Why You Should Be Drinking Maryland Wine
Maryland is typically more synonymous with crab cakes than Chardonnay—but that's starting to change, thanks to its growing population of quality wineries.
Rather than ask a somm about why Chesapeake Bay wine is worth noticing, we go straight to a local chef—because few things about wine are more important than how it pairs with food. Chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen is the first (and only) Baltimore chef to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic, and his restaurant shines a spotlight on ingredients from the Chesapeake region. That means acidic verjus or vinegar replaces citrus—which doesn't grow in Maryland—and olive oil isn’t allowed.
The Chesapeake love extends onto the wine menu as well, where Gjerde has at any time between eight and 10 wines each from Maryland and Virginia. "It shouldn't be a battle. It should be a pleasant conversation," he says of the relationship between wine and food.
Chef Spike Gjerde | Photo: Scott Suchman
So why is this underrated wine region coming of age? The Chesapeake's climate is actually similar to that of the Loire Valley. It helps carve out a milder environment during East Coast winters, but it's a double-edged sword—the region is also fairly humid, a less-than-ideal condition for growers, as it often leads to mildew. This is something that an area with a drier climate, like California, doesn't have to worry about as much, but Gjerde says the growers have learned to manage this handicap.
So well, in fact, it's causing an incredible momentum in the quality of regional wines. "Before, there was no reason for people to pay a premium for Maryland wine. Now, wineries that have been around a long time have gotten to be great, and new ones are starting fast out of the gate," Gjerde explains. Here are some of the wineries Gjerde loves and the bottles he recommends.
Gjerde's current favorite bottle from this family-owned vineyard, located about one hour west of Baltimore, is the Passeggiatta. The name means “a leisurely walk or stroll” in Italian and aptly so. Consider it the little black dress of wine: This diverse, lighter-bodied red is low in tannins, great for fall and very food friendly. Gjerde also uses verjus from Black Ankle, which might make its way into warm wild mushrooms and egg noodles or a side of greens.
From this relative newcomer, Gjerde is a fan of the Alius, an orange wine that means "something different." It's a natural wine fermented with wild yeast that feels so essentially Maryland that you might think the word terroir was invented with this bottle in mind. You might also find its Chardonnay on the menu at Woodberry, as well as in other nearby restaurants.
Go “as far west as you can go in Maryland,” Gjerde says, to where the terrain becomes mountainous and elevations reach up to 4,000 feet, and you'll find this small-production winery where he says they’re making incredible Riesling. They also focus on natural wines and make a Pinot Noir worth seeking out.
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