'Tasted: American Cabernet Franc'

United Slurps of America: Ohio

Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? We’re doing just that…welcome to the United Slurps of America. It’s our 11th stop on the tasting tour: Hello, Ohio.

Social networking has become key to the coordination of this project (and, surprisingly, it takes a lot of coordination). One state leads to another via recommendations and insights from Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and reactions to previous posts on the Swirl blog. Beyond tasting local wine and in some cases grapes We’ve never heard of (Chambourcin? St Croix? La Crscent?) We’ve also “virtually” become friends with an enthusiastic bunch of fellow wine adventurers.

After slurping Kentucky with Kevin Keith (of the terrific Under the Grape Tree blog) he suggested we contact Michelle of wine-girl.net in his neighboring state Ohio. We looked up Michelle’s blog “My Wine Education,” and were delighted with its insights into local wineries, tasty cocktail recipes, and reviews of all things liquor: bottles, books, and shops. We quickly sent her an email: Want to slurp Ohio with us?

Michelle jumped on board the project and came with a list of recommended wineries: Harmony Hills Vineyards, Kinkead Ridge, Firelands Winery, and St Joseph’s Winery. Next step: contacting the wineries. Nancy Bentley of Kinkead Ridge promptly replied to our inquiry: “What a fun idea! There are people in Ohio that will tell you we are making the best wine (vinifera) in the state…Sadly, all our wine is currently sold out!” Too bad. But great for them…it’s wonderful to hear that small, regional wineries are thriving.

We received no response from Firelands or St. Joseph’s and were getting nervous, but then word came from Bill Skvarla of Harmony Hill. Bill was equally enthusiastic about USA and offered to ship Us some wine. The timing was also propitious as the winery was reopening for the season over Memorial Day weekend and he was pretty sure Michelle and her partner Kevin were going to come by. The timing delayed our post a couple of weeks, but the wait was worth it. (We have come to realize that Our original tagline of “Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? For 50 weeks We’ll do just that…” has become unrealistic. We’re still going to taste every state, but it’s going to take longer than 50 weeks.)

Here are our collective reviews:


Photograph of Harmony Hill Vineyards, taken from a hot air balloon showing vineyard, winery, and entrance to their cave.

“Aria,” Seyval Blanc, Ohio River Valley, Harmony Hill Vineyards 2009 (sample, $12)

She said: Very pale and translucent salmon pink. On the nose: some wood, ripe pear, fruit punch-like. The flavor reminds me of old fashioned fruit salad–the kind that comes in a can with heavy syrup that my hippie mother would never let me eat. It is not as cloying as the canned fruit and has a nice acidity to keep the cloying factor in check. Honey dew melon, tropical. Serve ice cold on a hot day.

He said: Pinkish / Salmon colored. The nose is a cross between a rosé and a Sauvignon Blanc with subtle oak hints of Chardonnay. Not overly sweet (which I suppose is the reason it’s called semi-sweet). Nice acid to counterbalance the sweetness. Maybe a little cloying, but totally nice. Super chilled in the backyard on a hot, sunny afternoon; that’s when I imagine this wine to be perfect.

wine-girl said: First off, this wine is best served very chilled. Harmony Hill is great at making wines that should be enjoyed on their patio or yours on a hot summer day. Once this is chilled down, this is an overall enjoyable wine. There’s a little too much oak for me, but at the same time, if I even see an oak tree, that’s too much oak. I’m probably a poor judge. That said, I sipped it during a party on my patio and it was a huge hit.

“Concerto,” Vidal Blanc, Ohio River Valley, Harmony Hill Vineyards 2008 (sample, $11)

She said: Very pale, almost clear yellow. The nose is not appealing: vegetal, funky, over-cooked green beans. It’s hard to get past. But in the mouth the wine is really lovely: crisp, light, slightly effervescent. It’s a semi-sweet wine, but like the “Aria,” is not cloying. Candy-like fruit flavors, Juicy Fruit gum, and applesauce. Too bad about the funk on the nose, but a delightful wine. I’m will to stop myself from sniffing before I slurp. Which I want to do a lot of.

He said: Gold-yellow corn silk in color. Ugh, weird nose. Vegetal, green beans, funky and gross. It makes me not want to taste this (and We discussed if perhaps the bottle was bad). But, wow, no hint of the nose in the mouth. In the mouth it’s bright and lively. Sweet with just-right acidity. Apples. The only problem is when I smell it while sipping. If the nose wasn’t so strange, this would be my favorite of the bunch.

wine-girl said: Without a doubt, this is currently my favorite HH wine. I know we left with this as a sample, but we also left with a bottle we paid for. We love this. It’s sweet, but not that candy-sweet that a lot of French-American hybrids can have. This is, in our opinion, perhaps the perfect hot-day-patio-wine.  It’s full of peaches and pears, and tends to bring on a relaxed happy feeling no matter how hot the afternoon.

“Rubato,” Chambourcin, Ohio River Valley, Harmony Hill Vineyards 2008 (sample, $14)

She said: Very purpley red and opaque. On the nose reminds me of Cabernet Franc–has a hint of vegetables. Also some oak, but more than anything else: cherries. The wine is tart, like unripe plums, some earthiness, baking spices. But mostly tart, dark cherries. The acid is nice and I imagine it would be a great food wine.

He said: Purpley. Nice nose. I could smell it as soon as it was poured. Black cherry and dark fruit abound. It’s a little light in the mouth. Some spice, all black cherry. Long smooth finish. I’ve never had this grape. I just read that Karen mentioned duck (or Kevin did roundaboutly as to not offend) and now I want duck confit with this. Maybe we should go to Canelé tonight. I like this wine.
wine-girl said: Ah, chambourciraminette and vidal. This sets them apart, surprisingly, from many of the local wineries that are focusing (and in some cases struggling) with growing vinifera. If you like French-American hybrids, you’ll enjoy Harmony Hill. I admit we’re partial to this wine – we helped harvest the grapes. It’s got nice spice and black pepper on the mid-palate with a lot of black cherry. The Rubato has a light finish but that seems pretty typical for the chambourcins in the Kentucky / Ohio/ Indiana tri-state region. Kevin thinks this wine would be nice with grilled dark poultry. (I think he’s trying to say “duck” without offending me.)

“Rhapsody,” Cabernet Franc, Ohio River Valley, Harmony Hill Vineyards 2006 (sample, $14)

She said: Ruby, garnet color. On the nose: some mild wood, spices. Tart in the mouth, clean finish. Not a lot of fruit anywhere; the wine seems to be mostly about structure. Maybe elderberry? Can’t quite place it. That said, very enjoyable in its texture and acidity. Another good food wine.

He said: Red-maroon, totally different looking from the Chambourcin. Berries on the nose. This one is also light in the mouth. Nice, totally drinkable but hard for me to decipher. Cherries and berries. The bottle lists “black currant” and I realize that is another flavor I can’t really recall. An enjoyable bottle.

wine-girl said: This is a cabernet franc that really surprised me. I’m not really a fan of cab franc, but I enjoy this one. It’s got a lot of big fruit up front, almost assaulting you. The finish has a lot of sour (maybe bitter?) cherry. Happily, there is very little greenness, which makes this an approachable cab franc. It has light tannins and is really drinkable right now. We tend to take out time getting to wines, and I wouldn’t worry about the drinkability of this wine if it took us a year to get to it.

11 down, 39 to go…

Summary:
wine-girl said: HH is great because the winery itself is all about atmosphere. Kid-friendly, picnic-friendly, and dog-friendly, a great weekend evening can be spent hanging out at the vineyard listening to amazing acoustic music, chatting with other wine & music lovers, and enjoying wine by the glass.

We said: A clink of our glasses to Michelle for tasting along with Us in our slurpin’ tour. Her Memorial Day weekend winery crawl sounds like a terrific way to relax and enjoy what Ohio River Valley has to offer.

Also, a thank you to Nancy Bentley of Kinkead Ridge. We’re sorry to not have been able to sample Kinkead’s wines, but our palates have been piqued. United Slurps of America: Ohio, part deux?

Finally, a big cheers to Bill and Patti Skvarla and their staff at Harmony Hill Vineyards. These are good folks. We poked around the internet and were delighted to discover that in addition to producing award winning wine (Harmony Hill’s 2008 Rubato took home a Gold medal and the 2007 Refrain took home a Bronze in the 25th Hilton Head International Wine Festival) the Skvarla’s are dedicated to protecting the bucolic countryside of the Ohio River Valley. The National Wildlife Federation has certified a significant portion of their 70 acre property as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat site, protecting the diverse and abundant wildlife that live live and nest on the property. When our virtual tasting tour becomes an actual one, We’re making it a destination.

(All photos from Harmony Hill’s website…check it out for more sweet shots.)

Previously on USA: Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

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United Slurps of America: Kentucky

Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? For 50 weeks We will do just that…welcome to the United Slurps of America. Week seven: it’s Kentucky.

More noted for Bluegrass and Bourbon than wine, Kentucky was one of the states that We had absolutely no idea what to expect. Both of Us being big fans of Maker’s Mark, We knew they could produce a good whiskey. But wine? We didn’t know where to begin. Lucky for Us, Kevin Keith, of the wonderful Under the Grape Tree wine blog, contacted Us a few weeks ago, expressing his interest in the Slurpin’ USA project. He is well versed in all things wine and had great insight on Kentucky. We thought this might be one of the states handcuffed by archaic, inane wine shipping laws, but Kevin got the wines to Us safely (and hopefully legally).

Here are Our takes on the wines, with our terrific co-blogger Kevin chiming in. It’s Our own little 3-stop Kentucky Bourbon Wine Trail, featuring Elk Creek Vineyards, Jean Farris Winery, and StoneBrook Winery.

Vidal Blanc, “Kentucky Blue,” Elk Creek Vineyards 2006 (sample, winery sells for $9.99)

She said: Golden pale yellow color. On the nose: lime, unripe pear, wet stones, green herbs–parsley, and a saltiness. Can you smell salt? I do. In the mouth there is a lot of acid, making it fresh and lively. Again green notes: like fresh cut grass mixed in with the richness of pear. Has a silky, creamy mouthfeel. I imagine this is a terrific food wine with its mix of acid and lush fruit. Reminds me of a fruitier Muscadet or a Picpoul. Can imagine enjoying the wine with oysters, ceviche, sushi, squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta, arugula salads…the wine makes me hungry. Great bargain for $9.99, would buy it by the case for summer–if I could find it in California.

He said: Apple, melon, pear and cut grass on the nose. In the mouth it’s a mix of creaminess and high acid, which I’m not really used to. But, wow, it’s really good. There is also some spice, but not the typical spices; maybe mustard seed or dill. Would be great on a warm day with a salad or seafood in the garden. Really, surprisingly good.

Under The Grape Tree said: Yeah, I know this is sweet.  A bit of an indigenous take on Riesling, this hearty white has some honeyed apple and pear notes, some spicy mineral, and a bit of white flower.  It has some acidity to it, and of course, what many folks note as a “foxy” character – a bit wild or feral quality, as does most grapes from these parts.

Viognier, Jean Farris Winery 2007 (sample, winery sells for $19.00)

She said: Golden yellow and appears thick on the swirl. On the nose the wine is very floral and rich like peaches and cream and an Orangesicle with some mineral undertones and a big waft of honeysuckle. And is that a hint of corn syrup? We talked it over (breaking our “no talking” rule–yep, We both get corn syrup.) The mouthfeel is lovely, creamy, and viscous. On the palate the wine is very floral with apricot and a dry, stoney finish. Reminds me of burleed grapefruit. There is a nice balance of fruit/acid/minerals. I imagine this is another great food wine. It manages to be rich but with a clean, fresh finish. Love it.

He said: It seems as though every Viognier I am tasting lately is testing my aversion to the varietal. This wine is slightly cloudy and very fresh on the nose. Floral notes, apricot…it smells like Viognier. There is also some heat on the nose and I just looked to see the wine is 13.9% alcohol. In the mouth there is nice acid, again mixed with creaminess, oak is definitely present. It’s very creamy. It’s full-bodied, balanced; whoa, I love it. I’m tasting corn tortilla chips. Odd, but totally there. That said, this wine would be great with Mexican food, maybe even nachos. Exceptional, I totally love it.

Under The Grape Tree said: Not quite that of the Rhone, but the general characters of peach and honeysuckle are present, as is a bit of orange blossom, apricot and mineral.  The foxy notes are there too, but with some needed restraint.  A surprising white wine with some body and balance.

Cabernet Franc, “Estate Bottled, Ohio River Valley,” Stonebrook Winery 2008 (sample, $couldn’t find price)

She said: Deep, pretty garnet and translucent around the edges. On the nose: minty, green peas and asparagus with smokey cedar notes. Hefty swirls blow off some of the vegetal characteristics. The wine is quite sharp and tart with dark cherry flavors. Has a freshness, but also a chemical note like bing cherry air freshener. The aromatics also remind me of the botanicals of gin. Medium, soft tannins. I thinks it’s a really interesting wine.

He said: Hmm. This smells like Vick’s Vap-o-rub. Mint & eucalyptus with some tobacco thrown in. In the mouth there are flavors of fruit (cherry, blackberry, raspberry) in this very juicy wine. It’s light, but there is some presence in the mouth. Not really into it. I can’t really say that this is a “bad” wine, it’s just not for me. This is another thing I love about doing this project; I am learning about wine in general, but also figuring out which varietals I enjoy from a state I wouldn’t even assume produces wine.

Under The Grape Tree said: Being a huge Cab Franc fan, when good friend Terry Shumrick – winemaker for Stonebrook – told me he had a Cab Franc made from grapes grown in Kentucky, I thought he was crazy.  Then he told me the price and I thought he was a lunatic to boot.  Though it is not all that tannic, nor does it have a lot of body to it, it is really drinkable, with smooth blue fruit notes and hints of spice and mocha.  The tannins are soft but firm, and the finish is really nice.  And it is minus all the green bell pepper character you get in a lot of cheap – BAD – Cab Francs out there.  This is a really nice find, especially from Kentucky.

7 down, 43 to go…

Summary

We said: First off, a big thanks to Kevin for supplying and shipping Us the wines to sample. He also sent Us background information on the wineries and insights into the growing regions of Kentucky. Wineries and Winegrowers of KY: this guy is a great advocate for your state. It was also a treat to share tasting notes with Kevin. We’ve been a fan of his blog long before We started our own. Check it out…frequently.

A note on design: before tasting any of the bottles, We both commented on how much we liked the look of the “Kentucky Blue” bottle. We had a few critiques exchanges on how it could be better, mostly the relationship between the large antlers and the band beneath with the smaller antlers. And this is the point We’d really like to make: We’d show you, our readers, a picture of the bottle and the two others We tasted, but We couldn’t find any bottle shots on the web, which, if you’ve been reading this series, know is a bit of peeve of ours. We want to give our readers a visual–winerys: put Hi-Res bottle shots on your websites! (The images above are from: The Bluegrass Bride, Designs by Lynnea, and dhecker2000–thank you.)

Previously on USA: Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

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United Slurps of America: Georgia

Every state in the US produces wine. Why not taste them? For 50 weeks We will do just that…welcome to the United Slurps of America. Week six: it’s Georgia, y’all.

Lots of Georgia has been showing up at Her door over the last week. First up was a prettily packaged box of wine. And a few days later there was another Georgia import: Joe, the Suburban Wino. He was in our lovely state for vacation and staying just down the coast in Laguna Beach. Both the wine and Joe were a delight. Georgia, represent.

We’re just six weeks in, but already The United Slurps of America has been a terrific tasting adventure. Once again We found ourselves with wine made from a far away state and, in the case of the white, made from grapes neither one of Us had ever tasted (and twisted our tongue pronouncing: say-vul? see-vel? chez-val?). Tasting in person with Joe was a bonus. We’ve been a fan of Joe’s blog since We began our own blogging adventure. When he said he was anxious to get out and explore and how about getting together We said, yeah, come on up to gritty, hipster Hollywood and let’s taste some wine.

Joe rented a car and drove up, arriving on a beautiful Spring morning. We hastily made introductions and then got down to business. Glasses were gathered and corks popped. We have a pretty regimented way of tasting wine (examine the color, swirl, smell, slurp, linger–and no talking) all of which seemed to amuse Joe. He’s much more laid back and experiential in his tasting and admitted to rarely taking notes. While We went through our ritual he filled us in on some facts about Georgia wine in general and Persimmon Creek in particular, having recently visited the place. We were intrigued by the winery in light of the fanciful package they sent Us which included a piece of wool from their sheep and vineyard prunings. Joe told Us that there were about 30 of the cute, fuzzy animals on the property. We continued to sip the wines and Joe joined us in scribbling down some notes, our collective reviews are below.

Seyval Blanc, Persimmon Creek  Vineyards 2008 (sample, retails for about $12.99)

She said: The color is very pale, translucent yellow with a greenish hue. The nose is quiet: a little bit of grass and obvious acidity, which is confirmed in the mouth. With the acid are subtle flavors of cucumber and a mild gin and tonic. The wine is bone dry and quenching with a sweet tart kind of mouth puckering sensation. Also get hints of lime (perfect garnish for the g&t) and wet stones/oyster shell. Imagine enjoying with a grand le plateau de fruits de mer. Not a deep thinking wine, but highly enjoyable, food friendly, and a good value.

He said: I’ve never had a Seyval Blanc, this is really why I love Our project. It’s very, very pale (almost clear) greenish-yellow. On the nose is citrus, cooked pear, apricot and white peppercorn. Very acidic and mouth-drying, very  reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, I assume these grapes are cousins, or half-brothers–or however grape families work, they are closely related. I am getting only slight hints on the palate of the fruit I discerned on the nose. I enjoyed this wine and it’s a great value for 13 bucks.

Suburban Wino said: very pale in color…nothing overwhelming on the nose; some subtle melon, maybe some cucumber.  Getting a little bit of citrus, some mineral, and some herbaceous- perhaps “grassy”- elements that I tend to get in a lot of Georgia wines…let’s call it terroir.  I then got some really interesting petrol and ginger notes, until I realized that I’d accidentally grabbed the white wine from Iowa from the previous week.  Oops (but way to go, Iowa).  Between the cheeks, I found it to have some decent acidity.  It was a little hollow in the palate, but I’ll be a homer and suggest that will improve as the young vines (5-10 years old) develop.

Cabernet Franc, Persimmon Creek Vineyards 2008 (sample, retails for about $21.99)

She said: In the glass the wine is translucent around the edges and a muddy purplish garnet. On the nose it smells dusty with vegetal/string bean aromas. On the mouth I detect the burnt wood flavors of American oak, white pepper, and green veggies…there is a fresh produce quality. Quite tart with a lingering cinnamon-like aftertaste. Not my style, but some may say typical of a Cab Franc (and I have had many I’ve enjoyed, so my mediocre review is not because of the grape). 

He said: Purpley and if in Photoshop would be about 75% opacity. On the nose there is not much fruit, but spices. Peppery. Some wood, maybe blackberry. I am getting tar, like a freshly tarred street–which may be a smell of the past for me because it looks like Los Angeles is about to be bankrupt and won’t be fixing any streets in the near future. Savor the smell of a functioning government. In the mouth there is more fruit than on the nose. Peppery mouthfeel with light tannins. She doesn’t like it, but I totally do. This bottle is mine.

Suburban Wino said: this nose changed from the last time I tasted it.  Maybe my nose was on west coast time.  Anyway, I expected a lot of toast from the 1/3-1/3-1/3 French-Hungarian-American new oak barrel aging regime.  This time, however, I got a telltale note of jalapeño/green pepper, some red fruit- maybe raspberry, a bit of cocoa, and a freshness/cheesiness (that throws folks off) that I tend to get in Loire Cab Franc and Beaujolais and Gamay-based wines.  Rolling around in the mouth, I found it a little thin and flabby (there was some acidity there, but I could use some more).  The fruit flavors, along with some Italian canned tomatoes (more bitterness that home grown) came through on the palate.  I think this would be a darn good food wine if the acidity was dialed up a notch.


6 down, 44 to go…

Summary

We said: After tasting the Georgia wines the three of us went to a favorite neighborhood spot for lunch: The Hungry Cat. The seafood is incredibly good here…and so are the fresh fruit cocktails. We indulged in peel your own shrimp, squash blossoms stuffed with crab, a lobster roll for Him, a crab cake sandwich for Her, and an oyster po’boy for Joe. What a great day.

We later marveled about the afternoon and our whole wine tasting adventures in general. It’s always a treat for a package to arrive. This feeling is heightened when said package is wine. The feeling is heightened tenfold when said package contains free wine. Opening the box from Persimmon was, by far, Our favorite box-opening experience since we started USA. There were so many thoughtful extras in the box–and wow– Mary Ann’s handwriting. She wrote Us a personal 3-page letter with the most beautiful handwriting We have ever seen. Thank you, it’s so nice when people care. And then there is our new friend the Suburban Wino. This was Our first face-to-face USA tasting, and it was a complete pleasure to spend an afternoon with Joe.

A quick aside, We will try to resume making the video trailers for the USA posts, but we have had a busy couple of weeks and those were one of the causalities of our schedule. Plus, He couldn’t figure out a song for Iowa last week.

Previously on USA: Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

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