American wine culture is changing. Sommeliers at renowned Michelin Starred restaurants can be found donning tattoos to the wrist and sporting abundant albeit well groomed facial hair. Quality wines can now be poured from boxes that are sold at more reputable locations than your friendly neighborhoodAmerican Wine Culture, Somms with tattoos Mini-Mart. Guests at even the most casual of get-togethers are arriving with Old World Cabernet Sauvignon and California Chardonnay in hand instead of twelve packs of the Champagne of Beer. Food and wine pairings are beginning to lean more toward interesting flavor relationships instead of traditional pairing rules. Think cheeseburgers and Lambrusco (trust me on this one) or spicy guacamole with bright, refreshing German Riesling. This new age in wine is creating an approachability that has even the most novice wine enthusiast lingering a bit longer in their local grocery’s wine aisle. Wine in America is becoming the choice beverage for even the least traditional of drinkers.
This change in attitude can be attributed in part to the highly regarded American wine making regions that have created a certain level of home team pride. Americans are taking interest in the wines that are successfully being grown and harvested in our own backyard. AVAs like Sonoma and Willamette Valley to name a few are creating arguably some of the most interesting and complex wines in the world. And in the same sense that even the most upscale American eateries are ditching the formal table service, wine makers are straying from traditional vinification techniques in favor of experimentation. New World wine producing countries are not required to adhere to the same restrictive regulations that are in place in Old World appellations. Think of New World wines as the foolhardy younger sibling, often disavowing familial teachings in favor of the unexpected. These younger winemaking regions have adapted their production to modern conveniences and have experimented – and succeeded – in growing grape varietals in climates once considered unsuitable like the cold, damp climates of the Pacific Northwest. These contemporary winemaking techniques have earned New World wine producing countries respect the world over for their trailblazing boldness.
Another significant factor in the rise of American wine drinking is the wine itself. New World wines for which Americans have developed a hearty thirst offer more fruit forward and pronounced flavors that are easily enjoyed and adaptable, quashing the conventional notion that wine is only for the most high-bred palate. New World wines - especially those from warmer climates like Chile, Australia and parts of the Western United States - allow for the development of more ripe fruit characteristics. Typically the lengthy ripening process lends to wines that are more full bodied and alcoholic, thus creating complex and well rounded flavor profiles that are suitable for drinking even without aging. However, many of these New World wines do see some oak aging which only helps to develop more pronounced, interesting qualities to the personality of the wine.
New World wines have allowed a community of enthusiastic neophytes to tip toe gradually into the beautiful and admittedly complicated world of wine. These vintages with their ripe red fruit and tropical flavor notes have allowed inexperienced palates to not only recognize great wine but to develop preferences. No longer does the American wine market find that Cabernet Sauvignons are saved only for celebratory steak dinners. Rosé wines are no longer assumed to be drunk only by ladies in fine hats at Sunday garden parties. Wine is becoming a healthy and important part of American culture, sparking conversation and education.
American wine culture is changing indeed. Changing for the better.