Gems in My Glass . . . July 2013

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Mid-America, Tasting Notes No Comments


Take a stroll down wine trails in Mid-America to unleash some deliciously refreshing and well-made wines from the center of the USA.    I recently judged the Mid-American Wine Competition at the DMACC campus in Des Moines, Iowa, and walked away with a very positive impression of wines being produced here that you really ought to sip for yourself.  Here are some of the top scoring wines I judged at the competition, all Gold Medal Winners at this year’s MAWC:

Amigoni Urban Winery 2011 Estate Cabernet Franc, Kansas City Missouri:  Here is an impressive dry red wine crafted from 100% Cab Franc grown in Amigoni’s vineyard in Centerview Missouri.  Gorgeous expression of fruit is showcased from start to finish.   Berries and underlying green pepper aromas proudly announce Cab Franc in the glass.  Round and lush on the palate with flavors of fresh cherry preserves, vanilla, and wild berries accented with savory spice.  Precisely balanced with smooth tannins enhancing the delicious package.  SRP:  $22

Mountain Grove Cellars 2012 Pink Catawba; Missouri:   This pleasantly sweet Catawba is produced from grapes grown at the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station at Missouri State University.  Distinctive foxy aromas clearly shout out Catawba (an American hybrid grape variety thought to be a cross of native American Vitis labrusca and another Vitis species).  Floral notes meld expressively with strawberries and watermelon candy and a splash of citrus on the palate.  This wine is beautifully fresh with a lovely balance of fruit and acidity. The finish is bright and clean, a well-crafted, satisfying quaff.    SRP:  ~$16

Oliver Winery 2010 Zinfandel:   The winery, located in Bloomington Indiana, sources the fruit for this succulent Zinfandel predominately from Lodi, California.   A touch of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are blended in for added dimension.   A brilliant hue and concentrated ripe berry aromas capture the senses.    Sweet jammy fruit broadens on the palate with nutmeg and a dash of cinnamon.  Oh so juicy through the lingering finish; this fruit driven Zin will put a smile on your face.  SRP:  $20

Hinterland Vineyards NV Happy Creek Red, Clara City, Minnesota:  This sassy semi-sweet red wine is crafted of 100% Frontenac grapes from their estate Hinterland Vineyards in Clara City and grapes from Neal Vineyards in Alexandria Minnesota. This fanciful wine offers up a pleasing cherry Kool-Aid aroma that brings me back to my childhood.  Flavors of fresh red cherries and raspberries unfold on the palate with hints of fruity tisane herbal tea highlights.  Lively, fresh and satisfying with sweet fruit nicely offset by lively acidity.  SRP:   $12.95

Stonehaus Farms Winery 2011  Strother Ridge Cynthiana, Lee’s Summit, Missouri:  From grapes grown in Lee’s Summit, Missouri comes this luscious, sweet Cynthiana with gobs of juicy berries captivating the nose and the palate.  The texture is rich and smooth and the striking acidity ensures there is nothing cloying here.  Enticing toasty notes speak to the French oak aging.  Brown spice and vanilla bean accents add depth and linger on the finish, simply delightful.    SRP:  $15

Noboleis Vineyards 2012 Steepleview Hybrid blend; Augusta, Missouri:  From grapes grown in the Augusta AVA in Missouri comes this remarkable wine crafted primarily from the French/American hybrid grape Chambourcin, blended with Vidal Blanc and a bit of Traminette.   A touch of earthiness joins the forest fruits showcased on the nose, drawing you into the glass.  Bursting vividly on the palate are fresh raspberry, plum and wild blueberry flavors and subtle dried herb notes.  This well-structured wine remains bright and expressive through the lifted finish.   SRP:  $12.99

Prairie Moon Winery and Vineyards, NV Bullhead Red; Ames Iowa:  From their thirteen acre vineyard in Ames, Iowa comes this brilliantly hued Catawba.  Opening with  fruity, musky aromas, this well-made Catawba nicely captures the essence of this grape.   Layers of sweet cherries, bubble gum and raspberries unfold delightfully with vibrant acidity, dazzling the palate. The mouth feel is smooth and the finish is equally impressive with good length.  SRP:  $11

Illinois Sparkling Company, NV Bride of Freak of Nature: From their winery in Peru Illinois (their 2nd collaboration with Cleetus Friedman), comes this terrific Sparkling Rose.  It is creatively crafted from Frontenac grapes grown in Illinois with a Freak of Nature Oolong Tea steeped in brandy dosage.  This delicious sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise style really rocks.  Inviting aromas command your attention and the incredible balance of cranberry, cherry and raspberry fruit and distinctive Freak of Nature oolong tea buttery notes.   Racy acidity and a touch of residual sugar sends this wine soaring to brilliant heights, wow.  SRP:  $40

Oliver Winery NV Moscato:   Located in Bloomington Indiana, Oliver Winery dates back to the 1960’s. They harvest grapes from their local vineyards and also source fruit from other wine regions.  Fruit for this wine is sourced from California (2012 harvest).    Scents of tropical fruits and fresh flowers lift from the glass with this energetic Moscato.  The entry is slightly effervescent with a nice level of acidity that keeps the sweetness in perfect balance, and the mouth feel is joyful and bright.  Flavors of passion fruit and white peaches continue to unfold through the titillating finish.   SRP:  $10

Cellar 426 NV Uplifting; Ashland Nebraska.  Uplifting is made with 100% Traminette grapes, all grown in Nebraska.  A bouquet of aromatic roses and spice notes fully engage the senses with this beautiful Traminette (you may be more familiar with one of its parents with similar characteristics, Gewurztraminer).  Filling the palate are delicious flavors of fresh cut herbs, tangerines, lemon-lime sorbet and underlying Asian tea spices melding together harmoniously.  This lovely wine remains expressive and refreshing from first to last lingering sip.  SRP:  $16

Augusta Winery 2012 Dry Vignoles, Augusta, Missouri:   Augusta Winery was founded in the 1980’s in the scenic Missouri River Valley.  From their Estate House block comes this impressive dry Vignoles.  Aromatically rich, the inviting tropical fruit and floral notes completely embrace the senses.   It is silky and elegant across the palate with glorious flavors of pineapple, fleshy sweet star fruit and lemon and lime citrus accents.  The precise level of acidity pulls everything together in perfect harmony.  An elegant and refreshing wine with a memorable aftertaste.   SRP:  $16.42

Food and Wine Pairing

One of the unique features of this competition is the wine and food pairing that happens on the first day.  Wines, paired with sweet and savory dishes are judged on how the pairing works together.  This segment of the competition always stirs invigorating discussion.  What more fun can one have than pairing fabulous food (prepared by culinary experts at DMACC) with well-crafted wine that enhances the enjoyment of both the wine and the food?   Here are a few of my favorite pairings:

Beans Creek Winery (Manchester, Tennessee) 2008 Chambourcin Reserve paired with a Grilled Hamburger:  The fruity blackberry, raspberry, and earthy Chambourcin elements paired deliciously with the grilled hamburger.  The fat and savory qualities in the meat harmonized with the concentrated, spicy, dark fruit focused wine.  This well balanced, medium bodied Chambourcin showcased a pretty tartness that offset the richness of the meat.

Covered Bridges Winery (Winterset, Iowa) 2011 Rattlesnake Red paired with Smoked Pork Ribs:  The wafting aromas of the smoked ribs begged for a big red wine, and this powerfully built red, a blend of Marechal Foch, Frontenac, Geneva Red and Seyval really fit the bill.   This combination met an important rule for food and wine pairing; match the intensity of the food flavors to the intensity of the wine.   This delicious and immensely flavorful wine with plenty of body held up perfectly to the full, intense flavors of the smoked ribs.   Smoked meats can sometimes overpower wine, but clearly not the case here, this was a pairing that really excited the palate.

Eagles Landing (Marquette, Iowa) NV Serenity:  A dessert wine brimming with flavors of fresh raspberries, berry jam and chocolate undertones was a bright and lively pairing with the chocolaty, melt in your mouth brownie.  The wine’s focused fruit at the core and notable level of acidity was a perfect accompaniment to the rich, dense brownie.  A chocolate lover’s dream!

Wine regions in Mid-America have made great strides in grape growing, vineyard practices and winemaking over the past several years.  Why not give it a whirl; you’ll surely find a few gems that will wow your palate, too.

Michigan? YES, Michigan!

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Michigan may not be the first place that pops into your head when wine comes to mind, but it ought to be on your list of wine trail to explore. According to the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council ( there are 73 wineries producing more than a million gallons of wine annually in this cold climate wine mecca from Vinifera, Hybrid and Native American grapes. This is significant growth, up from just 10 wineries in 1980 and 42 wineries in 2005. Most of the grapes are grown within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. In 2009, Michigan wines won coveted Gold medals at thirteen highly acclaimed wine competitions around the country. Among the top grape varieties grown in Michigan are Riesling, Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc.  It was here I actually discovered one of the best examples of Pinot Gris I have ever tasted; yes that’s right, made in northwestern Michigan. Earlier this month at the 2010 Michigan Wine Competition it scored a Gold Medal and Best of Class award.  Read on about this well made wine and my other favorites:

Black Star Farms 2009 Arcturos Pinot Gris: Gorgeous floral aromas waft from the glass and lead to crisp apple and summer melon flavors with a touch of fresh herbs blossoming on the palate. This 100% Pinot Gris from the 7 Hills Vineyard (Old Mission Peninsula appellation) showcases beautiful purity of fruit with brisk acidity balancing the juicy fruit. Gold Medal and Best of Class, Dry White category.

Black Star Farms 2009 Arcturos Riesling: Another Gold Medal and Best of Class award for Black Star Farms, this time in the Semi-Dry White wine category.  This Riesling opens with delightful aromas of citrus and a fragrant bouquet of spring flowers and stays focused on the palate with succulent white peach and nectarine flavors wrapped around a firm core of acidity; a nice touch of minerality adds complexity.

Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery captured Gold and Best of Class in the Rose category for their 2009 Blanc de Pinot Noir. The beauty of this mouthwatering Rose begins with the brilliant rosey pink hue, and it bursts open with fresh strawberry and red raspberry flavors weaving harmoniously on the palate; well balanced with the perfect touch of sweetness. Think biting into a fresh picked sun ripened strawberry; juicy and lifted on the palate, balanced and refreshing with a good level of acidity.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc, Erica Vineyard: From the Old Mission Peninsula AVA, this stunning Cab Franc is a fine example of how well Cab Franc can be crafted in Michigan (it’s one of my favorite red varieties here). Earthy wild berry and dark cherry aromas fill the nose and expand on the palate with tantalizing layers of bittersweet chocolate, freshly ground spices, a touch of tobacco and subtle oak notes – full and complex with a long, lingering finish. GOLD medal and Best of Class, Dry Red category.

Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery Franc N Cherry: If fruit is your panacea you’ve got to add this to your list of must try libations. It really takes your taste buds for a ride with the tangy cherry flavors. Crafted from Cabernet Franc and Cherry; this lively juicy wine is playful (its frolicsome label gives you a first hint of that), but also has a bit of underlying serious earthy notes. Imagine biting into a freshly baked sour cherry pie followed by a walk in the forest. Gold Medal and Best of Class, Fruit Wine Category.

Cherry Creek Cellars took home a Double Gold in the Semi-Dry Red category for the 2008 Raceway Red. A juicy blend of Cab Franc, Chambourcin and Chancellor, this nicely made wine really sings. Forward cherry and spice aromas open the door to the purity of fresh berry and cherry flavors that shine brightly on the palate. Its sweetness is obvious but not over the top, and the soft, round mouth feel is offset with enough acidity to keep it vibrant and balanced.

Burgdorf’s Winery 2007 Morado: Crafted from the Native American Concord grape (Vitis Labrusca), this Gold Medal winning wine is vibrant from the welcoming brimming with fruit aromas to the pure juicy fruit at the core.  The essence of Concord comes alive.  Those that steer away from dry or tannic wines will find a joyful palate pleaser with this true to its varietal roots Concord wine.

Tabor Hill Cab Franc Port took home the Gold in the Fortified Grape category.  Inviting aromas of dark berry a hint of nuttiness rise from the glass and lead to a viscous mouthful of decadence; tantalizing chocolate covered berries laced with caramel.  Rich, delicious and velvety smooth through the persistent, memorable finish – what a way to cap off a delightful evening!

Don’t miss the boat on Michigan wines. Wine trails abound from the southwestern AVA’s of Lake Michigan Shore and Fenville to the northwestern AVA’s of Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula.  Discover firsthand the purity and crispness of these wines crafted from cold climate grapes, and the passion of the producers behind them.

Shining Stars from Mid-America

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The 2010 Mid-American Wine Competition at the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Iowa this month provided a joyful journey off the beaten wine path.  From native American and hybrid grapes that some consumers may have never heard of, winemakers are crafting wines that range from intriguing and pleasantly quaffable to downright lovely.  Wines for this competition must come solely from producers in Mid-American states including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.    Here is a glimpse of some of my favorite award winning wines:

Stone Hill Winery 2009 Vignoles; Branson, Missouri:  Awarded Best White Wine of the competition, this elegant Vignoles showcases tantalizing fruity aromas leading to a lush mouthful of fresh pineapple and pear flavors that enliven the palate.  The vibrant acidity complements the generous fruit beautifully.  This wine is artfully balanced and the lingering finish is lip smackingly delicious!

Beans Creek Winery NV Chardonel; Manchester, Tennessee:   Chardonel is a hybrid cross of chardonnay and seyval.  This tasty example opens with inviting floral aromas captivating the nose, and expands gracefully on the palate with tree ripened apple and pear flavors.  A dash of caramel weaving throughout adds a nice touch of sweetness; an easy to quaff Gold Medal winner.

Wollersheim Winery 2009 Dry Riesling; Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin:  Minerality awakens the senses and broadens on the palate alongside layers of pineapple, crisp pear, crushed stone, a splash of citrus and delicate floral notes.   This lovely Gold Medal winner is a great wine to pair with Sole Piccata or any white fish or shellfish.  

Augusta Winery 2009 Seyval Blanc; Augusta, Missouri:   The fragrant aromas on this Gold awarded wine (a French American hybrid grape) steer the way to a pretty punch of fruit at first sip.  Honeydew and mouthwatering summer melon flavors carry through deliciously on the palate. A light and refreshing pleaser that remains fresh and clean through the finish.

James Arthur Vineyards 2009 Brianna; Raymond, Nebraska:  This Brianna (a winter hardy hybrid) with exotic, foxy aromatics is well worthy of the Gold.  The enticing flavors enthrall the palate with a beautiful expression of tropical fruit accented by a touch of spice.  Focused and lively through the finish, it simply dances on the palate.

James Arthur Vineyards 2009 “2 Brothers” LaCrosse; Raymond, Nebraska:  Lacrosse is a hybrid that also does well in winter climates (a cross between Seyval and another Minnesota hybrid).  This Gold awarded wine is delightfully fruity and lifted on the palate with sweet and tart tones intermingling tastefully from start to finish.  Bright fruit with a hint of citrus, this wine sits pretty on the palate with a smooth texture and pleasing aftertaste.

Summerset Winery NV Frontenac; Indianola, Iowa:  This Gold award winning (a red wine cross of French-American hybrid  Landot 4511 and native American Vitis riparia) captured the Best Dry Red Wine award of the competition. This fine example of Frontenac supports the notion that DRY RED wines can and are being made in Mid-America.   This handsomely structured red wine opens with alluring aromas of black cherries and red berries that expand and blast juicy fruit and spicy flavors splendidly across the palate.  Lively and balanced with a hint of oak on the lingering finish.

Prairie Berry Winery NV Calamity Jane; Hill City, South Dakota:  A Gold Medal winner that claimed the Best Off Dry Red Wine Award is crafted from the Native American Concord grape (a variety of Vitis labrusca).   Inviting fruity aromatics leap from the glass and really grab your attention.  This is a rich, round, juicy example of Concord wine that is zesty and full of liveliness with an impressive purity of fresh grape and berry fruit, and finishes with plenty of length. 

Oliver Winery Harvest Flavors Watermelon; Bloomington, Indiana:  This brilliantly hued mead (honey wine) captured Gold and delighted the judges with its appealing juicy watermelon aromas that stay focused and bright on the palate.  Think of the sweet, fleshy core of a fresh watermelon.    This wine joyfully screams summertime; I can picture it in the rainy winter months when I’m yearning for a taste of summer.

Prairie Moon Winery 2007 Winter Moon Vidal Blanc Ice Wine; Ames, Iowa:  This beauty took home Gold along with the Dick Peterson Trophy Award.  Intoxicating aromas of fresh sauted apple slices dotted with brown sugar and a drizzle of honey completely captivate the nose.   Powerfully built with decadent layers of baked apples, creamy butter, honey and spice that coat the palate heavenly.  The rich, viscous elixir has just the right touch of acidity to keep it balanced and bright through the memorably finish; wow – a wonderful dessert in a glass!

When your travels take you to the middle of the USA, don’t hesitate to stop and visit these wineries, and discover a number of others that can also be found in the Mid-American states; I think you will be delightfully surprised.