Great American Wine & Food Matches
America's next great wine regions are producing amazing bottlings with grapes like Viognier, Pinot Gris, Syrah and— believe it or not—Norton. Here, a profile of each place and a perfect recipe pairing.
Viognier & Viognier-Steamed Clams with Bacon and Parsnips
The Grape Virginia is showing the potential to produce the finest Viognier outside the Rhône's Condrieu appellation—perhaps one day taking that honor from California. The best Virginia Viogniers have nuances of blossoms, white peaches, pears and minerals, almost always at more modest alcohol levels than the ultraripe California versions.
The Place Though Virginia is warm, it's less sunny than California. The harvest is long and slow, meaning the grapes can develop their distinctive flavors before sugar levels (and consequently alcohol levels) shoot sky-high.
Top Producers Chrysalis Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Rappahannock Cellars, Jefferson Vineyards and Veritas Vineyard & Winery.
Top Local Wine List The Clifton inn, in Charlottesville, features a number of local wines on its award-winning list (1296 Clifton Inn Dr.; 888-971-1800 or cliftoninn.net).
Best Pairings The delicacy of Virginia Viognier makes it great with light dishes such as a green salad with grilled chicken or salmon, as well as shellfish of any kind—particularly local catches from Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Travel Highlight The 31st Annual Virginia Wine Festival, on September 30 and October 1 in Leesburg, is a must for anyone interested in Virginia wine; about 70 wineries from around the state will be pouring tastes (virginiawinefestival.org).
Santa Rita Hills, CA
Pinot Noir & Fennel-Scented Duck with Pinot Noir Sauce
The Grape Hillside vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills, northwest of Santa Barbara, produce bold, concentrated Pinot Noirs that still have a subtle, textural grace.
The Place Santa Rita Hills has two valleys that run east-west rather than north-south—a rarity in California. They act as giant weather funnels, pulling morning fog and afternoon wind from the Pacific, crucial for cool climate–loving Pinot Noir.
Top Producers There are more than two dozen good Pinot Noir producers here. The top tier includes Brewer-Clifton, Sea Smoke, Melville, Longoria and Fiddlehead Cellars.
Top Local Wine List At the Oak Grill at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai the wine list changes regularly, but always features a wide selection of bottlings from Central Coast regions (905 Country Club Rd.; 888-697-8780 or ojairesort.com).
Best Pairings Intense Santa Rita Hills Pinots, full of ripe berry flavors and mineral notes, go perfectly with rich fish like salmon or ahi tuna, or game birds like quail, pheasant or duck.
Travel Highlight La Purisima Mission, near Lompoc, was founded in 1787 as the 11th of 21 Franciscan missions in California, and is now a state park, with miles of hiking trails, restored mission buildings and beautiful views. It's a wonderful picnic destination for wine travelers (lapurisimamission.org).
Walla Walla Valley, WA
Syrah & Syrah-Braised Lamb with Potato Soufflé
The Grape Walla Walla Valley, a small section of Washington's (and Oregon's) vast Columbia Valley appellation, produces good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but the real excitement surrounds its fantastic, aromatic, meaty Syrahs—typically darker and more powerful than the more berry-inflected versions from the rest of Columbia Valley.
The Place Some Walla Walla Valley winemakers like to point out similarities between their region and France's northern Rhône valley—the greatest Syrah region in the world. Both are situated at roughly the same latitude, have well-drained soil influenced by ancient glaciers and are inland areas protected from ocean influence.
Top Producers Cayuse Vineyards, L'Ecole No 41, K Vintners, Reininger and Buty.
Top Local Wine List Walla Walla favorite 26brix features more than 70 Washington wines, many from sought-after boutique producers, on its expansive list (207 W. Main St.; 509-526-4075 or twentysixbrix.com).
Best Pairings Formidable Walla Walla Syrah is ideal with hearty cuts of beef or game and perfect with any kind of lamb dish.
Travel Highlight More than 50 local wineries open their cellars on the first weekend in December during Walla Walla's Holiday Barrel Tasting, allowing visitors inaugural samples of the new vintage, along with many other wines (wallawallawine.com).
Finger Lakes, NY
Riesling & Stuffed Pork Tenderloins with Bacon
The Grape New York State's Finger Lakes region produces wines from an abundance of grape varieties, from noble to native, but Riesling is unquestionably the star. Made in dry, off-dry and dessert styles, Finger Lakes Rieslings show vivid flavors of lime and minerals, in addition to peach in sweeter versions, with overtones of flowers.
The Place Grape vines shouldn't be able to survive upstate New York's brutal winters, but the glacier-carved Finger Lakes trap summer heat, helping moderate temperatures late into the winter. This phenomenon, known as the "lake effect," is so pronounced that locals refer to the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake as the "banana belt."
Top Producers Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Cellars, Hermann J. Wiemer, Standing Stone, Red Newt, Fox Run and Treleaven (King Ferry Winery).
Top Local Wine List The Red Newt Winery Bistro offers eight different flights of Finger Lakes wines to pair with its local ingredient–driven cuisine (3675 Tichenor Rd., Hector, NY; 607-546-4100 or rednewt.com).
Best Pairings These Rieslings are ideal with lighter fish like trout, but they're also substantial enough to stand up to pork.
Travel Highlight Dano's Heuriger, on Seneca Lake, is modeled on traditional Viennese wine bars (9564 Rte. 414, Lodi, NY; 607-582-7555 or danosonseneca.com).
Willamette Valley, OR
Pinot Gris & Gingery Salmon with Asian Vegetables
The Grape Pinot Gris has risen to the status of Oregon's most important white grape—back in 2000 it shot past Chardonnay as the most-planted white-grape variety—and the Willamette Valley appellation is its epicenter. Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley has the freshness of Italian Pinot Grigio (the same grape variety) and the richness of Alsace Pinot Gris, with pear and white peach flavors and floral nuances.
The Place While summer in the Willamette Valley is warm, Oregon's northerly latitude brings dramatically cooler weather toward harvest, preventing overripeness and extending the season, which gives the wines more complex flavors.
Top Producers Adelsheim Vineyard, Chehalem, Elk Cove Vineyards, the Eyrie Vineyards, Maysara Winery and St. Innocent.
Top Local Wine List Portland's Thirst wine bar has tasty small plates—but the real draw is the well-chosen Oregon-focused wine list (0315 SW Montgomery St., Ste. 340; 503-295-2747 or thirstwinebar.com).
Best Pairings Pinot Gris's Alsatian origins make it ideal with savory Alsatian tarts; it's also great with seafood of any kind.
Travel Highlight The secluded, nine-suite Black Walnut Inn is within 20 miles of 90 Willamette Valley wineries (from $200 per night; 9600 NE Worden Hill Rd., Dundee, OR; 866-429-4114 or blackwalnut-inn.com).
Norton & Beef Yenderloin Sandwiches with Norton Shiitake Sauce
The Grape Winemakers west of the Rockies—not to mention quite a few to the east—may have never heard of Norton, which can be hard to find outside the Midwest, but Missourians have long known its potential. In fact, local lore claims a Missouri Norton won recognition at the 1873 world exposition in Vienna. These robust red wines, somewhat evocative of a combination of Merlot and Mourvèdre, suggest blue- and blackberries, with firm, succulent acidity and soft tannins.
The Place Norton is ideally suited to Missouri's humid summers, because it's resistant to mildew and other problems that plague more familiar grape varieties here.
Top Producers Stone Hill Winery, Augusta Winery, Adam Puchta Winery and Crown Valley Winery.
Top Local Wine List Riddle's Penultimate Cafe & Wine Bar pours dozens of Missouri wines (6307 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis; 314-725-6985 or riddlescafe.com).
Best Pairings Norton's rich fruit and low tannins make it a natural with poultry, game birds or even heartier beef and pork dishes.
Travel Highlight Hermann is one of Missouri's most beautiful towns, full of 19th-century buildings, views of the surrounding hills and several top wineries, including Stone Hill Winery and Adam Puchta Winery.