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Oregon’s vineyards are protected from the Pacific by the Coastal Range, and this cool climate, especially that of the Willamette Valley, is perfect for ripening the fickle pinot noir, as well as some of America’s top pinot gris, both of which pair perfectly with the cuisine of the Pacific northwest, most notably salmon.
Washington state’s vineyards are mainly east of the Cascades, where the dry climate, helped with irrigation, ripens Cabernet and Merlot very well, as well as Cabernet Franc and Syrah and Chardonnay among others. Top growing areas, like the Red Mountain A.V.A., produce many world-class reds.
California’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) include Napa, Sonoma, Russian River, and Rutherford, plus more than 100 others. Varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Zinfandel, among many others. Styles vary based on the terroir of the region, from the highly structured Cabernets of Howell Mountain or Mt. Veeder, for example, to the less-structured/less-tannic Cabernets of Alexander Valley.
The Medoc consists of the wines of St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, Haut-Medoc, Medoc and Graves. It is the benchmark of Cabernet/Merlot blends, collectible and able to improve with age. Cabernet offers weight, tannin and structure, softened and rounded by the Merlot.
The sweet white wines of Sauternes, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, in varying proportions, rely on the effect of Botrytis, "noble rot," to dry the grapes and concentrate the juice, creating one of the most sought-after, age-worthy dessert wines of all. Sauvignon offers the acidity, Semillon adds weight.
The wines of St. Emilion and Pomerol, often called the "right bank" wines, located east of the Gironde river, differ from the wines of the Medoc in that they rely on Merlot as the primary grape, with varying amounts of Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon added. Supple and round, they also improve with age.
The Cote de Nuits includes the northern half of Burgundy, including Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanee, some of the most sought-after Pinot Noir in the world. This area produces nearly all red wines, which can offer aromas and flavors of cherry, currant, wild berry and mineral.
From Aloxe-Corton south to Santenay, the Cote de Beaune vineyards include those around Beaune itself. Elegant reds, from Pinot Noir, are made in Beaune, Pommard and Volnay. Benchmark Chardonnay, with elegant power and minerality, are made at Meursault, Chassagne and Puligny. Reds from Pinot Noir, and whites from Chardonnay, the wines of Burgundy pair with a wide range of foods. Pinot Noir, with its aromas and flavors of cherry, currant, wild berry and mineral is perfect with weightier fish such as salmon or roast chicken. Chardonnay is bone dry and crisp, with mineral supporting the orchard fruit flavors. Try Chablis with oysters for a world-class pairing.
The Lauguedoc-Rousillon has a wine for every taste. Dry whites and rosés, delightful with many dishes, including most seafood. Dozens of excellent red wines, primarily of Grenache and Syrah, which offer nice value and are also versatile on the table. Known for the delicious Grenache-based sweet red wine, Banyuls.
Nowhere else in France do the wine and food pair so wonderfully well together on the table as in Provence. Crisp, thirst-quenching whites alongside the fresh local seafood, dry rosé with tapenade, aioli or Bouillabaisse, and sturdy reds, made from Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah and a few local varieties.
Syrah reigns supreme on the granite slopes of the Northern Rhone. Powerful reds from Cote-Rotie, Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph and Crozes all showcase the structured, firm style of the Syrah grape at its finest. The wines offer rich, meaty flavors and textures with a backbone of firm tannins.
Grenache dominates here, but not without the help of Syrah and Mourvedre. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Rasteau are some of the well-known reds, but don’t miss the powerful rosé made at Tavel, the many great-value reds of the Cotes-du-Rhone, or the sweet Muscat de Beaumes de Venice.
The classic red wine region of Spain, Rioja lies just south of the Cordillera Cantabrica in the Ebro River Valley. Rioja is classified as the higher status Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOC). Tempranillo is the dominant red grape variety with Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano, and Mazuelo grape varieties also permitted. A small amount of dry rosé and white wine is produced in this DOC with Viura being the traditional white grape variety. In Rioja, the minimum aging requirement is one year in barrel followed by one year in the bottle.
Home of Barolo and Barbaresco wines, made from the Nebbiolo grape, Piedmont (also known as Piemonte) is a province in the northwestern corner of Italy. The Cuneo (home to Barbera and Dolcetto), Asti, and Alessandria areas of the Piedmont wine region are responsible for about 90% of their winemaking. The region as a whole is broken up into five areas: Canavese, Colline Novarese, Coste della Sesia, Langhe, and Monferrato. The Brachetto grape and the Moscasto grape, which both produce sweet, sparkling wines, are also grown in the Piedmont region.
Barolo is a commune in the Province of Cuneo, a part of the Piedmont region, with fairly high elevation and cooler temperatures. Barolo is also the name of a red DOC/G wine produced in that area from 100% Nebbiolo grape. Barolo wine is generally rich, deeply concentrated and never opaque.
Moscato d'Asti, a very popular sparkling white wine here in the United States, is produced in the province of Asti, located in northwestern Italy. This dessert wine is quite sweet and low in alcohol compared to other wines, and it is made from the Moscato Bianco grape. Asti wines are best consumed very young and as close to the vintage as possible, so as to not lose their fresh, floral notes.
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