Remember the Saul Steinberg cartoon on the cover of the New Yorker?
For those of you not of my own ancient age, this Steinbergian line drawing offers a robust New York City skyline with a few small notations such as “Chicago” and “Kansas City” in the distance, and at the far reaches of the horizon is Los Angeles.
There you have it: the New Yorker’s view of America. Everything else is, as they say, flyover country.
Apparently that remains true when it comes to wine. In the most recent view of the vastness of American’s wine landscape, “America’s 101 Best Wineries” (according to thedailymeal.com), only the West Coast matters, although New York (seven wineries) gets the due its media prominence demands.
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Editor Colman Andrews counts the best as 71 California wineries, seven Oregon wineries, eight Washington wineries, two each from Virginia and Texas, and one each from Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho and New Mexico.
But Missouri? Not one. Not even Stone Hill, the perennial favorite of wine writers looking to demonstrate their Midwestern wine cred. Back in mid 1980s, even the Wine Spectator managed to notice that winery; Stone Hill has gotten a lot better since those early successes.
We shouldn’t be surprised; people drink and like what they’re used to drinking and liking. Folks who don’t drink wines from this part of the country hardly know what they’re missing. And with almost 9,000 wineries in the U.S. today, it’s not like Andrews and his colleagues have been shirking their wine drinking duties.
Aside from hurt feelings, perhaps we should instead imagine the day when wine writers will feel a responsibility to know what lies in that vast whiteness that Steinberg depicted. After all, not so long ago Italian wine was seen as a monolithic wine, tedious in its rusticity, universally boring or, almost as often, bad.
That was decades ago, but attitudes have changed and not simply because writers believe that the wines have improved. Simultaneously (and perhaps not coincidentally) they noticed that Italy makes many differing kinds of wines with differing flavors. They are not all bad or good; they are radically different, dependent on the grape, the region, the winery, the winemaker.
So it is with wines not from the Left Coast; some are good, some are bad and many are in between. But what is more important going forward is to give them their due as different. A Colorado Syrah tastes not at all like a Missouri Chambourcin. A Virginia Cabernet Franc is nothing like a Long Island Cabernet Franc. Michigan Riesling is not very much like Finger Lakes Riesling or Washington State Riesling.
It took California years to shake off the expectations of European wines, though writers still justify their praise of Sonoma Coast or Oregon Pinot Noir with endless comparisons to Burgundy. Perhaps the big dog on the West Coast still has some shaking to do before people will see it as a thing in itself, with its own character, aromas, flavors and expectations.
As wineries in the Midwest make better and better wines, people will learn to appreciate the lovely floral notes in a Traminette; the apricot richness of a sweet Vignoles or the robust earthiness of a Norton Port. But it may take awhile longer.
Until then, wave to the folks flying overhead in their comfy jets. They’re not looking out their windows just yet, wondering what sort of wine we make and drink happily out here in flyover country. But perhaps soon.
Wine columnist Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based master sommelier and master of wine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.