…and it’s a good thing too. This is definitely not the first semi-rant I’ve launched on this topic and it almost certainly won’t be the last, but here goes. Europe is the original home to vitis vinifera and its thousands of cultivars, as well as “wine culture” in general. Places from Georgia all the way to Portugal have had literally millennia to develop all manner of grape varieties (work done by human hands as well as spontaneously by nature) and wine styles. The value of a long patrimonies like Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti Classico cannot be underestimated.
But this evening’s wine, which hails from California (El Dorado County in the northeastern part of the state not far from Lake Tahoe, to be specific) which has a winemaking tradition that is barely 150 years old at best. Initially, it was easy to understand the reliance on producing the “Meritage” blend (read “Bordeaux”) or the Rhone blend: these are great traditions in winemaking and if folks 150 or 100 or even 50 years ago knew anything at all about wine, these are the styles of wines that had notoriety and therefore also had traction in the market, but at a lower prices.
But flashing forward to the 21st century, why have so few producers moved away from these Old World styles,which were all developed for their home terroirs, and not developed the blends or varietal wines that work for their regions? Let’s face it, growing and bottling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in hot and sunny Napa Valley when these types of wines originate and thrive in cool, damp, and often cloudy Burgundy. Well, they did it and still do it this way for basically the same reason they always have – it’s the most reliable path to steady sales; it’s for the same reason that early premium Japanese cars looked like Mercedes Benzes and Ferraris.
A change in this approach is long overdue, and thankfully more and more New World winemakers have realized that the terroirs in which they work are now fully understood and that they also need feel no shame about the potential of their growing zones. This is one such wine.
What we have in this evening’s wine is a blend of 72% Vermentino and 28% Grenache Blanc grown in some of the highest (over 2,000 feet in elevation) and coolest wine regions in The Golden State. Both of these varieties are endemic to crescent of the Riviera (Liguria in Italy and coastal Provence in France as well as the islands of Corsica and Sardegna) in the northern Mediterranean, but you’d be looking a long time in this area to find these two varieties blended in tandem and in these proportions. Further, El Dorado County is 200 miles from the sea and the areas of the Riviera that has traditionally hosted these varieties has no elevations that even approach the heights at which these vines are cultivated to produce this wine.
Often, taking grape varieties out of their cultivational comfort zones and planting them in radically different ones yields consistently questionable results (see above) but sometimes it works, and this is one of those cases. The overarching ideals of the United States have always been based on the expansion of freedoms as well as the exaltation of experimentation, and that is precisely what we’ve got here, which is a conception of winemaking that everyone in the New World should emulate.
So in keeping within the American tradition (but not too closely) I served this fun and fresh wine with a southern American classic plate of floured and fried catfish flavored with Old Bay seasoning with tandem sides of collard greens cooked with a little bacon fat and grits with a nice little of bottle of hot sauce to squirt onto the fish.
Edmunds St. John “Heart of Gold” El Dorado County 2010
Quite deep golden color. Bold nose of apricot, papaya, yellow flowers, mixed nuts, anise seed, cocoa butter, and a salty minerality. In the mouth the wine is quite full-bodied, with juicy acidity that frames big flavors of lemon curd, peaches in syrup, honey, white spices, and butterscotch. Fresh, bitter almond finish.