I like wine. Iowa has some. I plan to drink it. Not all at once.

Review: Cedar Ridge Vineyards LaCrosse

In case you’re not familiar, Cedar Ridge is the hometown favorite. What started as a backroom operation in downtown Cedar Rapids has turned into a local booze-based empire. I had a chance back in July to tour their picturesque farm and facility about 20 minutes south in Shueyville, and the place is a local treasure.

That being said, if their wine sucks, I’ll say so. Thankfully, that’s not the case, at least not with the LaCrosse.

Alright Jimmy Wales, tell me about the La Crosse grape.

It produces grapes suitable for making fruity white wines similar to Riesling or as a base for blended wines. The grapes also make a good seeded table grape for eating. It has the benefits of early ripening and when hardened properly in the fall it is winter hardy to at least -25° F. As such it best suited to growing in more northern climates.

So if this were Game of Thrones, this grape would be growing in the gardens at Winterfell. Can’t think of a better grape for Iowa. 

Cedar Ridge says this wine is …

Our “off dry” white wine made from estate grown LaCrosse, a portion of which is always barrel-fermented.  This is our winemaker’s favorite, with an aromatic nose and finishing with subtle lemongrass, apricot and melon notes.

Whatever you say, the important thing is: it works. It works really well. The wiki comparison to Riesling is spot on, as this tastes like my favorite kind of riesling: the sick and twisted kind. I’m not familiar with the term “off dry,” but I have a feeling its the category my favorite kinds of wine belong to. 

Right away, the smells coming off this bottle told me I would love it. When you drink it, it kind of does this weird curve on your tongue. It starts to deliver a tickle of a sweet sensation, which I think is where the apricot and melon comes in. But then it does a wicked fork, which is just awesome. 

My favorite so far.

The Cedar Ridge Vineyards LaCrosse makes kitty feel … oh, she’s already gone.

The Cedar Ridge Vineyards LaCrosse makes kitty feel … oh, she’s already gone.

Review: John Ernest Pinot Noir

I’ve noticed in browsing Iowa wines that there aren’t a whole lot of the more popular grape varietals you see in the liquor store. I’ve been told that, due to Iowa’s soil and climate, a lot of the traditional grape varieties used in wine are difficult to grow, which is why you see more blends or less familiar grapes. This is a subject I’m still learning about, and if anyone could enlighten me further, please do so.

This was why I wanted to check out the John Ernest Pinot Noir; it was a familiar name in unfamiliar territory. But while I’ve had pinots before, I still am a novice in this territory, so I scoped out the Wikipedia page, which says: 

Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions … It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine

So cooler, which is a yes for Iowa, but tough to make into wine. Interesting.

As for the winemaker's website, I noticed it does not have an asterisk, meaning it was either made from out-of-state grapes, or a mixture of local and foreign grapes. So I guess that explains a bit. They call it a dry wine and say that it has … 

A balanced palate of ripe fruit and sweet French oak precede a finish that lingers nicely.  An excellent wine to pair with all types of food.

I would agree with some of that. It is very well-balanced, being clearly on the dry side, but not face-suckingly so. I did not have it with food, but I tend to believe them on the pairing advice because the wine actually made me hungry. It really whet my appetite, and I imagine it would go well with most meats, or anything savory, really.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what more to say about the wine. I get a little hint of the fruit when I smell it, but not so much when drinking. The flavor’s not unpleasant, and actually gets better as the glass goes down (maybe the aforementioned lingering), but overall, it doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out.

I suppose the word I’m searching for is “decent.” This is a decent wine, I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’ll be grabbing it time and time again.

The John Ernest Pinot Noir makes kitty feel … interested.

The John Ernest Pinot Noir makes kitty feel … interested.

Review: Jasper Creek Lucy Lane

I can’t talk about the Jasper Creek Lucy Lane wine without mentioning how much I love the label. I know that’s neither here nor there on the “Is it any good?” question, but so many of the Iowa wine labels are fairly uncreative. Jasper Creek’s minimalist design is more evocative of what I’d expect from a technology company logo. I’m not saying I want to start seeing this on all the bottle’s in the liquor store, just that it’s a nice change of pace. 

I was less excited by the layer of white foam that rose to the top of the glass as I poured it.

Is this normal? I have no idea, but it doesn’t look very appetizing.

The label describes Lucy Lane as a “red table wine” and the website says:

Named after our dog Lucy, this red wine is delectably sweet with a smooth taste and rich Concord flavor. Try with cheesecake. $10

A decade of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches means I’m no stranger to concord grapes, but Wikipedia says:

The grape is sometimes used to make wine, particularly kosher wine, though it is not generally favored for that purpose due to the strong “foxy” (sometimes described as candied-strawberry/musky) flavor. Traditionally, most commercially produced Concord wines have been finished sweet, but dry versions are possible if adequate fruit ripeness is achieved.

I smelled them pretty much instantly after uncorking. The aroma was pretty strong, and made me a little nervous. As previously mentioned, I’m not the biggest fan of super-sweet things, but I was worried that I had just gotten some jam in a glass. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find an extremely well-balanced red wine. The sweetness is definitely there, and no one would begin to call this “dry,” but there’s also a tartness I like a lot. It’s a lot like eating an actual grape, an experience I very rarely get in my very limited time drinking wine. I didn’t get any of the “foxyness,” Wikipedia mentions, but not having experienced that before, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be looking for here.

It felt good — light, fresh and crisp — an association I almost always make with white wines. I expected a roller coaster, and I got a water slide, which is much nicer on an October day in Iowa when it is inexplicably in the upper 70s outside for some reason.

I’m only two wines in, but I really like this one. I’ll definitely be coming back for more.

The Jasper Creek Lucy Lane makes kitty feel … more interested in the camera.

The Jasper Creek Lucy Lane makes kitty feel … more interested in the camera.

Review: Canoe Creek Chambourcin

This is the first of my Iowa wine reviews, not counting photo evidence of how it makes me or my kitty feel. It’s an auspicious occasion, but I’m afraid I must mar it by demonstrating just how much of an amateur I am, and how unqualified I am to the task of evaluating Iowa’s wines.

I have no idea what a Chambourcin is.

Never mind that, these situations are what Wikipedia was made for.

The grape produces a deep-colored wine with a full aromatic flavor, and no unpleasant hybrid flavors. It can be made into a dry style or one with a moderate residual sugar level, giving it a pleasant but not overbearing sweetness. Chambourcin wines are often served with dark chocolate (or desserts made from the chocolate), as the flavors of the wine and chocolate intermingle exceptionally well.

Okay, it’s a kind of grape, got it. The label says something similar.

An off dry red with a very bold berry flavor. This wine has won two major awards.

Already, well let’s tip up.

HOW DOES IT TASTE?

… good!

IS THAT IT?

I’m still hesitant about going into great detail of my impressions. There’s a definite vocabulary that people who write about wine use, and I know none of it. Nothing to do but just write about what I taste.

This was a bit of a chameleon for me in that it smelled like it was going to be drier than it turned out to be. Very savory in the nose, but when I actually drank it, there was a strong, sweet berry flavor, like sweeter strawberries or blackberries. I should have known that as the wine itself is sort of a cloudy purple. I don’t know if that means anything, I just tend to associate that with sweet.

This was something I was a little worried about when I saw the name “wildberry” in the winery name, as I’m not a fan of super sweet wines. And although they do have a number of fruit wines in their lineup, this one actually does a good job of keeping the berry taste in check. I wouldn’t call it subtle, but I wouldn’t call it pronounced either. It’s right in the middle, which is a good place to be, in my book.

It helps that, after I swallowed, the aftertaste was much more dry than the initial impression. It keeps that berry flavor from lingering in your mouth and giving you sugar cravings. So it’s got something for everyone; a nice middle-of-the-road wine.

BUY THIS WINE IF …

You’re hosting an inter-faith religious gathering and you’re reasonably sure none of the assembled faiths have issues with alcohol consumption. But get some kool-aid too just in case.

The Winneshiek Wildberry Winery Canoe Creek Chambourcin makes kitty feel … suspicious.

The Winneshiek Wildberry Winery Canoe Creek Chambourcin makes kitty feel … suspicious.

The Winneshiek Wildberry Winery Canoe Creek Chambourcin makes me feel … pensive.

The Winneshiek Wildberry Winery Canoe Creek Chambourcin makes me feel … pensive.

The first cohort. Expect to start seeing posts about these wines later this week.

The first cohort. Expect to start seeing posts about these wines later this week.

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