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American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) You Should Know

Cover Image for American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) You Should Know
By Jerome Noel
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What is an AVA and why does it matter? In short, it tells you where your wine is coming from and what kind of wine you can expect. It can be a great indicator of a wine’s qualities: fruit-forward, dry, or acidic, for example. Today, we’re exploring three uniquely-situated AVAs: the Walla Walla Valley, the Finger Lakes, and Anderson Valley. Discover the regions behind some of the country’s most celebrated wines.

AVA Spotlight: WALLA WALLA VALLEY

Where it’s located: The southeastern corner of Washington State, right along the Oregon border. In fact, it briefly crosses state lines.

Why it’s uniquely situated: The cool thing about Eastern Washington is that it’s completely different from Seattle. When people think about the Pacific Northwest, it’s often regarded as a wet, cloudy, and generally cold area. But on the eastern side of the Cascade mountain range, Washington becomes dry, arid, sunny, and hot. This means that, unlike its southwestern neighbor, Willamette, warm-climate grapes grow very well in Eastern Washington, and especially in Walla Walla. Think warm regions in Europe, like the Rhone Valley, Rioja, or Chianti. Syrah is the best-known wine coming out of Walla Walla. The warm, sunny days and cool nights can produce Syrahs of power and concentration, but with finesse and savory qualities, similar to those of the Northern Rhone. You’ll increasingly find Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and other savory reds too.

Walla Walla is also a great place for Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil structure gives Washington Cabernet lots of complexity, similar to the earthy elements commonly found in Bordeaux. However, due to the heat and the sunshine, Washington Cabernet also has fruit and power, more commonly associated with Napa. For those looking to find domestic Cabernet with the savoriness of Bordeaux, Washington can provide some exceptional examples.

Don’t skip: The whole point behind Rotie Cellars is to make traditional Rhone Blends with Washington State fruit. We’re talking lower alcohol, less ripe, less oak, balanced, finesse-driven, mouth-coating wines. Sip on new releases and library wines at the just-renovated tasting room in downtown Walla Walla.

Also, don’t miss one of the region’s oldest and most respected wineries, Seven Hills Winery. As a fourth-generation farmer, who worked alongside his father to plant the founding estate blocks for Seven Hills, founder and winemaker Casey McClellan played an important role in the viticultural history of the Walla Walla Valley appellation.

Seven Hills Winery

AVA Spotlight: THE FINGER LAKES

Where it’s located: Upstate New York, in between Rochester and Syracuse. There are eleven lakes total and the region is approximately 9,000 square miles.

Why it’s uniquely situated: If you’ve ever seen a Bills game in the winter, you know it gets cold in upstate New York. So, how does a place so well-known for harsh winters become a wine-making destination? Hint: it’s in the name…the Finger Lakes. During the winter, the Finger Lakes actually help moderate the temperature around the vineyards, keeping the area warmer than the rest of Upstate New York and protecting the grapes from killer frost. During the summer, the lakes do the opposite: they chill the grapes with cool breezes. The combination of the lake effect with dramatic changes in elevation and unique soil results in a dynamic AVA.

Finger Lakes wines are going to be reminiscent of those from mountainous European regions. These Rieslings resemble the dry, crisp styles of Austria, or the slightly off-dry wines of Germany. The Cabernet Francs have bright red fruit and the classic black pepper, though they might lack some of the depth and complexity that come from the decades-old vines of the Loire Valley.

Don’t skip: Hermann J. Wiemer is a historic winery on Seneca Lake. An immigrant from the Mosel area of Germany, Hermann’s family has been making Riesling for hundreds of years. The cool Finger Lakes climate and gravelly soil were similar enough to the Mosel winemaking region to convince Hermann to give it a shot. He ended up making award-winning wines, including word-class and age-worthy Rieslings—just like his mama made.

Then we have Red Newt Cellars, one of the region’s most celebrated producers of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris, all of which are elegant and aromatic. “Circle” Riesling, Red Newt’s most popular and widely distributed wine, shows off a classic Finger Lakes style, expressing bright aromas of tangerine and honeysuckle and an elegant palate of citrus and peach.

Red Newt Cellars

AVA Spotlight: ANDERSON VALLEY

Where it’s located: Mendocino County, north of Sonoma, a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Why it’s uniquely situated: Anderson Valley is unique among the California wine-making valleys. Unlike its southern neighbors in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley which are vertically oriented (north-to-south), Anderson Valley is slightly askew, running northwest to southeast. This orientation allows fog to freely drift into the valley and cool the hillside vineyards. While above the fog line has historically been great for ripening Zinfandel, Anderson Valley is now best known for Pinot Noir, in both sparkling and still styles. One of the coolest wine-growing regions in California, wine drinkers can generally expect cool-climate Pinot Noirs with more brightness, crispy red fruit, and lighter body than its inland Sonoma counterparts (like Russian River Valley).

Don’t skip: You’ve likely heard of Louis Roederer-the famous Champagne house that makes Cristal. When they expanded into America, they settled on Anderson Valley (instead of the more popular Los Carneros AVA in Sonoma). Visit Roederer Estate Winery for a sparkling comparative tasting. It can help illuminate how special these wines can be. You’ll be able to taste their intro-level Brut, wine out of a 1500mL bottle (or magnum if you want to impress your friends), and their tête de cuvée, L’Ermitage Brut.

Set against a spectacular backdrop of rolling hills, redwood forests and vineyards, Goldeneye Winery is referred to as the “the pearly gates of Pinot Noir.” Pinot Noir is showcased in the Essentials tasting, however, the bubbles and caviar experience is an indulgent treat with 2016 and 2017 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rosé, Tsar Nicoulai’s Reserve Caviar, and perfectly paired accouterments.

Goldeneye Winery
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