I recently attended a couple of wine conferences out of state and carried along “Great Wine Made Simple” by Andrea Robinson, a NYC sommelier and culinary critic, to read in the airport.

I first read it a while ago, but since our industry continues to change, it was interesting to see how more relevant her suggestions have become to our current industry.

In the book, she talks about the “power elite” — six wine grapes that account for about 80 percent of all of the best wine in the world.

Her analogy: Knowing and understanding these six is the equivalent of teaching a toddler to say “please” and “thank you.”

Additionally, she contends that growing these six are critical to the development of any great wine region’s reputation.

The really validating thing after reading her book is that, to one degree or another, here in our region, we grow and produce wine from them all.

That was not the case even a decade ago. So while some of the fruit has been in the ground less than a decade, it is a major sign that our future is bright.

Not all of the wines produced from these grapes are yet ready to get a 95 from Robert Parker, but as Mother Nature helps mature the varieties in our vineyards, and our vintners hone their craft in regards to the nuances of those grapes based on our terroir (total growing conditions), we are well on our way to international recognition.

Another very prominent critic just awarded some high 80s and 90s scores for many of our own Grand River wines.

Watch for the announcement soon.

The six varieties she cites, include the whites Riesling (mentioned first in her list and the premier grape of our region as evidenced by the numerous awards won consistently by our own wineries), Sauvignon Blanc (more is going into the ground all the time) and Chardonnay (which has been in the vineyards of Arnie Esterer Markko in Conneaut since early 1970s).

The reds are Pinot Noir (several local vintners are turning heads nationally), Cabernet Sauvignon (the most difficult to grow here, but we are coming along) and Syrah or Shiraz (the most recently planted red in the region).

In the chapter on these six, Robinson does list Merlot, but calls it a “cousin” to the Cab Sav so she includes it in her comments on that variety.

One variety she did not list was Cabernet Franc, which grows well here and is identified by some experts to be on a par with Merlot. We also produce some world class Pinot Gris, so you may want to add that to your list.

Robinson recommends that someone wanting to learn about and appreciate these wines needs — how is that for a want vs. need — to conduct a series of tastings.

My only umbrage with her suggestions is that her buying list completely ignores any wines east of the Mississippi.

So, if you want to sate that “need” gather some friends during the holidays, and for each person set out three to five uniform wine glasses.

Hopefully they are long stemmed with no obvious “bead” on the rim.

Pour, in order, about 2 ounces each: Cab Sauv, Syrah, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir then Merlot.

Ask each guest to bring along one bottle of designated local variety.

Make sure you have some simple breads and fairly neutral cheeses along with water for sipping between varietals.

Supply note taking materials for each person.

The basic sequence for each wine: see, swirl, smell, sip and savor.

Take break for some lively conversation and perhaps some appetizers.

Then plan a second round: Rinse the glasses thoroughly and pour in order: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Grigio) then Riesling and repeat with simple breads and cheeses plus some note taking.

During the tasting, everyone will chat and compare notes.

At the end of the night, the next step is to pick another evening to repeat the process but to substitute other great regional wines: Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztramier, Vidal Blanc (whites) and/or reds like Dolcetto, Chambourcin and Melbec among others.

Or plan a second evening to repeat the “Big Six” with different wineries represented.

And after a few such sessions, your might even feel like a connoisseur.


DonniellA Winchell is executive director of the Ohio Wine Association and can be reached at dwinchell@OhioWines.org.