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All-American Wines

Many states besides California produce great-quality wines. What better time than Thanksgiving to give them a try?

Fine Cooking Issue 88
Photos: Scott Phillips
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In the not-so-distant past, when you mentioned American wine, people automatically thought of California. But this is no longer the case. Though California wine still gets the lion’s share of press and accolades, you can now find wineries in every state. The range of wines produced is incredibly diverse, and the quality keeps improving. So this Thanksgiving, look no further than our fifty states for your wine selections.

To get you started and help you sort through regions, styles, and varietals, I picked a handful of delicious and perfectly affordable wines from six American wine-producing states. With their moderate alcohol content and restrained oak and tannins, they’re all great choices for the big turkey dinner.

What is an appellation?

An appellation is a defined winegrowing and winemaking region, and there are three types in the United States: state, county, and American Viticulture Areas (AVA). An AVA can be as small as Cole Valley in California, with just over 150 acres, or as large as the Ohio River Valley, which spans six states and covers more than 200,000 square miles. Unlike European appellations, which specify the grape varieties grown along with grape-growing and winemaking practices, AVAs define only the geographical boundaries of an American wine region.


Oregon’s wine industry dates back to the mid 1970s when David Lett, of the famed Eyrie Vineyards, left California in search of affordable land to start a new winery. He found a home for his Pinot Noir grapes in the Willamette Valley, south of Portland, establishing one of the state’s first wineries. In time, Oregon built its reputation on world-class Pinot Noir, but its Pinot Gris is also among the best anywhere. Other wines to look for are Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc for whites, and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz for reds.

Key appellations:
Oregon (state)
Willamette Valley (AVA)
Umpqua Valley (AVA)
Rogue Valley (AVA)

Wines to try:
White: 2006 Adelsheim Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, $18
What it’s like: Crisp and tart with luscious ripe red-apple flavor and notes of green melon and lemon.
Great with: Roasted turkey and chicken, carrots, and sweet potatoes.

Red: 2005 Chehalem “3 Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $22
What it’s like: Rich and supple with tart berry flavors and a touch of toasty oak.
Great with: Mashed potatoes, rich gratins, and hearty braises.


Established only in the 1980s, Washington’s wine industry is even younger than Oregon’s, but it has quickly come a long way. The arid plain of eastern Washington has proven to be one of the best places in the country for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux blends, and its Syrah and Cabernet Franc are excellent as well. Outstanding Chardonnay, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc are also made in cooler-climate areas.

Key appellations:
Washington (state)
Columbia Valley (AVA)
Yakima Valley (AVA)
Walla Walla Valley (AVA)
Red Mountain (AVA)
Wahluke Slope (AVA)

Wines to try:
2006 Bookwalter Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16.50
What it’s like: Crisp white peach and lemon-lime with floral notes.
Great with: Turkey and cranberry sauce as well as spicy dishes and bright ones like seared fish fillets with herb butter.

Red: 2004 Columbia Crest Merlot Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, $12
What it’s like: Supple black cherry and plum fruit with notes of green herb.
Great with: All the elements of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner as well as braised veal and pork.

New York

Some of the country’s oldest wineries are in the Finger Lakes region, including Dr. Konstantin Frank’s, the first in the U.S. to successfully grow high-quality wine grapes in a cold climate. In the last 20 years, Long Island, whose climate is reminiscent of that of France’s Bordeaux region, has also become a thriving wine region. Both areas are home to boutique wineries that make everything from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier for whites, to Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon for reds.

Key appellations:
New York (state)
Finger Lakes (AVA)
Long Island (AVA)
North Fork of Long Island (AVA)
Hamptons Long Island (AVA)

Wines to try:
White: 2006 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, $18
What it’s like: Ripe apricot and nectarine fruit with hints of lime zest.
Great with: Roasted chicken or turkey with cranberry sauce but also tandoori chicken with ginger and lime and other Indian dishes.

Red: 2004 Palmer Vineyards Cabernet Franc Proprietor’s Reserve, North Fork of Long Island, $19
What it’s like: Tart cherry and red raspberry flavor with green herb and tobacco notes.
Great with: All the elements of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, plus pasta with lamb-sausage ragù or mustard-crusted roasted chicken.


Virginia’s warm, humid climate has traditionally made it challenging to grow grapes for high-quality wines. But outstanding wines are now being made throughout the state, thanks to technology in the form of better rot prevention and control and different clones and rootstocks that are more suited to the climate. There are now more than 100 wineries in Virginia producing a variety of wines, from Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and even Nebbiolo.

Key appellations:
Virginia (state)
Monticello (AVA)
Shenandoah Valley (AVA)
Eastern Shore (AVA)

Wines to try:
White: 2005 Blenheim Farm Viognier, Virginia, $20
What it’s like: Bright peach and nectarine notes with a spicy, tart finish.
Great with: Roasted turkey and chicken or seared fish.

Red: 2003 Barboursville Nebbiolo Reserve, Virginia, $32
What it’s like: Dried cherry notes with floral, truffle, and spice finishes.
Great with: All the elements of the Thanksgiving dinner as well as slow-roasted meats and hearty braises.


As with Virginia, early efforts to establish vineyards in Texas were unsuccessful due to the hot, humid climate. But with new technology, growers in this state now produce an impressive range of wines from grapes as popular as Chardonnay and Merlot or as unusual as Viognier and Muscat. Reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Key appellations:
Texas (state)
Texas High (AVA)
Texas Hill Country (AVA)
Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country (AVA)

Wines to try:
White: 2005 Flat Creek Estate Moscato Blanco, Texas Hill Country, $18
What it’s like: Moderately sweet with strawberry and peach flavors and spice and floral notes.
Great with: Apple and pumpkin pies.

Red: 2003 Texas Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsome Vineyard, High Plains, $19
What it’s like: Black cherry and cassis with green herb, bittersweet chocolate, and oak notes.
Great with: The richer dishes of the holiday meal, but also pork and beef roasts.

New Mexico

The warm summer days and cool nights along the Rio Grande Valley provide the right climatic conditions for a large number of grapes, from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Muscat to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel. New Mexico also produces outstanding sparkling wines that are widely distributed.

Key appellations:
New Mexico (state)
Rio Grande Valley (AVA)
Middle Rio Grande Valley (AVA)

Wines to try:
White (sparkling): NV Gruet Brut, New Mexico, $13.50
What it’s like: Bright citrus with apple notes.
Great with: Oysters and shellfish or on its own as an aperitif.

Red: 2004 Casa Rondeña Winery Cabernet Franc, New Mexico, $20
What it’s like: Ripe black fruit with notes of baking spices and herbs.
Great with: Anything hearty and rich, from turkey, stuffing, and gravy to roasted rack of lamb.


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