In the combination of myth and reminiscence that we call history, the Fourth of July signifies that moment when a raggedy group of farmers and artisans decided they’d labored too long under the pressures of a foreign power. They then sacrificed in order to escape the clutches of that power and create a new way of living.

The same could be said of several American winemakers, but with a twist. Rather than outright rejection of dominant European winemaking approaches, the best domestic winemakers have forged a truly free perspective which I’ll call “whatever works.” This genuine independence leads smart, careful winemakers to create things you can’t find anywhere else.

Too many Americans have made wines using the wrong grapes for the given terrain, or they don’t know how to farm.

The result is either presented as is and tastes revolting, or is manipulated beyond recognition (adding sugar to boost alcohol, adding tartaric acid to create an illusion of balance, etc.) and plays like the oenological equivalent of silicone breasts, McMansions or whatever other ugly-American analogy you can think of.

Below are some wines that reflect the Spirit of ’76 while still respecting America’s (and wine’s) Old World heritage. They celebrate the best of what makes this country distinct and worthy but with a focus on balance rather than bombast (or bucketloads of money).

By the way, I tried enough noteworthy domestics recently that next week’s column will be a “Part Two” to this one … stay tuned.

Three Saints Syrah 2007, Santa Ynez Valley, California, $20 (Devenish) *See note. Many Californians grow varietals indigenous to the Rhone, such as syrah, because the (hot and dry) climates are similar. Santa Ynez is a perfect example, and this is great syrah: raw, horsehide-y nose and attitude like a gurgling brook; on the palate it stays raw and brisk, with dried cherries, peppercorn, cocoa.

Foris Fly-Over Red 2008, Cascades, Washington/Oregon, $11 (SoPo). Another French-influenced wine: This uses the classic three Bordeaux varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) to create a concerto of harmony with a New World outlook: a touch of spice and cedar, soft but not stupid, it’s like an everyday Bordeaux that’s a little more fun-loving than its French counterparts.

Bliss Zinfandel 2008, Mendocino, California, $13 (Crush). Can’t discuss American/July 4-ish wines without mentioning Zin. Good, inexpensive Zin is very hard to find; the cheap stuff is fire-starter alcoholic and you could spread it on breakfast toast. Here’s an exception: medium-bodied, peppery and herbaceous before all the juicy, playful glory washes over you (and your cheeseburger). Twenty minutes in the fridge before opening would be lovely.

Writer’s Block Roussanne 2008, Lake County, California $14 (Nappi). Another Rhône grape, this time the difficult-to-grow roussanne. Ridiculously over-the-top label text masks this wine’s civility, which feels like a sunny walk amidst wildflower fields and hay bales (while munching on almonds). There’s a bronzed, caramelized quality too, perfect for grilled chicken or scallops.

Montinore Borealis 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon $10 (Nappi). In a near-future column I’ll betray my adoration for German wines; for now, I’ll talk up the Borealis. Three Germanic varietals (Muller-Thurgau, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris) make up this aromatic, luscious, easy-to-love white. Not utterly dry, but if you only try utterly dry wines you’re missing many of the most exciting, food-friendly wines. This has a bracing brightness and straight spine, honeydew succulence, and fascinating fragrances. Can swing from Thai food to blue cheeses without batting an eye.

NOTE: In parentheses is the name of the particular wine’s Maine distributor, to aid stores in ordering it. Prices may vary, depending on where you shop.

Joe Appel’s day job is doing a lot of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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