Ready to Diss Cool-Climate U.S. Wines? Not so Fast…

Last weekend I took part in wine blogging event in the New York Finger Lakes region, during which I visited several quality producers and tasted hundreds of their wines. During a visit to Ravines Wine Cellars, I was struck by something that winemaker Morten Hallgren told our group:

“It’s only in the U.S. that the situation seems reversed. In the rest of the world, it’s the cooler climates that are known for excellent fine wines, and only in the warmer climates where fruit-driven, everyday drinking wines are made.”

Those words aren’t entirely true, of course, but they did give me some pause and I started tallying up a mental list of historical high-quality wine regions and their relative climates:

  • Riesling – Germany, Austria, and Alsace. Cold.
  • Chardonnay & Pinot Noir – Burgundy. Cold.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand. Cool.
  • Barolo & Barbaresco – Piedmont. Cool.
  • etc…

Is he onto something?

Of course, his statement starts to break down considerably the more you get into Cabernet territory (Bordeaux is warm, and Napa and Washington can be downright hot). But Hallgren’s point is justified: why do we give such short-shrift in the U.S. to wines from cooler regions like upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and to some extent Virginia? Probably because their wines haven’t been very good for very long.

Sure, these places are starting to get more positive press, and it’s well-deserved, but it takes time to crawl out of the hole of poor quality that those regions dug for themselves for several years. PA, VA, and NY all have had and still have some terrible, terrible wines being made – the kind that remind you of jet fuel, or that initiate a gag reflex in fine wine lovers. But their best wines have never been better, and their best are starting to be able to comfortably compete with their friends on the West Coast for those who appreciate higher-acid, more balanced approaches to their wines.

The larger point is that we wine lovers can no longer casually dismiss any wine region for any reason – chances are there are not only a few quality producers poised to prove us wrong, but history itself is also on their side!


Joe Roberts is a Certified Specialist of Wine and author of the award-winning wine blog.

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