On a day dedicated to emancipating ourselves from Europe, why on earth would we drink French Champagne, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, or Italian pinot grigio? I mean, you wouldn’t root for the opposing team in the World Cup, so why would you bring imported grapes to America’s birthday party? Let’s do better.
This 4th of July weekend, let’s celebrate the best hidden gems and big-deal American wine producers by drinking local, independent, small-batch wines or supporting a local winery in your home state. (Fact: No matter where in the US you live, there’s at least one winery in your state!) Not only will you probably save some major bucks, you’re also reducing your carbon footprint by choosing wines closer to home AND more of that money goes back into your local economy with every dollar spent. Win, win, major win. ‘Merica!
Thanks to a nearly decade-long friendship with Morgan and Tyler at Second Glass, the egalitarian educators behind Wine Riot, and a dedication to trying out local wineries when we travel — as evidenced by my first-person collage of tasting photos below, oh the things I do in the name of journalism! — here are some of my husband and my favorite independent American wines and wineries for your red-white-and-blue bash. Note: While I love the reds, I’m focusing on those icy cold whites & pinks that we all want to drink when it’s hot & humid. If you want recommendations for reds, go watch Tyler’s video, Drink These Wines on America’s Birthday.
Westport Rivers Brut, Farmer’s Fizz or Gruner Veltliner ($14.99-$29.99)
Yes, I’m biased, so I’m jumping right in with the Massachusetts wineries! When it comes to Bay State wines, nobody beats Westport Rivers, one of the original wineries in the region that could actually compete with California, and now the anchor of the Coastal Wine Trail. Known for their award-winning brut that rivals French Champagne, Westport is my go-to for local bubbles, and the new Westport’s Farmer’s Fizz — a prosecco-style sparkling wine bottled in beer bombers ($13.99) — is a fabulous and more affordable alternative. As a native of Lexington, Mass., where a bunch of drunken farmers rolled out of the pub to take down the redcoats one April Morning in 1775, I approve of this very theme-appropriate beverage. Plus, it’s effing delicious! I haven’t had a chance to try it myself yet, but according to Tyler the latest gruner veltliner from Westport is also a big ol’ must — or, as he calls it, “summer in a bottle.”
Travessia Vidal Blanc ($15)
If you’d told me when I was living on Martha’s Vineyard that I’d be touting a winery in downtown New Beige, I would’ve tossed you overboard the fast ferry. But dammit Travessia has made New Bedford cool again, and their urban “micro-winery” is only churning out small productions of incredible, affordable wines. Pack some lobster rolls and head to the water for a sunset sail or harborside picnic with this unique summer white, made from hardy winter grapes that (funny enough) seem to grow really well in New England, pressed right in the center of New England’s original whaling capital. Ahoy, summer!
90+ Cellars Rose ($11.99)
Any winery that compares themselves to Filene’s Basement had me at hello, and for the last five-plus years 90+ Cellars wines have been a consistent thrift score. Their whole steez is that as a “negociant” they don’t have their own vineyards, instead buying their wine from other vineyards that made too much grape juice. Because they keep the secret to where it comes from (all wineries rated 90 points or higher with Wine Spectator), 90+ can charge a fraction of the cost for their spectacular sips — or, as they lovingly call it, “Saturday Night taste at a Tuesday Night price.” If you happen to be in New England, grab a bottle of rose for yourself or a three-bottle “Weekender” pack for a crowd-pleasing holiday assortment. Best of all, as I recently found out when I received a care package from the 90+ team in time for our holiday party and lookbook, they can now ship to Texas!
Duchman Winery Vermentino ($14)
Speaking of Texas, we’ve tried a bunch of local wines since moving to Austin — we even celebrated our wedding anniversary weekend out in Fredericksburg, the epicenter of Hill Country wineries — and hands down, the vermentino from Duchman is our favorite. It’s an easy drinking, crisp white wine that we keep buying again and again and giving as gifts to friends. Fun fact: it’s a wine so beloved locally, Austin’s Second Bar + Kitchen downtown even has the vermentino on tap. We literally can’t get enough of it. It’s everything I want a white wine to be when it’s basically the face of Mars outside.
Gruet Sparkling Wine ($12.99)
Did you know one of the longest-running American-produced sparkling wines is made in New Mexico?!? Gruet was one of the first affordable bottles of bubbly I dabbled in when I worked in fine dining (read: grad school), and has been a favorite of mine ever since. Featured in our Made in USA gift guide, and many, many times before that on Shoestring, I will never get over just how much bang for your buck you get with Gruet’s award-winning sparkling wines. Show your long weekend host just how much you appreciate their hospitality with one of Gruet’s vintage or reserve bottles (from $24.99) or a wine club membership, shipped directly from the family vineyards in Albuquerque (celebrating 25 years in 2015!), or just show up with a bottle of their non-vintage brut, carried in almost every wine shop or liquor store from coast to coast.
Kluge Estate “Cru” ($28)
For the past seven years, since our very first issue debuted with a cover story about Charlottesville, Virginia as the “Napa Valley of the East,” I’ve been begging Ginger to take me for a wine tasting weekend — mostly because of Kluge. Their most unique wine, “Cru” ($28), is a white wine made with Chardonnay aged in Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. If you can find a bottle, Cru is a perfect way to channel the spirit of Declaration of Independence writer Thomas Jefferson, whose wine grapes have been growing at neighboring Monticello since 1773! If you’re from Virginia and looking for a taste of home, or just need to boycott Kluge’s new owner Donald Trump like everyone else this week, also check out Charlottesville’s many other kick-ass winereies: Veritas, King Family Vineyards, and Barboursville, to name three.
Ravines Wine Cellars Dry Riesling ($17.95)
Ever since college, when many of my skating teammates told endless stories of the beauty of their hometowns in New York’s Finger Lakes region, I’ve had a trip to tour Finger Lakes wineries on my bucket list. I’ve even had a virtual tasting room “staycation” set up in my kitchen, when my downstairs Somerville neighbor brought home a mixed case of wines from his family’s vineyard on Seneca Lake, which only made my daydreams more vibrant. Over the holiday, though, I’ll be on the hunt for or a bottle of my go-to Finger Lakes wine: the dry riesling from Ravines, which my Washington-born mom liked so much she was convinced it was from the Columbia Valley. For a quick overview of The Finger Lakes in 90 Seconds, and why Upstate New York does dry riesling so well, watch this recent video from Tyler — or check out why I also love the Ravines dry pinot rose ($14) so much in this oldie but goodie from the archives, all about the “recession renaissance for rose.”
Farnum Hill Extra Dry Cider ($11.99)
When I first became aware that I was allergic to wheat, beer suddenly was off limits, and every hard cider I knew was something sticky sweet with the consistency of a hefeweizen that, at college parties, was the prime culprit in making your shoes stick to the floor. Little did I know that just up country from my alma mater was the (very Shoestring) Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, churning out a fine, super dry French-style hard cider under the Farnum Hill label. This fancy cider comes in long, lean, very French glass bottles, too, made in limited edition, small batches that hardly resemble the ciders you’re used to — and that’s a good thing. According to the makers, what we now know as “cider” is due to some slick maneuvering during Prohibition. Watch the cidermaking video on their website for the full history, it’s fascinating! Right now, Farnum Hill ciders are available at all New Hampshire State Liquor stores, perfect for all your road trip pit stops, and throughout the Northeast.
Maine MeadWorks HoneyMaker Mead ($15)
If all these seasons of Game of Thrones haven’t yet instilled in you a craving for a goblet of mead, I urge you to spend the holiday weekend rewatching them from the beginning — and then pick up a case of HoneyMaker Blueberry from this recently founded Portland, Maine winery. I love the entire philosophy of MeadWorks, from preserving the honeybee population to using hyper-local Maine ingredients like lavender and elderberries, as well as “reintroducing the world to the oldest of all fermented beverages.” Mead is delicious on its own, but Maine MeadWorks also offers delicious mead cocktail recipes, like the NOR’Easter, the Honegroni, and Wild Maine Blueberry Sangria, right on their website. Absolutely NOTHING says summer like the taste of Maine bluberries, trust me.
Gilbert Cellars Rose ($18)
After five years away, I recently returned to Yakima — the agricultural heart of Washington State, where my mom was raised and my grandparents owned apple orchards — and I barely recognized the place. Thanks to a booming Washington wine industry, and Yakima’s near-monopoly on growing hops for craft breweries around the country, my former farm-town home away from home looked more like a hipster haven, a more affordable escape from the rain and the rising cost of living in Portland and Seattle. And anchoring the newly vibrant downtown is a tasting room for Gilbert Cellars, where my sister and our partners whiled away a few hours after Grammie turned down for the night. I was blown away by Gilbert Cellars rose, made from their award-winning mourvedre, as well as their gewurztraminer. If you’re ever in the area, looking for a pit-stop on your Pacific Coast road trip, or some sunshine within a few hours’ drive from Seattle or Portland, give Yakima a try…and pick up a case from Gilbert Cellars (plus a few bottles from nearby AntoLin Cellars) while you’re there. (There’s even a pizza place with gluten-free crust in the old train station around the corner!) Down on the Columbia River itself, Maryhill Winery is a fun spot with a fantastic panoramic view to spend an afternoon — bring a picnic!
Charles + Charles Rose ($12)
You’ll no doubt recognize the label of this 100% syrah rose from Charles Smith Winery from the label, a bottle pretty much omnipresent in bottle shops and grocery store selections around the country. But don’t let familiarity and low price dissuade you — this is a seriously killer bottle of blush, from a Walla Walla winery doing seriously cool things. Check out this story in Eater Seattle about the eponymous founder and his plans to move the winery into Boeing’s backyard, in an old Dr. Pepper plant, creating the largest urban winery in the country.
Anne Amie Muller-Thurgau Cuvee ($14)
I love any winery team that refers to their best-seller as stoop wine, and when our fearless wine critic Stewart Kelly visited Anne Amie in 2010, he got to drink it with them just like that. Kim McLeod at Anne Amie told Stewart that, “We often pair the Muller-Thurgau with burritos from our local Mexican grocery. On a warm day we sit outside and look at the Muller vineyards (planted at the foot of our hill) while soaking in the view of the Pacific Coast Range. It’s also a perfect wine to end the day with. It’s not uncommon to hear ‘It’s Muller Time’ or ‘Muller…Muller…’ and the crew flocks to the patio with full glasses to watch the sun set over the valley.” If you’re not sold on this “oddball German grape” yet, then go home, you’re already drunk.
Quady Electra ($12.99)
Before I worked in fine dining in grad school, I had no clue what a dessert wine was. I knew port, but that was the extent. I was sooooo very lucky that the first white dessert wine I ever tried was the Quady Electra, a sweet orange muscat that literally tasted like sunshine, like the sun’s rays glistening off orange peels made their way into the bottle. I was hooked, and acted like a total weirdo fangirl when I finally met Andrew Quady at Wine Riot. Since it’s more of a low-alcohol cordial, you can make it into a wine cocktail by using it in place of a liqueur (2oz at a time) or adding prosecco & muddled fruit, like in one of these Quady Cocktails the team was mixing up in their booth at Wine Riot Boston. As Tyler says, “Fourth of July imbibing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t want to be down for the count before the fireworks start.”
Parducci Sustainable White ($10)
As the first carbon neutral winery in the United Sates, Mendocino-based Parducci is our undisputed king of sustainable and biodynamic wine. Back in 2009, Shoestring wine writer Stewart Kelly visited Parducci and saw for himself that literally nothing is wasted at this winery: Almost every drop of water is recycled; the skins and other bits from the grapes are reused; and pesticides are forbidden — instead, a well-drilled army of wild animals is employed to do the job. Ever since, the Sustainable White has been in heavy rotation in our house, great to drink on its own and very pairable — a blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, and a few other grape varieties, inexpensive enough to be a party wine but perhaps too good for it. Best of all, widely available all over the country, including our local co-op. Which reminds me…time to stock up!