Let’s Toast: Vermont Wine!
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2008 Winner of the James Beard Award for The Geography of Oysters, Rowan Jacobsen, takes us to the vineyards of Vermont. Meet two unique varieties of grapes, who, like Vermonters, don't get bitter when the seasons change.
Listen to the VPR Table, Friday, December 17th during "All Things Considered"at 5:55 and Saturday during "Weekend Edition" at 8:55.
For more information about Vermont wines and vineyards:
If you haven't tried any Vermont wines recently, this holiday season is a perfect time to do so, because a wine revolution is fermenting in the Green Mountains. Vermont wines, even the reds, have become really good. Not good, as in "Well, I made it in my cellar and it tastes pretty good at deer camp." Good, as in, "I can serve this to my snobby in-laws from California."
Here's why. All the classic wine grapes of Europe-the Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots-can't hack a northern climate. They do fine in California, but hit them with that first -10-degree freeze and they shrivel. Sure, wines have always been made in the northern states, but they were made with native, cold-hardy grapes that had a very different flavor from traditional wine grapes. "Foxy" was the word typically used to describe this flavor, which doesn't sound so bad, though I suppose it depends which part of the fox you're sniffing.
In any case, that has all changed, and I'm here to tell you that Vermont wines are foxy no more. For that, we can thank the University of Minnesota, which has spent years developing hybrid varieties that taste great and shake off -30-degree nights like a Siberian Husky. Today, in at least a dozen wineries across Vermont, we can now enjoy the fruits of those labors.
Two names for you: Marquette and La Crescent. Marquette has the deep, ruby-red color, and rich, spicy flavor of classic red wine. And it isn't too tart. The Achilles heel of most grapes grown in northern climates is that the cold makes them produce lots of acidity, which can make the wines taste harsh. Marquette doesn't do that, though there's enough raspberry-like tartness to make it clear that you're not drinking a jammy California wine, which is good, because Vermont is not California.
La Crescent is a white wine grape, and it's the one that I think will put Vermont viticulture on the map. Whether made bone-dry or slightly sweet, it has this fantastic peachy quality. I served a bottle made by the University of Vermont's grape-growing extension program to a bunch of wine geeks, and they loved it-as will your in-laws, when you welcome them with a bottle or two of Vermont vino on the holiday table.