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Wine: Are locapours hitting their stride?

The "drink local" movement is gaining steam. When my buddy Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, received a press release last week touting a dinner with cookbook author Diana Kennedy to be held next month at the Modern Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, he immediately asked the organizers if Texas or Mexican wines would be among the "carefully selected" wines for the Mexican menu. The museum's chef emailed him that although the menu had not been finalized, Texas wines would be involved.

In April, the Park Hyatt in Washington added a Virginia winery to its Masters of Food and Wine program after I criticized the all-California selection for an event touting regional Mid-Atlantic agriculture. The Lettuce Entertainment restaurant group did the same for a Chesapeake Bay-themed dinner at their Wildfire restaurant in Tyson's Corner, scheduled for July 27. Once I inquired about it, they quickly lined up Barboursville Vineyards as a co-sponsor and featured winery for the dinner.

The message is getting some big media play, too. Jon Bonne wrote about "justifying local wine" in the San Francisco Chronicle -- "local" meaning California, of course. And Steve Heimoff, a senior editor and very distinguished wine writer with Wine Enthusiast magazine, recently blogged about a plea from a vintner for wine lovers to support their local wineries to help them through hard times. Of course, Heimoff lives in California wine country, and "local" for him also means California wine, but the message translates. The vintner Heimoff cited was Oded Shakked of Longboard Vineyards, who criticized restaurants for touting their local produce but ignoring local wines.

And that is precisely the message Todd Kliman eloquently espouses in a withering essay posted last week on The Daily Beast. In "The Locavore Wine Hypocrisy," Kliman takes on some of the most famous restaurants in the country for talking a good local game on their menus and not following through on their wine lists.

If these are heady days for the local cheesemaker, butcher, and farmer, they're head-scratching days for the local vintner, who has been largely shut out of the feel-good foodie fad. If the wine lists at the country's most prominent locavore restaurants tell us anything, it's that "what grows together, goes together" — the mantra of the movement — is meant to refer to what's on the plate, not what's in the glass. Local and regional wines are seldom to be found.

Kliman, the food and wine editor of The Washingtonian magazine and author of the new book, The Wild Vine, rips apart the most common excuse for ignoring local wines: that they are too expensive and better values abound from California. Chefs are willing to pay extra for organic eggs from chickens just up the road, he points out. And sommeliers are supposed to align their wine lists with the chef's menu, even if it means a little extra work to suss out the better wines from the area. But many somms seem unwilling to take a chance on local wines that don't seem trendy.

"The idealism of their mission statements notwithstanding, what locavore restaurants are telling us is that quality matters much less than cachet when it comes to assembling a wine list — the perception that a given product is the best, most exquisite example in its class," Kliman writes.

Maybe once local wines gain a little more cachet, the sommeliers will wake up. What's interesting to me, however, is that momentum for local wine is coming from writers -- bloggers, especially -- and consumers, rather than retailers or sommeliers. When I eat out, I want my sommelier to be taking chances and to seek out unusual wines. Even if they come from just up the road.

-- Dave McIntyre
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  July 15, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, wine  
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Mr Mcintyre,

How long has it been since you mentioned a local wine in your Wed column in the Food section? At least 3 weeks. When was the last time you did a column in the Food Section on local wines?

Nice post why don't you try to live up to it with your columns!!

No wonder Mr Klimann canned you. You are all talk but no action. How's about a monthly column in the Food section devoted to just local and regional wines? Come on how tough can that be. Maybe some cross pollination with the Weekend and Travel sections with a wine column and traveling to the winery.

Posted by: sheepherder | July 15, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Check the archives, sheepherder. Virginia wines have gotten a monthly mention, whether the column or a feature article. I would amend the snark to state that a regular feature on regional American wines would be most welcome. Finger Lakes Riesling, for example.

With regards to wine lists, I would agree that there should be some representation. I'm a big fan of VA Viognier (Keswick, especially) and have had a wine dinner for friends featuring local wines. However, decent bottles run about $20 retail and with mark-up are going to be north of $50 per bottle at a restaurant. That's a big difference between buying a $1 egg and a 25 cent one. And if it doesn't sell, it won't be stocked.

Jake in 3D out

Posted by: JakeD3 | July 15, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Sorry hoss but there hasn't been any mention of VA wines in the Food section in 3 weeks.

Regional and VA wines need a monthly column
in the Food section.

Mcintyre is no Ben Gilberti. But we got what the WP wanted to pay for since they went cheap.

So you pay $50 for a Cali or French wine but not VA? Same mark up.

Problem is most wine lists in local restaurants are developed by the wine distrubtors and not the restaurant. Look at Trummer's on Main in Clifton. How many VA or regional wines to go with an alleged top chef according F&W? Sommelier doesn't have a clue about VA wines but Trummer's is just an ego stroke for the onwers and her parents.

Posted by: sheepherder | July 15, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Sheepherder, Sheepherder, what are we to do with you?

Did you read YESTERDAY's column, in which Oz Clarke raves about Virginia viognier and nebbiolo?

Did you read LAST WEEK's recommendations, in which I listed several Virginia wineries that make notable roses?

In fact, in 2010 I have mentioned or written about local and regional wines in 13 weekly columns, AND devoted 11 blog posts here on All We Can Eat to local and regional wines.

Six of my columns beginning with March 31 mentioned or featured local wines. Ben didn't write that much about local wines in 20 years as the Post columnist. But if you really miss him, I'm glad to say that Ben is now helping out Calvert Woodley as a consumer advisor and educator, so you can find him there.

By the way, as I said in this post above and in my May 19 column about his book, Todd Kliman is a friend of mine - I left Washingtonian voluntarily and on good terms when I was offered the opportunity to write this column for the Post.

Posted by: DaveMcIntyre | July 15, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

And dont forget Dave's Fab column from February 24th on wines off the beaten track from the USA.

Posted by: chiefwino | July 16, 2010 1:36 AM | Report abuse

Now THAT's an impressive job of shutting someone up! Rather than whine about VA wine, I'll mention a few faves:

Linden Aveynus - Something different
Veritas Viognier (Keswick is awfully good too)
Barboursville Reserve Cab Sauv, Octagon, and Phileo

We just had a chance to taste a few hard ciders, including some local ones from Foggy Ridge. Good stuff!


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 17, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Hey! I just realized something. Sheepherder's style reminded me of an occasional person who'd snark at Kim O'Donnell's old column. Said individual posted as omarthetentmaker. Here's a comment from last July.

"The recently opened Trummer's on main is big time offender. They go on and on about using local ingredients but their wines list and wine by the glass list only has a couple token VA wines. Shame they used a corporate developed wine list instead of inviting local wineries from MD, VA, MD etc to show their products and develop a truly great local wine list."

Sounds suspiciously familiar.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 17, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

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