Thu 23 Feb 2017
Most wine consumers probably understand that when a label states “Napa Valley” or “Mendocino County” or “Finger Lakes Region,” that the wine in the bottle came primarily from the stated regions. A certain comfort level of consumer-friendliness is involved.
Not that I’m being extra-patriotic, especially in these fraught times, but “America” or “American” can be listed on a wine label as the place of origin of the product in the bottle, though we don’t see it often. Not that the country that lies between two shining seas is an American Viticultural Area (AVA), the delineated wine regions regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the Department of the Treasury; it’s too vast for that distinction. AVAs must have, theoretically, some sort of geological, geographical, climatic and historical coherence. I say “theoretically” because not all AVAs seem to benefit from a logical approach and feel quite obviously geared more to marketing purposes than any guidance for consumers. An example is the vast San Francisco Bay AVA, approved in 1999, amended in 2006, and apparently designed to appeal to fans of Tony Bennett.
But let’s get back to America, so to speak, by taking a look at the bottle I present here. This is the Vara Wines Tinto Especial Lot #012, American Table Wine. Notice a few peculiarities. First, there’s no vintage date. Second, in a wine culture that emphasizes the grapes that wines are made from, there’s no mention here of grape varieties, at least not in the leading position. And third, there’s that “American Table Wine” designation.
According to TTB regulations, wines made from cross-state grape origins — that is, the grapes derive from two or more states — have to be termed “American.” And in that circumstance, no vintage dates are allowed on labels, though in this case, the legend “Lot #012” gives away the mystery; the year was 2012. The reason why the wine does not display a prominent mention of a grape is because the primary variety here, tempranillo, is only 62 percent of the blend. To be featured as a sort of branding device, a wine under the “American,” or a broad state-wide designation, must contain at least 75 percent of that variety. Vara Wines doesn’t tell us what states the grapes derive from — not even on the winery’s website — but we do know what the blend is, as stated on the label in small print: 60 percent tempranillo, 28 percent garnacha, 7 percent syrah and 5 percent monastrell (mourvedre). In other words, the wine aims to be an approximation of a Spanish red, an appropriate stance since Vara is the importing and production arm of The International Brand Family of Spanish and American Wines Commemorating Native American and New World History, based in Albuquerque. The cross-state situation becomes more ambiguous, however, when we consider that a few AVAs actually cross the borders of two states, like the Walla Walla AVA in Washington and Oregon.
The wine in question, a sample for review, features a transparent medium ruby hue and pungent aromas of dried red berries, dried Mediterranean herbs and flowers, with emphasis on cherries and currant, cloves and thyme and notes of violets and lilacs; touches of iodine and graphite, leather and loam add depth, while vivid acidity and dusty, slightly shaggy tannins lend depth. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
This post is the first in an occasional series about the regulations that govern the production of wine in America.