15 September, 2008

Wines from the Midwest - It's just a big party

Finally, I am taking a short respite from my busy life to visit my parents in Chicago and I find out the Windy City Wine Festival (sponsored by Binny’s Beverage Depot) is happening at the same time. Quelle coincidence! So I walk down Michigan Avenue to the stunning Millenium Park, walk past the “Bean” (the coolest piece of large public sculpture I have ever seen) and by myself a ticket. I peruse the program and see that most wines are from California and France and I have tasted many of them. My eyes eventually spy an interesting entry: Easley Winery from Indianapolis. They make wine in Indianapolis? So I scurry over to booth 54 and start up a conversation with the hungover vendor (the festivities had started the night before.) They were featuring Reggae Red, Reggae Blush, and Reggae White each bottle decorated with the requisite dread-locked Rasta Mon on the label. These wines are made for good times. They are highly sweet, easily drinkable, and have a higher alcohol content than beer (approximately 10.5%)!! I also tried a Cabernet Sauvignon blend made with a French hybrid red grape called “Chancellor”. They could not remember the names of the grapes but according to the American Appellation website the parentage of the grape is a cross of two French grapes with the name of Seibel (named after the chemist who created them.) This grape does well in the extreme cold and heat of the Midwest. This Cabernet blend had a little more acidity and tannin (but not much) with a hint of black cherry on the nose.

Mr. Easley then reported that there are approximately 25 wineries in Indiana, over 100 wineries in Ohio and over a 100 wineries in Missouri. What California wine lover/snob/aficionado would know that? Certainly not I!

Mr. Easely then sent me over to the St. James Winery from St. James, MO located in the Ozark Highlands. OHMIGOD, they make fruit wines! Strawberry, blackberry, cherry and Concord Grape! All with at least 6% residual sugar. I tried the Concord Grape wine called "Red Velvet." Honestly, it is way too sweet for my palate but the intoxicating aroma of black cherry and cinnamon were lovely. Then the vendor introduced me to the Friendship School Red and Friendship School White which I gladly tasted. This fruity Schoolhouse Red is made of a hybrid grape called “Rougeon.” No one seems to know the exact parentage of this French red grape but again it is made to withstand the extremes in weather. Very sweet but these had a little acidity in them to keep my interest…I wonder why these wines are not marketed in Northern CA . The Friendship School White actually won a Bronze medal in the 2008 San Francisco Wine Competition. I guess we Californians take our wines so seriously…It is our heritage, after all. And do they make “serious” wines with acidity, more tannins, more structure in IN, OH, MO, MI.? I have a lot more research to do here…

Every wine has its own time and place from the big, oaky, fruitbombs of CA to the aromatic, tannic Merlots of St. Emilion to the cloying fruit wines of Missouri. I can totally see myself at a BBQ back home with a group of girlfriends chugging down the Reggae Red just as easily as I see myself savoring the goodness of my favorite Hope and Grace Pinot Noir.
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