Although wine is made in many states in the USA, most US wine in Hong Kong is from California. This is not surprising – California produces 85% of all US wine. In fact, California makes so much wine that it’s the fourth-largest wine producer in the world, after Italy, Spain and France.
Most California wine tends to be powerful, with a high alcohol content. While climate plays a factor in its power, even more is due to winemaking style. As a matter of fact, California wine-growing regions are not as hot as they are often perceived. The entire West Coast is influenced by the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean, and the eastern side of the state is protected by the Sierra Nevada mountains. The fog created by the moist air from the ocean rolls inland, cooling down the wine regions in its path.
At a recent tasting, California wine expert Elaine Chukan-Brown discussed eight white wines that are representative of their styles. Most are from cooler AVAs (designated wine appellations known as American viticultural areas).
Mettler Family Vineyards Mettler Albariño 2019 is from Lodi, a slightly inland region with warm daytime temperatures but cool nights because of the cool air from the ocean. Albariño is a Portuguese grape variety, and there are only 100 hectares of it planted in the USA. This wine displays typical citrus and floral characteristics, with crisp acidity.
Another impressive wine is a white wine made from a black grape – Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Blanc 2018 from Russian River Valley, a cool region. It has fresh acidity like a white wine, but with more palate weight and a smoky, red fruits aroma. Both wines are not yet available in Hong Kong, but I hope they will be here soon.
Another cool wine region in the USA is New York. We hardly see any New York wines in Hong Kong, but the state is the third-largest-producing region in the USA after Washington state, albeit at just over 3% of total wine production.
New York actually has a long winemaking history. Wine there was once made from cold, hardy native grapes, but production was shut down during the Prohibition period. When it resumed, wine critics and the market preferred the big, rich wines from California, so the lighter wines from this cooler region were often overlooked.
It was only around 15 years ago that new-generation winemakers in the state took the industry more seriously and started planting more Vitis vinifera grapes (proper wine grapes) that suit the climate. Today, there are 11 AVAs in the state, most of them in the proximity of water in order to moderate the sometimes cold weather, such as the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and Long Island. Promising grape varieties are Riesling and Cabernet Franc, which can survive the cold winter, as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Saperavi (originating in the country of Georgia) and Austro-Hungarian Blaufränkisch.
Christopher Bates, Master Sommelier from New York, says that New York is a wine region waiting to be discovered.
Although European wine is still the backbone of the HK wine scene, consumers are more adventurous these days, and wine outside Europe has enjoyed significant growth in the past 10 years. With more people opting for lighter styles of wine, New York wine will find its fans here when we’re lucky enough to stock it.
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