Open the wine list at any restaurant in Paris and it will likely represent selections within a 400-mile radius at the most. In American restaurants, it seems the farther flung the regions covered on the wine list, the more attention the list gets. Uruguay? Cool. Tunisia? Super cool. Moldova? Epic. But now that the U.S. is the fourth largest producer of wine with production in all 50 states, going across the ponds for vino is more habit than necessity.
When the Vangelopoulos family purchased The Ivy Inn nearly 17 years ago, Angelo’s wife, Farrell, who took the lead on the list as an untrained but passionate wine lover, felt completely overwhelmed. She thought the whole world was just too big to represent on one wine list. Not only is there the expense of purchasing a large inventory, but there’s also the issue of space—something that the restaurant, housed in an 18th century farm estate, was short on. So, Farrell decided to take a cue from her husband’s seasonal American food and keep the wine list domestic.
“This gave me a direction to go in and with that I was better able to structure a wine list that could represent the different varietals and different price points. I think it is very important to have varying levels cost-wise on the menu so everyone can enjoy the grape they like,” said Farrell.
It’s easier than ever to find a wide range of varietals in America. Our winemakers are bound by fewer appellation laws than say France or Italy, so it’s easy to experiment with international varietals. “I love the fact that more and more grape varietals are being made in the U.S. It is very exciting to watch the growth beyond the usual chardonnay and cabernet,” said Farrell. She used to find that there were holes in the sparkling wine and port categories, but she found them easier to fill over time. Currently, Farrell has five sparkling wines on her list, one of which is Virginia’s own Thibaut-Janisson Cuvée d’etat Blanc de Blanc. With our chocolate dessert (see All You Can Eat), which generally begs for port, we enjoyed an interesting port-style pinot noir from Oregon that was a fun departure from the standard.
There are well over 50 whites on The Ivy Inn’s list and, apart from the usual pinot gris, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier, there is a category of blends as well as other white varietals like albarino, riesling, semillon, and even a Müller-Thurgau from Oregon. On the red side, diners can choose from more than 60 bottles of zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah, Bordeaux-style blends, and other varietals like California barbera and tempranillo or Virginia cab franc and petit verdot.
The list is a study in affordability too. Prices range from $22 for a perfectly pleasant California Riesling to $150 for a couple of the big boy Napa cabs. Glass selections range from $8-11.
“We knew we could not properly store wines and age them here in our facility, so I go with wines that are ready to drink now. I find that easier to do with American wines and it keeps the cost down,” said Farrell.
Many restaurants have taken on the locavore movement featuring food sourced from local farms, but few have shown the same commitment to the “locapour” movement. As the fifth largest wine producer in the nation, Virginia has plenty of great wine to go around. “We do feel strongly about supporting local, and that applies to wine as well,” said Farrell, whose list includes over a dozen Virginia wines as well as local brews and cider from Albemarle Ciderworks.
For those customers who insist on an import? They can bring their own French, German, or Moldovan wine and pay the restaurant’s very reasonable $15 corkage fee. But I say you can’t argue with patriotism.
Vine line: winter edition
This may be the down season for area winemakers, but they are far from hibernating. We checked in with Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vineyards, to find out what’s happening with his vines.
“We are currently pruning the vineyards, having completed 28 acres of the 43 we have planted. The intention of pruning is to cut out last year’s growth and leave the number of buds that will produce shoots, and ultimately, the crop that will be the 2012 harvest. Bud counts are specific by varietal, striking a good balance between volume and, most importantly, quality.
Pruning is also our chance to cut out any diseased wood and lay down healthy canes or arms.”
Chris Breiner, winemaker and managing partner at Stone Mountain Vineyards, died on February 14. He was the Vice President of the Virginia Wineries Association and a past chairman of the Jeffersonian Grape Growing Society/Monticello Wine Trail. The Breiner family plans to carry on Chris’ vision for the winery and will resume regular winery operations on March 2 as scheduled.