If France is known worldwide for producing the best wines in the world, the United States is not to be outdone, and produces some of the best white and red wines every year. Let's find out how this country with such diverse states stands out in the world of wine and what are the characteristics of American wine .
The History of American Wine
The origins of American wine date back to the 17th century, when European settlers first used native vines to produce wine. We are still far from the European style of winemaking, and the first grape varieties from Europe were only introduced to American lands in the 18th century, with the aim of producing church wine.
Throughout the 19th century, California winegrowers worked to improve the quality of their wines, before the phylloxera crisis put an end to all wine-growing activity in Californian vineyards.
But, as in France and Europe, American winegrowers did not give up, and after titanic work and the discovery of the rootstock, California began producing quality wines again.
The wine region of the west coast of the United States has continued to progress since then, making the country the 4th producer in the world, and California the 1st supplier of American wine (90%).
What are the different wines made in the United States?
American wines can be classified into two categories. On the one hand, we have wines produced from French grape varieties . The black grape varieties most used for making red wine and rosé wine are merlot, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. As for white grape varieties, American winegrowers mainly use Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
But they also practice the blending technique, to produce a separate grape variety, such as Bordeaux blend , which is a mixture of merlot and cabernet. Very famous in the 1970s, these wines won several medals in blind tasting competitions in France, even surpassing great wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy.
On the other hand, we have wines produced entirely on American soil. The winemaker then uses hybrid grape varieties , a clever blend of European grape varieties and American grape varieties. This production, more confidential, produces red wines with very particular aromas of leather and fox which have earned them the name foxy wine .
What are the different wine regions in the United States?
In the United States, the American wine appellation system is based on the American Viticultural Areal (AVA) . This can represent an entire state, a county, or even a smaller area.
Thus, among the American wine-producing states, we recognize:
- California is the largest wine-producing state in the country, but also the oldest in the New World . Its terroir is ideal for growing vines;
- Oregon is located north of California, and has a cooler climate ;
- Washington state is on the same latitudes as Burgundy or Bordeaux. It offers more sunshine than California, but temperatures are cooler.
Then, among the most recognized small wine regions in the United States, we recognize:
- Napa Valley , known worldwide for its dense wine region, made up of more than 500 wineries;
- The Sonoma Valley , with 300 cellars, less known than the Napa Valley, but producing equally high-quality wines.
What are the most grown grape varieties in the United States?
As we have seen, European grape varieties are widely used in the US, and their distribution depends on the terroirs.
In California, we mainly find Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. Not long ago, Cabernet Franc and Syrah also appeared in California vineyards.
In Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, it is mostly Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Carignan that we find. But other grape varieties less known in France are cultivated, such as Thompson Seedless (or sultanine), ruby cabernet, or even barbera.
Finally, secondary grape varieties are also cultivated, such as Pinot Noir, Mondeuse, Marsanne or Viognier.
American wine and French wine: what are the differences?
Although American soils are not as rich as French terroirs, American winegrowers nevertheless very quickly invested in high-tech viticulture equipment. Thus, the Americans compensate for the weaknesses of the soils with the sophistication of the equipment.
Winemaking is then almost in the realm of science. Thus, if the stages of harvesting and vatting are very similar to those carried out in France, the winemaking technique is very different.
Indeed, the use of micro-bubbling is very common across the Atlantic, unlike in Europe, where, even if the technique is authorized, the practice is not widespread. Micro-bubbling allows the wine to be oxygenated by injecting air into the tank, to round out the tannins.
The shavings are also used in a much larger proportion than in France, which gives woody aromas, without going through fermentation in oak barrels.
Why do we talk about grape variety, and not appellation?
In France, we designate wines by their wine region of production. This implicitly designates both a terroir and grape varieties from a well-defined geographical area.
In the United States, vineyards are much less diverse, and winegrowers have retained the habit of classifying their wines by grape variety . It must be recognized that this facilitates the choice, and allows an easier understanding of the different bottles of wine.
What are the great wines of America?
Every year, American winegrowers produce what we call premium wines , in other words, great wines. The specifications are even more rigorous than those of French appellations, and concern the winemaking technique, the yield, the modernity of the vat... Some of these large bottles are then sold for more than 50 dollars each.
Among the greatest American wines , we recognize the famous Caymus (cabernet sauvignon), Columbia Crest (merlot), Kistler (chardonnay), and even Kendall-Jackson (chardonnay).
What American food and wine pairings?
The advantage of American wine is that it carries a little bit of France, with these grape varieties from France. It is therefore possible to pair an American wine with French cuisine , or to serve an American wine with typical American cuisine, such as with Thanksgiving turkey, or even New York cheesecake.
In France, you can serve an American wine depending on the grape variety:
- An American chardonnay with white meat;
- An American Cabernet Sauvignon with beef;
- An American Merlot with meatloaf…
Wine consumption in the USA
Long shunned by Americans, wine is today experiencing significant growth. Consumption has thus doubled in 40 years, and reached, in 2020, 12.2 liters of wine per year and per inhabitant. The United States obviously remains far behind the leading wine-consuming countries in the world (France, Italy, Spain), but they still consumed more than 3.30 billion liters of wine in 2020!
Do you like tasting foreign wines and comparing them to French wines? American wines might well surprise you with their quality, and that little something that reminds us of France.