Cabernet Sauvginon

Beyond Bourbon: A Kentucky Cabernet

15 January 2014

Capital CellarsIt takes a little doing to find local wine in the heart of bourbon country. I’ve been visiting Louisville and the surrounding area annually for the last seven or eight years, and though I’ve toured a number of distilleries, I only just recently tasted my first Kentucky wine. It took a visit to the pretty state capital, Frankfort, to finally find some.

Wineries in Kentucky have a tough uphill battle to fight, and not just because of bourbon’s overwhelming firepower. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, in Kentucky, “Winter freeze may only be a marginal issue, but the hot, humid summers have so far proved discouraging to efforts with vinifera vines.” Vinifera vines include varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot — really any grape of world-class quality, with the exception of Norton and perhaps one or two others. If you can’t successfully grow vinifera varieties, your winery is unlikely to make much of a splash.

Nowadays, it seems some Kentucky wineries have overcome the sultry summers and are indeed growing vinifera grapes of real quality. Capital Cellars, a shop across the street from Kentucky’s old capitol building, stocks an impressive array of local wines, including many made from tried-and-true grape varieties. The service at this shop isn’t great — I had a great deal of trouble getting the attention of the staff, and when I finally did, the first person I spoke with knew next to nothing about Kentucky wine. I was also disappointed to discover that Capital Cellars’ small wine bar served no Kentucky wines by the glass. Nevertheless, I recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, if only to take advantage of the breadth of Capital Cellars’ selection.

MillaNova Cabernet Sauvignon ReserveOne of the wines which caught my attention was the NV MillaNova Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, clearly labeled as “A Kentucky Cabernet Sauvignon.” (I had no interest in buying a wine made from out-of-state fruit.) Set just south of Louisville on 22 acres near Mt. Washington, the winery produces 18 different wines, some of which with dubious names like “Chardonberry.” But there is no denying the high quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

One of my tasting partners for the evening took a sip and remarked, “It’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” and indeed it was. A dark, opaque red, the MillaNova Cabernet had a rich aroma of jammy fruit and chocolate. I was impressed by the clear, bell-like fruit, redolent of plums. Aged in French and American oak for 18 months, the wine felt full-bodied and well-balanced, with big, bold acids, some white-pepper spice and a smoothly tannic finish. I must admit I felt nervous buying a Kentucky Cabernet for $25, but the MillaNova unquestionably lived up to its price tag.

If you find yourself in Kentucky, there’s no need to limit yourself to just the local spirits. As the MillaNova Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve illustrates, the state is capable of producing perfectly delicious wines as well.

The Curse Of The Autograph

24 March 2012

I routinely fail to take my own advice, and despite my previous exhortations, I still have a number of ancient, moldering bottles of wine and spirits crying out to be drunk. At this point, some bottles have been kept so long, it seems almost inconceivable to actually open them.

In a rare moment of willpower, I overcame my wine hoarding tendencies and brought a 2001 Guy Buffet Cabernet Sauvignon home to drink with my parents. I’d been holding on to this bottle since May of 2004, subjecting it to numerous non-air-conditioned summers. I know the exact month and year of purchase because this bottle was signed by Guy Buffet himself. Hence my inability to open the damn thing until now.

Signed bottles may be charming — even meaningful — but they are a curse as far as I’m concerned. In this case, I didn’t even know Mr. Buffet. He signed the bottle to me, but his message of “Cheers” held little significance. Even so, this signature, a mere scribble with a gold marker, prevented me from opening the bottle. My heavens, what if the bottle was worth something? What if someone out there was dying to get their hands on a poorly stored bottle of Cabernet that said, “To Rob, Cheers, Guy Buffet”? How could I possibly consider opening it and enjoying it? (more…)

A Winning Cabernet From Cheese Country

23 November 2011

Edie explains the bottling machine


Returning to Chicago from a stay in Door County, Wisconsin, my husband and I decided to stop for a couple of nights in Algoma. This lakeside town may not exactly be synonymous with wine, but since activity options are relatively limited, we took a tour of the historic Von Stiehl Winery.

Built in the center of town in 1868 as a brewery, the winery’s main building features an attractive tasting room and atmospheric aging cellars. We ended up enjoying a private tour of the facility with Edie, a memorable guide who used to perform from time to time on Hee Haw.

Back in the tasting room, we selected a range of mostly dry wines to sample. As we tasted, we looked at each other, perplexed, trying to understand the unusual journey of the wines. “Ah,” my husband exclaimed, “the wines come to a point at the end.” He was exactly right — rather than expanding at the rear palate, several of these wines tightened up and focused. Fascinating!

We expressed our thoughts to Edie, who politely nodded in agreement. Noting we hadn’t selected any of the sweeter wines to taste, she insisted we try a little of this and a little of that, and before we knew it, we were stumbling to the cashier with a few bottles of Lakeshore Fumé. I also had the good sense to buy a bottle of the non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, made from “California and Washington State’s finest fruits.” That was in 2008, and the bottle has mouldered on my wine rack ever since.

I decided it was high time to open this buckaroo. While making my first-ever batch of homemade tagliatelle, I took  a wine break and poured a glass, expecting something drinkable (perhaps) but past its prime.


(Purple) Porcine Pleasures

19 May 2011

I almost never dine near North Michigan Avenue, that famed Chicago strip so favored by deep dish-seeking tourists and overpriced restaurants. It was therefore with some skepticism that I approached The Purple Pig, a relatively new Spanish/Mediterranean hot spot set right in the heart of the beast: 500 North. But I wanted something a little fancy for my birthday, and I’d heard from a very trusted palate that it was “terrific.” And, well, it was.

Always thinking of my readers, I took copious notes about the experience (though it must be said their legibility and coherence deteriorated with distressing rapidity).