If there’s one caucus in Washington with a truly bi-partisan membership, it’s the Congressional Wine Caucus, under the leadership of WineAmerica, the trade association for American wineries. The recent all-American wine tasting at the Longworth Congressional Building on Capitol Hill attracted 15 members of Congress, ten times as many staff (on “fact-finding” missions), with maybe about 20 industry related guests such as this writer, according to WineAmerica Public Affairs director Michael Kaiser. Fellow regional wine writer and Drink Local Wine Board member Dave McIntyre (wine columnist for the Washington Post) was also there.
Twenty-five states were represented, and aside from the West Coast states who had dedicated tables, were organized by region such as Midwest, Southeast, Rocky Mountains, etc. 152 wineries were represented pouring 204 different wines. Here are my highlights (mostly the whites; time ran out before I could switch to the reds).
Biltmore Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Carolina: Few people realize that Biltmore Winery in Asheville, NC has the largest number of annual tasting room visitors in the country. Demand has been higher than the native grape supply for some time but with this delightful, versatile and well-balanced sparkling blanc de blancs, Biltmore was able to secure a home-grown grape supply. Nice lemon and hints of yeast on the nose are followed by a clean, round and fresh texture, nice yeast and lemon hints and a fresh clean finish. Off-dry and very versatile.
Great Shoals Winery (MD) “Blazing Star” peach cider NV: with a plethora of cideries now on the scene it’s nice to see people doing original variations like this. A bouquet of fresh peaches makes you think the wine will be sweet, but as with apple cider, it’s surprisingly dry on the palate, with that slight sour pungency you also get in apple cider. It also reminds me of “Krieck” beer flavored with peach.
Ferrante Gruener Veltliner 2012 Grand River Valley (OH). This fun and friendly version of the popular Austrian white is a little fruitier than the austere Austrians, but still dry, with apple and grapefruit flavors and a long lingering finish. Original and stylish, versatile for sipping or food pairing.
Chankaska Petit Colline 2013 (MN): The name of this very stylish and very riesling-like wine sounds like a new grape but it’s really a skillful blend of northern grapes: La Crescent, Brianna, Prairie Star, Frontenac Gris, Saint Pepin, Edelweiss, and Petite Amie, with about 5% neutral barrel fermented and aged, 95% stainless steel aged. The nose has lots of peach, apple and tropical fruit, with like flavors and bright and lively acidity on the palate, very much like riesling.
McFarland Frontenac Rosé 2013 (IA): Another U. of MN hybrid, released in 1996, frontenac has loads of bright cherry fruit but also very high acidity. As a result, it’s not used for dry red table wine as much as for rosé and port. This wine shows you the potential of this grape in a rosé format. The nose is HUGE with bright lively cherry fruit. On the palate, the fruit is full-bodied with great balanced acidity, vibrant and juicy.
Lieb Pinot Blanc 2013, North Fork of Long Island: A regular favorite of mine for over a decade, this is a perfect, versatile summertime white. A faint, lightly lemon bouquet is followed by a surprisingly vibrant and racy lemon/citrus palate, refreshing and stylish, perfect for matching with shellfish.
Anthony Road Rosé of Cabernet Franc 2013 (Finger Lakes): Another winner of a rosé and starts with a bang; lively nose of roses and red cherries. On the palate, the wine is vibrant and packs a punch of fruit and acid, dry and full-bodied with a vibrant finish.
Of all the regional tables, I was most impressed with the quality and diversity of wines I tasted from Arizona, Idaho and Colorado at the Rocky Mountain table. Cinder Vineyards’ Viognier 2012 (Snake River Valley), ID was very impressive and shows the potential for this great white Rhone grape in this AVA. Delicate nose with fruit hints and lees is followed by surprisingly large volume on the palate, from time on the lees, rich, round and fat texture with peach and honeysuckle fruit flavors. A sappy wine but not flabby; impressive.
Bitner Cabernet/Shiraz 2009, Snake River Valley, ID: An impressive, reserve-style blend with nice maturity, this 50/50 blend shows the best of both grapes in a well-integrated, rich and full-bodied, spicy blend. This will beat out most California, and Australian, cab/shiraz blends.
Stone Cottage Cellars Gewurztraminer 2012 (West Elks), CO: This comes from the highest altitude vineyard in North America (over 6,000 ft.) and is amazingly Alsatian in style, with rich, floral aromatics of rose and spice, luscious and juicy palate with good acidity on the finish; outstanding varietal character and balance.
Gaduces “Sancha” 2012 (AZ) A fun, fruity, spicy wine that’s almost all tempranillo with a touch of grenache, it actually drinks like a Rhone blend with a spicy grenache-like nose, ripe fruit and spice, and long lingering finish. Original and stylish.
King’s Ridge 2012 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley Spicy pear notes on the nose. Full-bodied but fresh, nice lingering acidity; a fine food wine and example of Oregon’s talent for this grape.
The most fun wine of the evening was the Bitner (ID) “Menopause Merlot”, with a cartoon drawing of a middle-aged woman on the label, and a hot pink capsule. Aside from the concept (note: it was designed by the vintner’s wife Mrs. Bitner), it was a pretty good merlot! Fresh, generous cherry fruit, juicy, not oakey, easy to drink and probably a great beverage for women able to laugh at the idea.
Let me know if you need anything else.
Director of Public Affairs