Happy Independence Day: Let’s Drink American

by Kelly J. Hayes
Stock up on a few summer sippers for the weekend. This is the time to go with some things that are a little less expensive and a little more fun, and because it's Independence Day, try to stay with American-made products.
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Blandy’s 10-Year-Old Malmsey

Back in the day, that would be the mid 1700’s, the drink of choice in the colonies was the fortified wine that was produced on the Portuguese Island of Madeira. The dark, occasionally syrupy, wine was sold to sailors and traders, mostly British, making their way to the East Indies or the New World. That would be America.

As the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of British descent and the wines came with the visitors, it was natural that the new Americans would gravitate towards Madeira wines.

A favorite of both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, glasses of Madeira were raised in a toast following the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

May I suggest a bottle of Blandy’s for your post BBQ dessert? Sweet, fresh and smooth, you can toast the Founding Fathers in the spirit of their choice.

It’s one of those lucky years when the calendar conspires to put the Fourth of July on a Monday. That means that once the weekend begins you have three whole days for summer parties, summer naps and summer BBQs. It may be the best three-day weekend of the entire year as summer is the most indulgent of the seasons.

So it is time to head to your local wine shop or liquor store to stock up on a few summer sippers for the weekend. This is the time to go with some things that are a little less expensive and a little more fun. Oh, and because it is our Independence Day, let’s try, for the most part, to stay with American-made products.

And this also is a weekend to think about design. Sure, you can put some Bud in a tub, throw a little ice around it and call it a day. But with the tin can revolution now mainstream in the world of craft beer, that tub of brews can look so much better with the great graphics that adorn the cans of today. Be creative. Get a little color in your cans to go with the green grass and the blue skies.

And consider the labels on your wines as well.


Winemakers Charles Smith, of Seattle and Walla Walla, Washington, and Charles Bieler, of Napa, California, and New York, teamed up eight years ago to make some low-priced, high-quality great value wines under the moniker of Charles & Charles. Priced under $15 a bottle they represent some of the best buys in many liquor stores. Last year the Wine Spectator gave their Charles & Charles Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Blend from Washington’s Columbia Valley, a wine that sells for just $12, 89 points and called it a “Best Value.” Not bad.

But what makes these wines perfect for the Independence Day weekend are the colorful flag-draped labels that grace the labels. Created by the Hatch Show Print, a historic Nashville, Tennessee, letterpress print shop founded back in 1879 that has created an entire genre of art through the use of their unique abstract graphics, these labels play off the Stars and Stripes.

The aforementioned 2014 Charles & Charles Cabernet Blend from the Columbia Valley features the two winemakers in front of a Smith-owned building in Waitsburg in Eastern Washington that is adorned with Old Glory. The Chardonnay has a yellow, straw-colored rendition of the stars on the American flag, while the Merlot has the same motif with a purple tinge. But it is the Rosé that really gets you humming “Stars and Stripes Forever” as it is festooned with red stripes with the 2015 Rosé designation in the box where the stars normally go.

The two Charles also make myriad other wines under their own labels. Bieler also is known for his involvement in the Three Thieves brand, Sombra mezcal and the Gotham Project. If you have a hankering to go French this weekend, try the 2015 Bieler Pere et Fils Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Rosé, an excellent and affordable blend of grenache, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cinsault and teaspoon of rolle from Provence. At least it’s made by an American.

For his part Charles Smith has built himself an empire in the Pacific Northwest and his Boom-Boom! Syrah does have the perfect name for the Fourth of July fireworks. This 100 percent syrah from Washington State also is reasonably priced at around $15 and packs a major punch. The black and white rendition of a lit cannon ball on the label will look good next to the Ska beers in your ice tub as well.


Of course, for me, there is nothing better for grilled burgers than Zinfandel. It may be the most American of all grapes, even though its original heritage likely dates back to Italy and the primitivo grape. Zin can be light and fruity or big and jammy. But to me, either way, it works while standing ‘round a grill flipping some ground beef with a slice o’ cheese.

For value and quality at a low price, I look for two names: Ravenswood and Rosenblum. Joel Peterson of Ravenswood’s mantra is “No Wimpy Wines” and his 2013 Napa Valley Old Vine Zinfandel is as beautiful as it is big for around $18. While Kent Rosenblum makes some amazing single vineyard offerings, if you want to go cheap and cheerful the Rosenblum Cellars Vintner’s Cuvée Zinfandel with the red label and the old vine will fit the bill. There is no vintage on this wine but it will work on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or even a holiday Monday for around a Hamilton.

Happy Independence Day everyone.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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