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Three lesser-known wine regions (and the wines to buy)



May 24 marks the 40th anniversary of the so-called "Judgment of Paris," when, in a blind tasting, California wines bested the most prestigious French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. It shocked the culinary world and became a huge boon to the American wine industry.

  The U.S. surpassed France as the world's biggest consumer of wine last year. As the growing American wine industry continues to expand to new areas, it sees new vintners emerge. Here are some of the regions garnering attention for local bottlings.

Mendocino County, California

This cooler coastal region, situ- ated north of the renowned Napa and Sonoma counties, has arrived. The influence of the Pacific Ocean, excellent soils and abundant sunlight allow vintners to craft approachable and structured wines. The conditions are ripe for producing lower alcohol wines, which are increasingly popular. Mendocino leads the state in the use of biodynamic and certified organic farming.

  The region is hospitable to a wide array of varietals, including pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, riesling, zinfandel, gewurztraminer, chenin and sauvignon blancs, cabernet Franc, syrah, viognier and others.

  Mendocino is part of the larger North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) and home to Roederer Estate, Handley Cellars, Navarro Vineyards & Winery and Scharffenberger Cellars. Some winemakers from Napa Valley have invested in the area to make different styles of wines than their main outpost and to escape the higher temperatures on the valley floor. Investors include Sonoma's Silver Oak, Twomey and Ferrari-Carano Cellars as well as Napa Valley's Duckhorn Wine Company.

Columbia Valley, Washington

Columbia Valley occupies parts of Washington and Oregon, but the area in the south central part of Washington is making a name for itself as a wine producer.

  Grapes including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, nebbiolo, malbec and syrah take on different tones when produced in Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope. All benefit from a warm, sometimes hot, dry climate and the vines sit in soils deposited by a massive flood at the end of the last ice age. The appellation is huge, and there are many microclimates, but cold winters help define the growing seasons.

  Top-notch producers in Columbia Valley and its environs include Hedges Family Estate, Seven Hills, Canoe Ridge Vineyard, Mercer Wine Estates, Sleight of Hand Cellars and Woodward Canyon Winery.

Finger Lakes, New York

The Finger Lakes region of central and western New York is defined by 11 long, narrow lakes, which allow for a variety of microclimates, perfect for growing cold-weather grapes such as riesling and gewurztraminer and some red grapes including cabernet Franc. Most of the wines made in the area are vinified dry, meaning all sugar is converted to alcohol, but some may seem sweet because of their fruit's character.

  Notable Finger Lakes wineries are Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar, Ravines Wine Cellars, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard, Fox Run Vineyards and Heron Hill Winery.

  These newly recognized grape growing regions, and many others from every state, are part of the maturing of the American wine industry, and lots of trial and error as well as scientific research have been devoted to identifying what fruit to plant in what place.

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