I’m still waiting for the Other U.S. to show up, winewise that is. By Other U.S., I mean American wines produced in states other than California, Oregon and Washington.
I know—you think I’ve got it made getting to taste all those Rhône wines. I wish it were that simple. I also get to taste all the "Other U.S." wines too. I earned my stripes here at Wine Spectator working through a few hundred of them for my Wine Across America cover story back in 2002.
And after tasting another flight of nearly 30 "Other U.S." wines this morning (which resulted in a few interesting bottlings), I took a look back at the history of all the "Other U.S." wines I’ve reviewed for Wine Spectator, now more than 1,100 in total. (I’m keeping the wines of New York separate from these numbers, as I address the Empire State separately below.)
Of the 1,100-plus wines I’ve reviewed, none has ever rated in the outstanding category (90 points or better on our 100-point scale). A few have hit 88 and 89 points, but nothing has gotten to 90. I find that both surprising and disappointing.
It’s not that I expect consistently outstanding wines to come from areas such as Michigan or North Carolina or from grapes such as Chancellor or Seyval Blanc. But I would expect the occasional breakthrough wine. Zero for 1,100-plus is not a very good percentage.
There’s certainly that tantalizing word of "potential" hanging out there though. I’ve tasted interesting stuff from wineries including Callaghan and Dos Cabezas in Arizona and Spanish Valley in Utah. In Virginia, Linden Vineyards quietly turns out consistently very good wines year after year as well. Wines from Sharpe Hill in Connecticut and the sparklers made by L. Mawby in Michigan have also proven worthy, and the Norton grape in Missouri can make an intriguing wine from time to time.
But the successes are far outweighed by the misses. More than half of the 1,100-plus "Other U.S." wines I’ve tasted haven’t even broken 80 points, or good, on our scale. That percentage hasn’t decreased over the years either. Regardless of varietal or terroir, considering modern vinification techniques, that’s a real head-scratching statistic.
At 1,100 and counting, it might seem like I’m just banging my head against the wall by continuing to taste these wines. But that’s a critic’s job—to keep searching for the good stuff. If the wines keep coming in (we have an open-door policy regarding sample submissions) I’ll keep tasting them. And if you ever come across a local winery that you think made something noteworthy, go ahead and encourage them to send a sample to Wine Spectator (but have them call us first for details on how to submit a wine for review).
As for New York State, the situation is better, thankfully, but not by leaps and bounds. I’ve reviewed over 600 New York wines and found just five that merited an outstanding score, and three of those were the ’01, ’02 and ’04 vintages of Standing Stone’s Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. (Note: My colleague Thomas Matthews tastes the wines from Long Island; I taste the wines from the rest of the state.) Only 27 percent of the 600-plus wines I’ve reviewed failed to break 80 points, a far better showing that the "Other U.S." category, but still a high number.
Within New York state, the Finger Lakes has quality Riesling in the palm of its hand, but seems intent on tinkering with a hodgepodge of varieties, including reds from Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir that rarely achieve good ripeness and varietal character in upstate New York. That lack of focus keeps holding the region back.
As for the rest of this week, I’ve got another five-dozen Finger Lakes wines here to taste. Most of them are Rieslings, including quite a few from wineries that are new to me. Hopefully I’ll turn up more than just the odd success. I need hope, because when it comes to wines from the "Other U.S.," the wait for consistent quality continues ...