Saturday, July 3, 2010

Real American

As Rick Derringer's "Real American" blares through my speakers for the 5th time in a row, I'm hopped up with pride. Yes, I recall vividly from my history classes how the U.S. finally gained its independence ... [dream sequence] ... it was March 29, 1987, in Detroit, Michigan. Against all odds, Terry "Hulk" Hogan bodyslammed the enormous André the Giant, finishing him off with a signature Atomic Leg Drop. As the Frenchman's massive body hit the canvas, so too did 500 years of ruthless French dominion over the States. My only question is: if this was in March, then why we celebrate on July 4th?

On an unrelated note, did you know that Georgia public schools rank 41st in the nation??! But I'm am much more smarterer than that. It's unpossible to think me did school in places that bad.

So, back to real Americans. Terry "Hulk" Hogan certainly is one. But what about wine? Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc...all these names And with good reason. These vitis vinifera (wine grapes) have thrived across the pond, and the French were really the ones who made them famous in the bottle, long before California was even on the map (literally).

However, there's a lot of talk about drinking zinfandel on Independence Day. Yes, it's pretty much only grown in the States. Yeah, it's often regarded as the official grape of California. Sure, it can be incredible with barbecued pork ribs ("Classic Pairings 202" coming soon). But zinfandel has a dirty secret. You may think you're being all-American, but you might as well be drinking straight from Nikolai Volkoff's hammer-and-sickle emblazoned, bear-skinned wine flagon.

Why? Because genetic testing of Zinfandel has shown that it not only doesn't produce red, white, and blue juice, but it's actually a mutation of Croatia's crljenak (pronounced ZURL-uh-nak) grape, along with Italy's Primativo, found in red blends from the south of Italy, and often- falsely- identified as another name for zinfandel. Oh, and conveniently, Volkoff was not a Soviet. He actually hailed from...Croatia.

Croatia??! Is Croatia in America?? It doesn't take a Georgia education to answer that question.

But there's more to the story than zinfandel's double-agent past. In fact, no vinifera grapes are native to the U.S., and virtually none would exist here naturally, due to a pesky little inconvenience known as phylloxera, a root-eating louse that can bring entire vineyards to their knees (if vines had knees). To combat this, viticulturists have discovered that grafting the vines to the resistant rootstock of native varieties (there are around 60 known species of the vitis genus) can allow phylloxera to be parried (but that's another post).

So, what's local? Well, there's vitis labrusca (think Welch's Grape Juice) and vitis riparia (most commonly used as the rootstock for wine grapes), among others.

If you live in the South, and you really want to be patriotic, go with vitis rotundifolia- otherwise known as the "muscadine" grape. This species is generally known for making sweet, musky tasting wines in the Southeastern United States. Are they good? Not to me. But being a Real American is not always about that. Sometimes, you just need to sacrifice taste for the greater good...

Have a safe and happy Independence Day, folks!

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