Have You Tried Wine from Texas, Arizona, and Virginia? All About Three Up-and-Coming U.S. Wine Regions
You already know about California wines made in Napa and Sonoma, and you might even be familiar with wine from Long Island and the Finger Lakes region in New York. And maybe you've ordered a glass of pinot noir from the Wilamette Valley in Oregon over dinner, but did you know that wine is actually made in all 50 states? Let's take a closer look at three fantastic U.S. wine regions that are still under the radar (for now!).
Virginia is the oldest wine region in the U.S. Its most famous champion was that well-known wine connoisseur Thomas Jefferson. In 1773 he hired a famous Italian viticulturist to help elevate vine plantings, but due to rough climate conditions and a destructive aphid called Phylloxera that destroyed the vineyards, the endeavor did not succeed. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that the modern Virginia wine industry began.
It took plenty of trial and error to discover the optimal sites for prime grape-growing—and in Virginia, it's the mountains that have emerged as the critical factor in making fine wines. Aileen Sevier, director of marketing at Early Mountain Vineyards, explains: "The Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley are critical for high-quality grape growing. Altitude, rocky soils, good airflow, and good aspect are all key to mitigating the challenges of grape growing here. As a tourism-driven industry in past decades, too many vineyards were planted based on location for hosting wine tourists as opposed to soil analysis, but that has changed."
As for which grape varieties to look for? That's evolving, too. Historically, Virginia was known for hybrids: Classic European fine wine grapes known as Vitis vinifera were cross-bred with indigenous American grapes to make them more resistant to Phylloxera and better withstand the Virginia climate challenges. Although hybrids are more disease resistant, they don't necessarily have the structure or complexity of their European cousins. But recently, top wineries have been investing in the planting and nurturing of vinifera grapes. According to Sevier, "Petit Manseng, petit verdot, cabernet franc, and tannat are emerging as increasingly important," while stalwarts like chardonnay and merlot have also had successful plantings.
You may not find Virginia wine at your local wine store but many wineries ship directly. Standout bottles from Virginia to order include Early Mountain Rosé 2019 ($25, earlymountain.com), Barboursville Vineyards Cabernet Franc Reserve 2018 ($25, bbvwine.com), Veritas Viognier 2018 ($25, veritaswines.com), and King Family Vineyards Merlot 2018 ($28, kingfamilyvineyards.com).
And to truly experience the magic of Virginia wine country, local lifestyle and wine blogger Carlita Pitts suggests planning a visit. "With more than 300 wineries, there is something for everyone. The state's monumental historic sites, spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, award-winning wines, and the many unique wine experiences that go beyond a typical tasting make it the perfect place to relax and unwind." Wineries with exceptional hospitality experiences she recommends include Bluestone Vineyard, Blue Valley Vineyard, Pippin Hill, Chateau Morrissette, and Stone Tower.
We can date Arizona's link to wine back to when Spanish missionaries traveling through the area planted small vineyards to produce wine for mass in the 1700s. But the wine industry as we know it today officially began in 1979 with Vina Sonoita, the state's first modern commercial wine vineyard. Today, there are over 100 wineries in three main regions: Northern Arizona's Verde Valley, Southern Arizona's Sonoita/Elgin, and Southeastern Arizona's Willcox.
The vivid, diverse, and lush topography may surprise those picturing endless vistas of arid desert. Most of the top vineyard sites are planted at 4,000 to 5,500 feet elevation, which brings warm summer days and cool evenings. In fact, it's not uncommon to experience a 50-degree diurnal shift in temperature throughout the day—giving lots of bright acidity and freshness to the wines.
Arizona is still a local wine-lovers' secret, and that has fostered a very adventurous, open, and creative winemaking community. It's common to hear stories of young couples such as Rob and Sarah Hammelman of Sand-Reckoner Vineyards, who made wine in France's Rhone Valley and were then looking to put down roots back in the U.S. Arizona was an accessible place to buy land at affordable prices and grow a family and business in ways that established regions, like Napa Valley, are impossible to get into without significant capital. And for intrepid producers who find something special in the high desert vineyards, they aren't limited by "classic" grape varieties or styles for the region because what's classic is still a work in progress for such a young wine region.
To try the exciting wines of Arizona, we highly recommend Sand-Reckoner Grenache Rose 2018 ($24, sand-reckoner.com) and Malvasia Bianca 2017 ($35, sand-reckoner.com). Dos Cabezas Wine Works has juicy, barbecue-friendly reds that overdeliver for the price: Try their El Norte 2015 ($30, doscabezas.com) and El Campo 2013 ($30, doscabezas.com). And Callaghan Vineyards, helmed by Arizona wine pioneer Kent Callaghan and his wife Lisa, has such a diverse array of beautiful wines you just might want to join their wine club—but if we had to pick, red wine lovers should try Caitlin's 2016 ($45, callaghanvineyards.com). White wine enthusiasts shouldn't miss Greg's Petit Manseng 2017 ($35, callaghanvineyards.com).
If you're planning a visit to Arizona wine country, Jessica Dupuy, author of the forthcoming book Wines of the American Southwest for the Classic Wine Library, has some ideas for you. "If you like stark desert landscapes, I think the Verde Valley of Arizona is stunning. Jerome and Cottonwood both offer quaint small-town hotels, shops, and restaurants, and Sedona isn't a far drive if you prefer a little more luxury. You could easily spend a few days at tasting rooms such as Chateau Tumbleweed, Caduceus Cellars, the Southwest Wine Center, Four Eight WineWorks, or Page Springs Cellars."
Defining Texas wine is difficult, if for no other reason than the sheer size of the state—Texas is larger than the entire country of France!—so you can imagine the diversity of wines, regions, climates, soils, and grape varieties. Texas has eight major wine regions and is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the U.S. in terms of volume.
The three main winegrowing regions are the North-Central Region, home to the Texas High Plains AVA (which spans over nine million acres), the South-Eastern Region, which includes Austin and San Antonio, and the Trans-Pecos Region, which produces about 40 percent of Texas' grapes. There are more than 400 wineries in the state but the vast majority of Texas wine is consumed by Texans. Because of the hot, dry climate, parts of Texas are often compared climatically to Portugal, Spain, France's Rhone Valley, and southern Italy, so it's not uncommon to see grape varieties native to those locations do very well in the Lone Star State.
If you're a fan of Italian grape varieties, you should try Duchman Family Winery Aglianico 2016 ($40, duchmanwinery.com) and Vermentino 2018 ($26, duchmanwinery.com), or Southold Farm + Cellar Forgotten Dreams Sangiovese Cerasuolo 2019 ($35, southoldfarmandcellar.com). Spanish wine lovers will find a lot to love in Pedernales Cellars Albarino 2017 ($20, pedernalescellars.com) and their Texas Hill Country Tempranillo 2016 ($40, pedernalescellars.com). And if you enjoy French varieties, we recommend Spicewood Vineyards Grenache Rose 2019 ($25, spicewoodvineyards.com), Lost Draw Cellars Roussanne 2018 ($25, lostdrawcellars.com), William Chris Vineyards Artist Blend 2017 ($45, williamchriswines.com), McPherson Cellars "Les Copains Rosé 2017 ($18, mcphersoncellars.com).
For a real Texas wine experience, head for a long weekend to Fredericksburg in Hill Country. Located just over an hour away from both San Antonio and Austin, it's home to over fifty wineries and tasting rooms (plus plenty of charming Bed and Breakfasts, antique shops, distilleries, and breweries). If you're craving a wine-tasting break, make sure to visit Enchanted Rock, which offers camping, hiking, stargazing, and bird watching. And for an indulgent dining experience, Cabernet Grill offers not only incredible cuisine but also an all-Texas wine list, which is perfect for a Texas wine weekend finale.