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Monday, April 30, 2007

Wine 101 - Muscat Canelli

The first mention of wine in modern literature occurred in the Book of Genesis’s story of Noah’s Ark. After the Ark landed on Mount Ararat, one of Noah’s first acts was to plant a vineyard. The most likely grape: a Muscat. Muscat is a group of similar grape varieties (200 in all) in which the most familiar are Muscat Ottonel, Muscat of Alexandria, and Muscat Canelli. It is thought that Muscat Canelli probably originated around the Mediterranean and it spread from there. The Greeks brought cuttings with them to the Crimea, the Romans and Phoenicians took it to Europe and event the Egyptians sent cuttings as far south as present day South Africa.

Today Muscat Canelli is cultivated throughout the world; it is known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (‘Muscat with small berries’) in France, Moscato di Canelli in Italy where it is used to make Asti Spumante and semi-sparkling Moscato d'Asti, Muskateller in Germany, and Muscat Lunel in Hungary. In the United States, Muscat Canelli is primarily grown on the west coast.

In Montana, Tom Campbell of Mission Mountain Winery was first introduced to the Muscat family of grapes at U. C. Davis as part of class work in their mother block of grape varieties. He was impressed with the plump sweet fragrant nature of the grapes and knew then that he had to make Muscat wines. While visiting other winery’s he determined that Muscat Canelli was his favorite Muscat varietal because of its flavor profile. And as a winemaker, he experimented with other Muscats such as Muscat of Alexander, Orange Muscat, and Muscat of Hamburg and always returned to Muscat Canelli. Currently Mission Mountain Winery offers two Muscat Canelli wines, a semi-sweet Muscat Canelli with 1.7% residual sugar, the Nouveaux Riche dessert wine with 10% residual sugar, and a Cream Sherry - Muscat Canelli fortified with brandy. For the past 21 years these wines have won medals at many national and international competitions. Since this grape is not a household name, sampling at the winery’s tasting room is the only chance people have to experience the variety; Mr. Campbell has observed that visitors generally love it or reject it.

In California, Mastantuono Winery has been producing Muscat Canelli for over two decades. Located in the Central Coast appellation, the winery is close to halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is the 5th oldest winery in San Luis Obispo County. Based on the owner’s Italian heritage, they take pride in their Muscat, calling it the “True Nectar of the Gods”. One of the main reasons the winery gives for producing Muscat Canelli is that it provides an important part of a balanced tasting list. Having several dessert wines is a good way to finish a wine tasting. This dessert wine displays fruity aromas with a slight taste of pears. The winery recommends pairing the wine with cheese and fruit. The only acceptance problem the winery encounters is that some Californian wine drinkers frown on sweet wine – so they ignore the dessert wines. It’s amazing to us how certain attitudes limit people’s enjoyment of some types of wine.

Farther east, in Oklahoma, Muscat Canelli has been a very successful wine for Tres Suenos Vineyards and Winery. They winery cultivates Muscat because it grows well in their climate and produces a fruity wine with honeysuckle characteristics. The winery opened 6 years ago and is located in Luther County – in the central part of the state. They produce a sweet 100% Muscat Canelli, Fiesta Blanca, which is both a Gold medal winner and their leading seller. They also blend with Riesling and Chenin Blanc to create a rose style Blush Delight.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reston Great Grapes

On Saturday April 14th several Virginia wineries participated in the inaugural Reston Great Grapes wine festival. The day was overcast with scattered showers which, although a little nuisance, kept the crowd lighter than expected. This allowed attendees to sample wines without waiting in long lines – the usual case at these events. The organizers of Great Grapes arranged quality musical acts that performed throughout the day. The Martha Bassett Band was a real surprise and the Kelly Bell Band, although late, gave their usual outstanding performance. This year we started a new policy, where we only taste only one type of wine at these festivals. In the past, many of the wines seemed to blend together and it was difficult to appraise a wine after going from dry->sweet or white->red for each winery.

Today we decided upon dry reds (once again) and there were many excellent offerings. The first tent we visited was for Cave Ridge Vineyard, a new winery located near Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley. At today’s event they were pouring a Riesling, Viognier, Traminette, and luckily, one red wine: Chambourcin. This is a dry medium bodied wine with nice cherry flavors; light tannins provide a smooth finish. A good start to the day. Next we proceeded to Veramar’s tent, hoping beyond expectations that their Norton would be available. Nope. Instead, they were pouring their Chianti-style Rooster Red and a new release, Red Chicken. I’ll have to contact the winery to determine what grapes produced the wine, but this was another nice medium bodied wine – full of berry flavors and a slight spicy finish. At $14, this is a reasonably priced wine.

From Veramar, we moved to the upper level and found the star of the day, Lake Anna Winery. Located in Spotsylvania County, a few miles away from Lake Anna, the winery has been operating for over twenty years making wine primarily from traditional vinifera grapes. We were informed by Will, one of their charismatic volunteers, that Lake Anna either grows all their grapes or sources from surrounding vineyards. And in most cases, these vineyards grow solely for Lake Anna. Today we tasted their Spotsylvania Claret, Totally Red, 2003 Merlot, and 2003 Cabernet Franc. Each of these wines was awarded medals at the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, with the Spotsylvania Claret winning a Gold medal. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Touriga, and Petite Verdot. It is made slightly dry with a little acidity at the finish and is the winery’s most popular wine. The Totally Red is similar (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Touriga, and Chambourcin) - a littler drier and fuller. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were even drier and fuller, both had strong berry flavors and smooth finishes. Of the two, I preferred the Cab Franc; this is an excellent wine and if not for Horton’s Tannat, my favorite of the festival. We decided to setup camp next to Lake Anna’s tent on a hill overlooking the lower section and stage. Throughout the day we couldn’t notice that the largest crowds surrounded Lake Anna’s tent. Was it the perfect location or good wine? Probably a little of both, but we returned for the wines.

After watching the Martha Bassett Band perform their last few songs, we moved on to the rest of the wineries encamped on the upper level. We liked North Mountain Vineyard’s Chambourcin which is a full-bodied red which won a Silver medal at the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition. We didn’t stay long, attracted by the thought of tasting Horton Vineyard’s wines in the next tent. Horton was pouring a few red wines, and we overlooked their Norton (see a description of this wine in the Wine 101 section) in order to concentrate on their Cabernet Franc and Tannat. The Cabernet Franc is a gold medal wine, with a full cherry flavor and slightly spicy finish. It was very comparable to Lake Anna’s version. The Tannat was amazing. It is as dry as the Cab Franc, but with a much spicier finish. It also has a uniqueness that you won’t find in the standard Virginian red wine. It wasn’t until I was home and researched the wine did I find that it is a star. In the 2006 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, it was not only awarded a Gold medal, but it won the Best of Red award; i.e. in 2006 it is considered Virginia’s best red wine. No kidding. We also tried Horton’s port offerings since it’s hard to resist dessert wines, and at least they were red. We preferred the Jamestown Commerative Courage port styled wine, a blend of Tourica Nacional, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It is full bodied and seems to have more flavor than their Vintage Port.

We decided to have a little fun and try our luck at Peaks of Otter Winery, which specializes in fruit wine and other interesting concoctions. We started with our favorite, the slightly sweet Plumlicous. We were then talked into trying the “Chili Dawg” - 97% apple 3% chili pepper wine, plus a shot of cheese wiz. Then, peer pressure forced us to “Kiss the Devil” or in order words, try their super hot – pepper wine made from 30 varieties of peppers. I needed a chaser of the Mountain Grape sweet concord to wash away the burn. It was readily apparent that Peaks of Otter is a fun group to hang with.

Before settling in to watch the Kelly Bell Band, we stopped to try Le Mousseux, a sparkling Virginia cider from La Provençale Cellars. The cider is a blend of several types of apples including Macintosh, Jonathan, and Granny Smith. Not only is the cider awesome, but is a great idea to provide a non-alcoholic beverage so that children can feel like they are participating in the tasting. We hope to see Le Mousseux offered at future festivals.

In sum, despite the weather this was a great event. Not only were there excellent wines, food and music, but it was located minutes from our back door. Hopefully the low turnout will not discourage the organizers from producing a similar event next year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Warm Lake Estate

This week we received our quarterly newsletter from New York's Warm Lake Estate. This winery is located in the Niagara Escarpment, a new AVA which borders the southern coast of Lake Ontario. Warm Lake Estate produces Pinot Noir, and only Pinot Noir, from the largest pinot planting east of the Rockies. We were pleasantly surprised to read that their 2003 Pinot Noir was named "Best in Show" at the 16th Annual Boston Wine Expo. This trade event is the largest of its kind in the United States and trade representatives chose the 2003 Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir over thousands of other wines poured at the event. Congratulations.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wine 101 - Steuben

Grape juice with a kick. That is a common description of Steuben wine, a native hybrid labrusca. Similar to the Concord grape, Steuben produces mild, grapey, red wine with a light “foxy” feel. Created at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York and released in 1947, Steuben is a cross between the Wayne and Sheridan grapes. This grape is very popular in the Eastern and Midwestern regions of the United States, and in particular: Indiana.

The Indiana wine industry was started by John James Dufour, a Swiss immigrant who immigrated to the United States after fleeing Napoleon's armies. After failing to grow vinferia grapes in Lexington, Kentucky; in the early 1800s, he took cuttings of a hybrid labrusca grape, Cape, and moved to an area in the Indiana Territory now known as Vevay. This hardy grape flourished and was the basis for the first successful wine production in the United States. For the next 15 years, Indiana was at the forefront of the U.S. wine industry, marketing “Vevay” wine to the remainder of the country. However, as quickly as the Indiana wine industry emerged, it crashed due to falling land values and agriculture prices. The focus of wine-making soon shifted to Cincinnati (see Catawba article.) From this period until Prohibition, Indiana was still the 10 largest wine producer in the country, with small family owned wineries throughout the countryside. Prohibition nearly terminated the Indiana wine industry and the industry did not revitalize until the Small Winery Act of 1971. This legislation allowed small wineries to sell directly to the public rather than strictly through distributors. With the help of the Indiana Wine Grape Council, over thirty wineries now operate in the state with the number of gallons produced increasing 15% annually.

Several Indiana wineries produce Steuben wine. French Lick Winery started growing this grape because it had trouble procuring grapes when the winery started 10 years ago. Steuben grapes were available and other wineries appeared not to want it. French Lick Winery turned this apparent outcast into a Gold winner at the Great Lakes competition by producing a fruity alternative to White Zinfandel. The 2% residual sugar balances very nicely with the high acidity in the Steuben grape. They sell most of their Steuben through the tasting room since most people have not heard of the variety, but are willing to try it within the confines of the winery. French Lick Winery recommends pairing with wine with Italian dishes and poultry, especially during the upcoming Thanksgiving season. The winery warns however, that the wine does suffer from the bottling process and requires about six months to recover. In addition, the wine’s color may change to an orange color over time, but this does not affect the wines flavor.

Another Indiana winery, Satek Winery, is located in Steuben County, Indiana. First operating as a vineyard, Satek’s Steuben grapes have won numerous awards by other wineries. In 2001, the Sateks opened their own winery and have excelled in producing vinifera and labrusca grapes. In 2005 the winery won 17 medals in the Indy International, the third largest international wine competition in the United States. Their 2003 Steuben received a Silver medal in the competition. Like French Lick Winery, Satek’s Steuben is made in the style of a white zinfandel that is a semi-sweet, fruity wine with strawberry and kiwi characteristics.

Steuben is also grown in neighboring Illinois. Vahling Vineyards has been producing Steuben for the past few years, primarily because the Vahlings liked the taste of the grape. They also feel that the Blush characteristics of their Steuben make it a good wine for the beginning wine drinker.

Farther east, Kelly Betz, the owner of Stoney Acres Winery in Nescopeck Pennsylvania, started cultivating Steuben after trying the varietal made from a winemaker friend. He enjoyed the taste and decided to add it to his winery’s selection. Apparently the winery’s customers also like the taste of this semi-sweet wine. Their version is a rose’ style wine with a "pink grapefruit” finish. Acid levels can be high at times and after a rainy growing season the color may be very pale, but in general, Stoney Acres Winery has a faithful, local following for their Steuben.

Steuben is a great alternative for those tiring of the standard White Zinfandel-Blush offerings. It’s semi-sweet and grapey characteristics compliment many meals and it’s a great porch wine. It can also make an interesting beverage when combined with sparkling wine.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Results of the 2007 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

Thanks to the Finger Lakes Weekend Wino for alerting us that the results of the 2007 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition have been posted. The year the annual event was held March 31st and April 1st in Rochester New York. Just over 1,700 wines were submitted, representing wineries in the United States, Canada, and other other international wine producing regions. Most of the judges reside in New York, but some came as far away as France, Germany, United Kingdom, Argentina, and New Zealand.

Besides awarded traditional medals, this competition bestows a Best Ice Wine and Best Riesling award. The Best Ice Wine was given to Vignoble du Marathonien from Havelock Quebec for their 2004 Vin de Glace Vidal Ice Wine. My limited French translated the wine's description as follows. "The wine is made from 100% Vidal grapes and was harvested in December when temperatures were between -10 and -14 degrees Celsius." The wine is priced at 50 Canadian dollars. The Best Riesling was awarded, not to a New York or Germany winery, but to Washington's Chateau St. Michelle, for their 2005 Columbia Valley Horse Heaven Hills Reserve Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling. That's a mouthful in itself. According to winemaker Bob Bertheau, this is “a complex wine, the Ethos Late Harvest Riesling exudes aromas of honey, apricot and spice. The harmonious balance of sugar and natural acidity results in a smooth and viscous mouth feel and a long-lasting finish.” This wine retails for $39.99.

There were quite a few wines that were awarded Double Gold medals, in which the judges unanimously decided the wine deserved a Gold medal. The list includes:

Vignoble Clos Saint-Denis (QC), 2005 Fine Pomme de Glace Aged in Oak Casks
Cosentino Winery (CA), 2005 California The Franc
Bronco Wine Company, Napa Ridge Winery 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Honeymoon Trail Winery (NY), Lake Erie Pink Catawba
Jacob's Creek Wines (AU), 2006 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay
Galen Glen Vineyard and Winery (PA), 2005 PA Stone Cellar Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
Reif Estate Winery (ON), 2004 Vidal Icewine
Royal DeMaria Winery (ON), 2003 Niagara Peninsula RDW Vineyards Vidal Icewine
Weingut Frey, 2005 Essinger Osterberg Kerner Beerenauslese
Lynfred Winery (IL), 2005 Malbec
North Lake Wines (Chile), Escudo Rojo 2003 Maipo Chile Red (55% Cab Sauv / 27% Carmenere / 8% Cab Franc / 7% Syrah)
Gallo Family Vineyards (CA), Twin Valley California Merlot
WineHaven Winery & Vineyard (MN), Minnesota Raspberry Wine
Wimbledon Wine Company (CA), Hahn Estates Winery 2005 Monterey Pinot Noir
Centarra Wine CO (NZ), Monkey Bay 2006 Hawkes Bay New Zealand Rose (70% Merlot / 17% Malbec / 7% Pinot age / 6% Syrah)
Widmer's Wine Cellars (NY), NV Widmer Solaira Cream Sherry
J. Lohr Winery (CA), 2005 Paso Robles South Ridge Syrah (80% Syrah / 10 % Petite Verdot / 5% Petite Syrah)
Jackson Wine Estates International (AU), Yangarra Estate Vineyard 2005 McLaren Vale Estate Grown Shiraz
Wild Wood Winery (CA), 2003 Syrah Gina
Wimbledon Wine Company (CA), Hahn Estates Winery 2004 Central Coast Syrah
Arbor Hill Grapery (NY), 2005 Finger lakes Classic Traminette
Rappahannock Cellars (VA), 2006 Virginia Viognier
York Mountain Winery (CA), 2005 Paso Robles Viognier

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chamarré Wines

Recently we got our hands on a few French wines distributed in the United States by OWS under the Chamarré label. According to their website, “The Other Wine & Spirits CY is a brand-driven organization dedicated to the development of wine and spirits brands. We are the sister company of OVS, the mastermind behind the Chamarré Brand concept and the creator of the unique association of the largest wine cooperative and producers in France's history.”

Made by winemaker, Renaud Rosari, Chamarré wines fall under three product lines: Grande Réserve, AOC, and Duo Varietal. Chamarré Grande Réserve wines are vertical blends of single grape varietals, picked in France’s best-producing regions. The AOC wines are a blend of traditional French AOC with the most prestigious AOC wines. And the Duo Varietal wines are a blend of two varietals typical of a French wine-producing region, in which a second varietal brings complexity, fruit and depth to the main varietal.

We tried three Chamarré wines: the Grand Reserve Pinot Noir, the AOC Jurançon, and the Duo Varietal Grenache-Shiraz. The later is a rosé-styled wine in which the Shiraz brings “freshness and structure” and the Grenache “its Mediterranean body and elegance”. This is a very dry wine, which at first we did not know how to appraise. We had been drinking many fruit forward semi-dry rosé wines and this one was completely different. After drinking one glass for three successive nights we became fascinated with this wine. The initial taste and nose are soft; I guess that is “the elegance”. However, the beauty is the finish; a long lasting, complex sensation of bubbling fruit. The finish stayed with you longer than any wine I’ve tasted.

The Jurançon wine is a blend of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, traditional grape varietals grown in the Jurançon region in southwest France. According to many sources, it is said that Jurançon was used to baptize King Henri IV of France. The Chamarré Jurançon is made sweet with, according to my impression, a pineapple-citrus flavor. However, we served the wine to friends, and received several different interpretations. One person compared it to a good mead wine, whereas another said, no, it just has the aroma and taste of honeysuckle. Others tasted mango, some tasted pineapple, whereas only a few tasted my original pineapple-citrus assessment. Regardless all liked the taste and were disappointed when told we only had one bottle.

Our favorite of the three was the Grand Reserve Pinot Noir. This is particularly surprising since our wine cellar is stocked with Zinfandel, Norton, Chambourcin, and high alcohol, full bodied cabs. We never joined the Pinot bandwagon; although I guess, it’s never too late. This Pinot Noir is a vertical blend of Pinot grapes grown throughout France. It is full-bodied, yet soft – not overwhelming; it compliments meals without overpowering them. The wine is aged 6 months in oak which produces a soft, smooth finish. Well done.

In sum, the Chamarré wines we tasted were very good and very different from most of the “New World” wines we had been drinking. If you have a chance we recommend trying a Chamarré wine. Just look for the butterfly.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Wine 101 - Cayuga

"Science overcomes harsh growing conditions to enable colder climates grow quality grapes." This headline describes Cayuga, a grape that was specifically designed to resist frost in the cold-climate conditions of New York’s Finger Lakes region. Developed at the Cornell University affiliated New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, Cayuga is a cross between Seyval Blanc and the native Schuyler root stock. Cayuga produces a mild and fruity wine, closely resembling a Riesling. The grape is also very versatile, capable of producing off-dry white wines, sparkling wine and, on occasion, even oak-aged table wines. The quality of the wine can be observed by the number of awards won by Cayuga in New York. In 2005, about 20 New York Cayuga wines won medals in various national competitions. Cayuga wine is successfully vinified, not only in the Finger Lakes region, but also in areas around the Great Lakes region, Canada, and even in Arkansas and Tennessee.

New York was among the first states to grow grapes and produce wine – a centuries–old tradition which serves as a foundation for today’s strong growth. Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson River Region, established in 1839, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery. Great Western Winery, which began in 1860 as the Hammondsport and Pleasant Valley Wine Company, became U.S. Bonded Winery No. 1 and quickly established an international reputation for sparkling wines made in the Finger Lakes. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, several wineries began operations—but the real boom in New York wineries started with the Farm Winery Act of 1976, which essentially made it more economically feasible to own and operate a winery producing fewer than 50,000 gallons per year. Today, farm wineries may produce up to 150,000 gallons per year.

The first commercial planting of the grape was completed in 1972 by Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery along Cayuga Lake. They continue to produce quality Cayuga: in 2005 their 2002 Cayuga White, NV Cayuga and NV Cayuga Cuvee won medals in various competitions.

Swedish Hill Winery is another very successful producer of Cayuga. In 2005, their 2004 Cayuga White won a Gold medal & the Chairman's Best of Class at the Long Beach Grand Cru competition and Silver medals at the San Francisco International competition and NY Wine & Food Classic competition. This follows their 2003 Cayuga White winning Best in Class at the 2004 Los Angeles Wines of the World competition. In addition, their Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine made from 100% Cayuga) won a Silver medal at the Tasters Guild Int'l competition and at the San Francisco Intl competition, as well as Bronze medal at the Long Beach Grand Cru competition. There are several reasons why Swedish Hill is very enthusiastic about this grape. One, Cayuga is resistant to disease and possesses the ability to consistently produce quality wine. Second, the grape is extremely versatile so that Swedish Hill can manufacture several types of wine other than the usual Riesling-like flavor. Finally, Cayuga wines can be produced at a very affordable price for the average consumer. These qualities enable Swedish Hill to "sell a wine that was developed in their region – for their region – at a great value for the customer".

Another New York winery, Torrey Ridge Winery, purchases their Cayuga from other vineyards but produces award winning wine: their Cayuga White is a multi-medal winner. According to owner, Esther Earle, “Cayuga is a delightful wine which most any person will find drinkable”.

In Pennsylvania, Cayuga was one of the first grapes planted by Pinnacle Ridge Winery, primarily due to its reputation for ease of growing. Since then it has become a very dependable grape and is now the backbone of their business. From Cayuga, Pinnacle Ridge produces a medium sweet table wine and an extra dry sparkling wine. Both of these wines won numerous medals in 2005. The 2004 Cayuga White won a Silver medal at the 2005 Finger Lakes Competition and a Gold medal at the 2005 Pennsylvania Wine Competition. The Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine won a Silver medal at 2005 Pennsylvania Wine Competition and a Bronze medal at the 2005 PA Farm Show. Pinnacle Ridge has found no problems gaining popular acceptance of Cayuga wine. Most of their wine is sold through tasting, so once customers try the wine, it sells itself.

Cayuga is grown as far south as Virginia and Tennessee. In Virginia, Stonewall Vineyards & Winery produces a very good version and in Tennessee, Tri-Star Vineyards & Winery's Cayuga is a Bronze medal winner. Tri-Star Vineyards began growing Cayuga after reading a description of the grape in a wine brochure. This was a wise decision, since Cayuga is now the winery’s best selling wine and they feature it as their “wedding wine”. According to the winery, “its clean, refreshing, fruit flavor sells itself”.

Cayuga is also successful vinified by our northern neighbors. Vignoble du Marathonien, a small family owned operation in Quebec, produces semi-dry Cayuga wine because of the "excellent quality of the grape". Their Cuvée Spéciale, a blend of Cayuga, Vidal Blanc, Geisenheim, and Seyval has won several quality awards and is their best seller. The main problem they encounter is finding enough Cayuga grape to satisfy the demand.

It must be satisfying for Cayuga producers to see that Cayuga has maintained a large and faithful following in such diverse areas as Canada, the Great Lakes, and Tennessee. As an alternative to Riesling, Cayuga is a great wine to enjoy on summer afternoons or with a light dinner. We look forward to trying these wines.

Friday, April 6, 2007

2006 Wines of the South Results

Recently the results of the 2006 Wines of the South competition were posted online. This competition is open to thirteen southern states from Texas to Virginia and was held at the UT Conference Center in Knoxville, Tennessee on November 11, 2006. Tennessee's Chateau Ross Vineyards & Winery was awarded the Best in Show trophy for their 2003 Big Bitch Red, a Sangiovese/Zinfandel blend. Another hometown winner was Apple Barn Winery, who won Best Fruit wine with their Apple Strawberry wine. Florida's SeaBreeze Winery was awarded Best Dessert wine for their American Port, made from muscadine grapes. And two North Carolina wineries won the Best Red and Best White wines, Childress Vineyards for their Winemakers Meritage and Biltmore Estate Winery for their Biltmore Estate Century (Muscat/Gewürztraminer/Riesling).

Several more wineries won Concordance Gold awards where the judges decided unanimously that a specific wine deserves a Gold medal:

Apple Barn Winery (TN): Apple Raspberry fruit wine
Apple Barn Winery (TN): Muscadine
Beans Creek Winery (TN): Rosey Cheeks (Vidal)
Biltmore Estate Winery (NC): Biltmore Estate House Wine (Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay)
Chateau Elan Winery (GA): Muscadine dessert wine
Chatham Hill Winery (NC): Blackberry fruit wine
Childress Vineyards (NC): 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
Duplin Winery (NC): Hatteras Red (Muscadine)
Duplin Winery (NC): Scuppernong Blush (Muscadine)
Henscratch Farms Vineyard & Winery (FL): Carlos (Muscadine)
Post Familie Vineyards & Winery (AR): Vignoles "the Dreamer"
Shelton Vineyards (NC): 2005 Estate Chardonnay
Shelton Vineyards (NC): 2005 Riesling

Monday, April 2, 2007

Wine 101 - Elderberry Wine

"The medicine chest of the common people." This is how American Indians and early settlers described the Elderberry - one of the most common fruit-bearing shrubs in North America. Elderberries contain a considerable amount of vitamins A, B and C, as well as flavonoids, carotenoids and amino acids. Warm elderberry wine is a remedy for sore throat, influenza and induces perspiration to reverse the effects of a chill. The juice from the berries is an old fashioned cure for colds, and is also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis. In addition to these health benefits, the elderberry produces a very interesting red wine.

We became interested in Elderberry wine after a Virginia winery recommended that we try Village Winery’s Elderberry wine. Village Winery is a new winery which opened in the summer of 2005 and is located just outside the heart of the village of Waterford, a National Historic Landmark. The winery currently has 5 acres of Elderberry shrubs planted in their vineyard. The recommendation was very accurate. Village Winery’s Elderberry wine is excellent and it compares favorably to their Merlot and Cabernet Franc offerings. The wine is very intense and distinct, with only a slight sweet finish. Others seem to agree with this assessment since approximately 75% of visitors to the winery’s tasting room purchase the wine after tasting.

Also in Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Peaks of Otter Winery produces 25 types of fruit wines, including an Elderberry-Apple wine. The winery is located on the Johnson’s Orchards - a five generation family farm, which was established in 1919. The 10 year old winery makes their Elderberry wine from owner Danny Johnson’s great grandmother’s recipe. According to Mr. Johnson, she did not have money to buy sugar so she fermented her elderberries in apple juice – a process that Peaks of Otter Winery uses today. The elderberries are harvested from wild shrubs or purchased if necessary. The Elderberry, as well as their other fruit wines, has been well received by their customers – as it sells out each year.

Traveling north into Pennsylvania, Laurel Mountain Vineyard produces Elderberry wine out of a renovated 100 year-old barn. Although their Elderberry wine has unique flavor, John Nordberg, the winemaker, believes the wine has some characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon. Residents of central Pennsylvania are very familiar with the Elderberry fruit from making or consuming elderberry jams and pies. Thus, the acceptance of Elderberry wine was not difficult.
In Hammondsport, New York, Chateau Renaissance Wine Cellars is known for producing Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines handcrafted using a 500 year-old family recipe. The winery also makes several fruit wines to accompany their grape and sparkling wines. According to Patrice DeMay, the owner-winemaker, the Elderberry wine happens to be one of the most popular fruit wines they produce. They produce 120 cases a year which sells out quickly because, as Mr. DeMay states, “The wine is an extremely good seller. The taste is wonderful.”

Close by, in New York’s Finger Lakes region, Cascata Winery produces a sweet dessert Elderberry wine. Cascata is a small boutique winery that, in addition to making quality wines, hosts a bed and breakfast in an old historic house built in the mid 1800's. The winery began making Elderberry wine because of the previously mentioned health benefits and their property contains an abundance of old Elderberry trees. The wine is fermented with fresh elderberries and then blended with another grape to mellow out the flavor. The current vintage was blended with Baco Noir. The winery recommends drinking the wine as an after dinner treat or on ice cream or other desserts. Cascata sells the wine directly from their wine shop and since elderberry is very familiar to the New York population, the wine sells nicely.

Continuing northwest to Woodstock Ontario, Birtch Farms Estate Winery began producing elderberry wine in 2002, primarily because the winery is licensed to only produce fruit wine and the Elderberry fruit grows nicely in Ontario. Their Elderberry is a rich fruit full bodied wine which has won two Gold medals in competitions. Although some “wine snobs” refuse to try fruit wines, in the short span of three years, this wine has won a loyal, regular clientele that has embraced Elderberry and other fruit wines. Because of the wine’s high acidity and fruitiness, Dyann Birtch recommends pairing the wine with cheese or serve as a dinner wine.

Out west, in Idaho, Camas Prairie Winery began producing wine from elderberries after have difficulty one year procuring huckleberries. The winery always has one wild berry wine available to its customers and elderberry was an excellent alternative. The winery is Idaho's oldest independent winery having been established in 1983 as a hobby and home wine making operation. Camas Prairie Winery’s Elderberry wine is a sweet dessert wine gathered from wild elderberries. Apparently this wine is quite good since it won a Bronze medal at the 2005 L.A. Fair.