Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Indiana Part Three

The last stop of the day proved to be the most picturesque. No surprise then that Mallow Run has a large parking area. Vineyards dominate the landscape until one climbs the few steps to a deck before entering the tasting room. A pleasing vista opens up and is the same view available from the tasting room as well.
The two strangest things about the place became readily apparent but did not spoil our visit. The tasting bar, more than capably run by a lovely young woman, is much too tall and they do not have stools to handle the extra height. I fared okay but my companion was clearly unsettled. Our host explained the bar had been built at a normal height and then they had to add counters to allow glasses to hang underneath. Seems an odd decision but a quirk shouldn't ruin the experience.
Next, it was my turn to be unsettled. Upon asking for a spit bucket I was told she did not have one. A sink on the other side of the bar was not offered nor was a cup of any kind. Perhaps no one spits in Indiana? Surely since September of 2005, when they opened the tating room, one other person asked to expectorate? She accommodated me as best she could but it did not appeal to me or my friend. "Just spit back in the glass and I'll rinse it out." The 2008 Indiana Winery of the Year was off to a questionable start.
The whites did little to allay my concerns. We found them too sweet. The seyval blanc had no grapefruit note, instead featuring a more viscous nature with an arduous balancing act between the sweet overwhelming the tart and vice versa. The impression on the palate was not of a trapeze artist impossibly high in the air coolly and calmly traversing a chasm with dexterity but of a teenager in training to do the same act. The wine was all gawky discomfort, moments of balance followed by wild gesturing from one side trying to cover up a slip on the other.
The traminette, the signature grape of Indiana, is a hybrid relative of gewurztraminer and fared much better in my mouth. I wanted it to have less sugar but found the wine well made with a great unctuous mouthfeel and incredible spicy quality. Not quite pepper and not quite heat, but spicy without a doubt. I began craving Thai food almost immediately and the wine would perform beautifully with spicy seafood to absorb the sweetness of the wine.
We also tried an estate grown chardonel, mistakenly described to me that day by our well-meaning young lady as a cross between syrah and chardonnay. In fact it is a cross of seyval and chardonnay. Too bad, I so wanted to rename it syrahdonnay or chardonn...ah. Nothing wrong with it but it was a bit nondescript.
We moved to reds and found much more success. Marechal foch led off and while my companion found it lackluster, I fell in love. Goldrielsing is one parent but the important message to receive about the grape is its similarity to Beaujolais. Pinot noir comparisons abound as well but I think those are delusions of grandeur. At any rate, this spoke of BBQ and warm days in the sun. Steps to enjoy, 1) buy Marechal foch, 2) chill, 3) swill. Perfect pizza, burger wine too.
Mallow Run's chambourcin displayed plenty of pepper spice notes and a medium body. Tasty, if a bit rough, the spice carried the day and offered complexity where the wine lacked more meaningful depth. I predict Easley's version would win most blind tastings, however.
The chambourcin rose made a delightful finish and they sold us a few bottles of this. At $13 a bottle, this wine offered good value. The nose hinted at sweetness but delivered depth and dryness without being harsh in any way. My mouth enjoyed the texture much more than I thought possible and despite its inelegance it made me happy. Having pink wine available allows an occasional night of pretending the weather is nicer than Indiana winters will ever be. A little glass of summer is something everyone needs now and again.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Indiana Part Two

The spot is unassuming but there is no mistaking its purpose, vines surround the drive to the winery. It makes sense after meeting and tasting with Jeff Durm. Dressed in a sweatshirt and occasionally noshing on a personal pizza, he still commands a presence behind the tasting bar. A retired police officer, he knew what he wanted long before the winery was built. Jeff and his wife, Kelly, planted grapes in 1991 but the winery did not become a reality until 2006. No over-analyzed business plan here, just a desire to make good wine and long history of successes.
A disembodied deer head adorns the labels and did not inspire confidence in the liquid soon to be poured. It also made me realize that their logo includes the phrase, "a fine place for wine" not "a place for fine wine."
Seyval Blanc - All trepidations were quickly laid to rest after tasting the seyval blanc, a hybrid that thrives in cooler climates. Jeff's version displayed a grapefruity nature reminiscent of sauvignon blanc and a touch of weight on the finish reminding me of a dash of chardonnay. Ripe, fresh and with a surprisingly juicy mid-palate, the taste quickly banished any concerns about labeling. Some cayuga is "added for complexity." Produced from estate fruit.
Reserve Chardonnay - Not estate fruit, but Indiana-grown. There was pear and some not too sweet melon on the nose and palate but the most riveting aspect was the freshness. All of the elements of typical chardonnay are present but the palate leaps to life unlike so many of the dull versions available. No chemistry experiment here, no bolts in this wine's neck. I remarked on the acid and assumed no malolactic fermentation had taken place. [Malolactic fermentation is a secondary option that converts tart malic acids -think green apple - to creamy lactic acids - think milk.] Jeff grinned and said he performed 100% malo on the wine. My jaw dropped. The wine reminded me of Chablis in a ripe year, only lacking the minerality that makes Chablis so unique. A good price for a wine of this quality and a pleasant surprise for my jaded palate.
Pinot Noir - This drew me to the place. This is Indiana-grown fruit, specifically the same source as his chardonnay. Yes, you heard me correctly, Indiana estate pinot noir. The color will lack for some, it is nearly transparent, but has a bright red core. Never judge a pinot by its color, they can surprise on the light end of the spectrum and disappoint when inky darkness prevails. Subtlety reigns here, with delicate fruit notes that are a bit overwhelmed by the tannin on the finish. The acidity defines the profile here and the snap of it grabs your attention. This wine wants chicken, fish and goat cheeses. A good wine and a great conversation piece. When was the last time you had an Indiana pinot noir?
Zinfandel - Sourced from Lodi in California, I found this wine a bit hot and more tannic than I wanted. It would work better with food than many syrupy, raisiny efforts on store shelves but lacked pleasure.
Ruby Port - Perhaps the best wine we tasted, if the least eye-opening. I have no idea what goes in this and it doesn't matter. Despite my minor quibble that Port can only come from Portugal, this is a well made wine in that style. I found this very tasty, cherry abounds on the nose and palate and there is a delightful spiciness throughout. Sure it's sweet, it's supposed to be, but the wine shows restraint keeping from being too much of a sugar bomb. The most impressive aspect was the elegance of alcohol. In fortified wines added alcohol does not always integrate well resulting in wines with fruit aromas hidden beneath an umbrella of nostril-flaring alcohol, not so here. Bravo.
I will return to try the chambourcin and cabernet franc, both grown on the estate. The tasting at Buck Creek remains free, be sure to support that effort and purchase if you visit. You'll find something to get excited about, I promise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Indiana Part One

Some travel has distracted me from my duties here. A weekend in Philly for an Eagles game at the Link (kinder, gentler and duller than the Vet) followed by a busy week here and a trip to Anderson, Indiana for some of the most fantastic wacky racing events ever witnessed, explain the long gap even if they don't excuse it.
However, a few days with a friend in Columbus, Indiana afforded me an opportunity to tour a few wineries and taste some of Indiana's vinous offerings. I will present these in a three part series beginning here. We'll start with the least impressive of the trio of visits.
As a prelude/reminder, all fifty states have at least one winery though many of those focus on fruit wines or import their grapes exclusively from the west coast. Those two styles of production do not interest me at all. Instead, I enjoy exploring the places that use some local grapes, be they vinifera (the classic grapes, chardonnay, cabernet, etc.) or hybrids (created from varieties from different species of vines, usually producing hardier plants). There are flaws to many of these latter wines but they display regionality and therefore intrigue me.
Easley Winery has done what they can to beautify their setting in "Downtown Indianapolis." They have a nice deck, hosting concerts from time to time, but we were there on a Monday, so it was relatively quiet. Upon entering, a powerful stench of old wine, bleach and a generally unpleasant funk nearly caused us to turn around and leave. My friend, less charitably but more accurately, described it as "backed-up sewer." It did not add to our experience.
After explaining my desire to taste dry wines from local grapes our host produced a single bottle. Their list of wines shows twenty-five bottlings but even more exist as we tried one off the list.
Chambourcin produces some solid wines and appears to thrive in many areas based on my domestic travels. Lacking a bit of polish but displaying good weight of fruit and mouthfeel make this a grape to watch in the U.S. It's hybrid status is accepted but the specific parents remain mysterious.
Easley's version offered a deep, red color which approached purple at the core. Plenty of dark fruit dominated the nose and the palate with a juicy, appropriately weighty palate-feel. Plums and just barely underripe blackberries came to mind. It was a lovely drink, if a bit rough on the back end. Food would easily mitigate the tannic presence and made this tasty wine a must buy for us that day. $15
I alone risked the taste of the second wine offered, Orchestra Red, which host and wine list admitted belongs in the off-dry category. After jokingly telling the server, "Sure, I'll try it. It can't hurt for too long," I sipped and spit. Too sweet for me with little to recommend it. The tasting ended as they had nothing else but wines produced in Indiana from California grapes and sweet wines. We purchased a bottle and welcomed the fresh outside air.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Luxury Insanity

While the world bogs down in economic malaise and news people try to out Chicken-Little one another all is not lost. The super-rich keep right on keeping on. At least that's what Royal Salute hopes. Twenty-two bottles of a special blend have been created with scotch of at least 45 years age inside. Diamonds proliferate on the bottle and it will only set you back $220,000. You heard that right. It works out to nearly $9,000 an ounce.

If you're buying one, please don't rub it in the face of the help.