possible by eating food grown and sold close to home (usually within 100 mile radius). Ben Zimmer, editor for Oxford University Press’ American dictionaries, elaborated: “The word ‘locavore’ shows how food lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment. It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”
Wine drinkers concerned about the environment might make a similar effort by seeking out local wines. I’m not suggesting any of us give up our California Cabernets and our favorite Meursaults, but with wine now being made in all 50 states, chances are good that there is at least one winery not too far from where you live whose wines you’d probably enjoy. But wait--stop rolling your eyes and telling me that local wines stink! Yes, there are still plenty of stinkers being produced out there in the hinterlands, but especially if you haven’t recently tasted any of the newer, excellent regional American wines, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover the quantum leap forward so many of them have made in the past handful of years.
Winemaking is surging in Michigan and Missouri (with well over a hundred wineries each), in Idaho (more than 40 wineries, up from 11 in 2002) and in Indiana (60 or so estates). In the mid-1990s there were approximately 46 wineries in Virginia; today there are at least 275, with about 20 new ones opening each year. New York State is fast approaching 350 licensed wineries (Long Island alone, whose first winery opened in 1972, now boasts more than 63 wine producers). Georgia has grown from a single winery in 1995 to more than 20 today, while in Pennsylvania there are 170, plus another 115 in North Carolina, and…well, you get the idea. Moreover, this is just the beginning! Every state has scores of wineries waiting in the wings for licensing approval, and the geographic boundaries where wine grapes can flourish is expanding at a rate that no one could have predicted even a decade ago.
More important than numbers is the extraordinary improvement in the quality of wine being made in regions where few people even drank wine until recently. Traditionally, the only public promotion that regional wineries could expect was from local news outlets, but in the past two or three years, multitudes of non-west coast wineries have received ratings of 90 and above in major consumer publications, and several have been featured prominently in national newspapers including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.
But let’s not forget that, even in long established wine growing regions, new or unfamiliar appellations can materialize. Even the west coast biggies--California, Washington and Oregon--have a few wine regions that fall under the vinous radar. With its vast tracts of land dedicated to grape growing, California, which accounts for 90 percent of wine production in the United States, will probably always dominate the domestic wine scene, yet even in this mature viticultural state you can find off-the-beaten-track appellations. Ever heard of the Malibu Newton Canyon AVA, in Los Angeles County? Neither had I until I visited the Rosenthal estate there about a decade ago.
At that time Rosenthal wines were young and not particularly focused, but they were certainly promising. Flash forward to 2013: The wine’s quality has improved so dramatically that Rosenthal’s Meritage was awarded a Platinum Medal at the very competitive Critics Challenge competition a few weeks ago. I was one of 19 judges at that competition, where we evaluated wines from some 18 different countries. Not surprisingly California took most of the medals, but wineries from states other than California, Washington and Oregon walked away with an impressive number of platinum, gold and silver medals. (See a list of these winners below.)
Sadly, the Oxford University Press, which tracks how the English language is changing by choosing both an American and a British word “that best reflect the mood of the year,” will probably never pick “locapour” as its WOY. Meanwhile, the 2013 WOY hasn’t yet been announced but last year’s American word was “gif,” short for graphics interchange format, one of the internet’s oldest ways of transmitting images (the word has undergone a viral revival in popularity as people rediscover how to post animated versions online). Personally, I prefer last year’s more colorful British WOY: “omnishambles.” Omnishambles is defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.” Although the original connotation was intended mainly to describe that year’s political shenanigans, Wiktionary suggests a broader use of the word: “Between the car accident, the food poisoning and the lost keys, the vacation was an omnishambles.”
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2013 CRITICS CHALLENGE: PLATINUM, GOLD OR SILVER MEDAL WINNERS BY WINERIES FROM STATES OTHER THAN CALIFORNIA, OREGON & WASHINGTON:
Arizona Stronghold (AZ), 3 medals for Cabernet Sauvignon etc.
Barboursville (VA), 7 medals for Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo, etc
Barrel Oak (VA), 2 medals for Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon
Chateau Frank (NY), 3 medals for Sparkling Wines
Crossing Vineyards (PA), 2 medals for Merlot & Pinot Noir
Frogtown Cellars (GA), 7 medals for Cabernet Franc, Tannat etc
Goose Watch (NY), 5 medals for Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier etc
Macari (NY), 2 medals for Cabernet Franc & Chardonnay
Narmada (VA), 3 medals for Chambourcin, Viognier etc
Perrine (TX), 1 medal for Amarone
Sparkling Pointe (NY), 3 medals for Sparkling Wines
Villa Bellezza (WI), 2 medals for Rhône-style reds
Wagner (NY), 1 medal for Riesling
Williamsburg (VA), 4 medals for Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay etc
Wolf Mountain (GA), 2 medals for Sparkling Wine etc
Wallersheim (WI), 3 medals for Riesling, Seyval etc