USA wine emergence

Budbreak approaches in America’s warming vineyards. Let rejoicing begin as vines return to life.

It may infuriate the French, irritate Italians, and stupefy Spaniards, but there is no question American wines now share a place in the pantheon of world-class pours.

There was a time when Old World vintners could scoff at such an assertion. Then they could not. How did that happen?

There is no facile answer. It took American vineyards and wineries well more than a generation to recover from Prohibition idiocy. The science of grape growing and wine making progressed at places like U.C.-Davis. A baby boomer generation matured and created new, expanding market opportunities as their tastes grew sophisticated and their budgets amenable.

Particularly in the Napa Valley of California, a next generation of American wine makers and marketers emerged. They were led by promotional genius Robert Mondavi, but he was only the most-visible face. Winemakers imagined heights that could be achieved using Napa’s dusty soil and morning fogs. Then they achieved those heights.

Inspired Napa growers and makers shifted from jug juice to quality. Napa County passed land-use restrictions to prevent its fields from becoming chockablock suburbs of San Francisco-Oakland. In 1976, a Napa red and a Napa white kicked French fannies in the famous “Judgment of Paris.”

There has been no looking back. Adjacent Sonoma delivered. Then the deluge: Washington State, Oregon, other parts of California—Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Anderson River Valley.

And so it continues. Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand. Texas.

We enjoy more good wine today than ever before in human history, and the revolution has taken place in the lifetimes of everyone reading these words. Rejoice as the first green shoots of 2013 emerge.

Tasting notes:

• Rodney Strong Knotty Vines Northern Sonoma Zinfandel 2009. Bright fruit, pepper, spice; dry, clean, smooth, elegant tannin, easy drinker, strong win. $19

• Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010. Winery winner at Judgment of Paris; citrus, honey, green apple hint; creamy, full mouthfeel. $50

• Opus One 2009. Mondavi-Baron Philippe de Rothschild game-changing collaboration in 1979. Black olive, minerals; blueberry, cassis, licorice. $225

Last round: I usually cook with wine. Sometimes I even add some of it to the food.