American Wines for the Holiday Season

Nobody needs more Pinot or Chardonnay.

Thanksgiving is done but the holiday season just began. I had a moment of clarity this Thanksgiving by realizing the better looking and more Instagramable your turkey is, the drier and less edible it will be. So my turkey was nothing to look at, pale and a bit lugubrious but actually moist and edible. No leftovers. Win, wine.

However, it's the wines we drank that made a profound impression on folks gathered. Of age and under. They were exciting and transparent, focused but edgy, universal but also extremely local. Made from hybrid grapes developed to conform to the brutally cold climates they inhabit, they instead produce a new way of thinking about wine relevant to our time and to the future of the wider industry. And they were American wines. The most American wines I've encountered. And compelling; inviting one to think of the possibilities of place and flavors.

La Garagista winery deserves its own mention and space whenever the topic of hybrids comes up. Two of the three wines I'm focusing on came from this winery. They were the first to even imagine good wine can come from a place like Vermont. Undeterred by conventional wisdom, there's a freedom inherent as unknown grapes are free of preconceptions of what they "should '' taste like. And aside from the technicolor vividness of their flavors, their products establish a taste of place. Alpine in nature and tightly wound they are nonetheless rooted and contain a certain gravity. And they are delicious. None of this would matter if they weren't delicious. Wine is a physical pursuit.

La Garagista Ci Confonde is a Pet Nat made from the Brianna grape. As the name suggests, it's confounding but also exciting. Notes of ripe pear, apricot, hay and spice with ginger and a leesy richness. Brianna is partly descended from the friendly Muscat grape as the round and plump fruit flavors attest but an earthy and slightly bitter finish recall something hearty and potent, with texture and an analog heart. Could probably withstand political discourse with weird family members. Probably.

La Garagista In a Dark Country Sky is a red wine made from the Marquette grape. A fresh and vibrant red almost to be treated as a white. Notes of wild berries, unripe plums, white pepper and mineralized earth all work to extend the brisk and invigorating quality of the wine. This wine just might be the most unique and hopeful portent of what's to come from the American continent in the world of fine wine. Partly descended from Pinot Noir it has a built-in berry deliciousness in its DNA but also a wild and feral nature and a spring loaded rudeness that's purely continental.

It's worth noting that wine always existed here. When Scandinavians first came over to this continent in their explorations they called our shores Vineland. That wasn't by accident. Unlike Europe where the vine was spread by settlers and travelers, this continent always supported the natural grape vine. In a world of monoculture and grape propagation by grafting ( which transfers the exact and same DNA) instead of natural selection the introduction of hybrids adds to the genetic material of the vine. As the pests and viruses that attack the vine evolve so must grapes to withstand what's to come with a changing climate and attrition of species. My grandmother turned 100 this weekend. One of the most unhealthy people I know. It's all in the DNA.

The other winery I'd like to bring attention to is the utilitarian-named American Wine Project. Much like the folks in Vermont, here is someone who believes their part of the world, Wisconsin, has a story to tell. Similarly cold and inhospitable, also working with hybrid grapes and without a trusted paradigm to follow besides the winemaker's intuition, intelligence and imagination, the wines are fresh, deep flavored and anything but safe. I never want to get folks out of their comfort zones when they purchase wines. You should be comfortable. I am trying to help folks drop their pavlovian responses to consuming wine and open up to a new possibility. Most serious endeavors start with a passion, turn into a business and end up as a racket. Both winemakers concerned here are whole-heartedly in the passion phase. And while business necessarily happens, that phase is where they will remain.

American Wine Project Modern Optimism is an orange wine made from the St. Pepin grape. Spicy, floral, herbal and zesty, this is charming and pleasant in every way. With no less than 5 families of grapes in its parentage one would think, and maybe wish, there were more quirky and abrasive flavors. But no. Open-hearted and congenial, it's a shot in the dark that kills and leaves no mess.

Try Henry's wine recommendations, available at Gjelina and in limited quantities at Gjusta Grocer.

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