Sunday, September 30, 2012

The New Kid on the Block--Twisted Pine, Hill City

Today I spent an absolutely wonderful day in the Black Hills, walking thirteen miles from the Crazy Horse Monument to Hill City, South Dakota on the Mickelson Trail.  This absolutely beautiful walk was made even better when after I finished, I stopped at the newest wine tasting room in the Black Hills.  Twisted Pine Winery, on Main Street in Hill City, is the latest addition to the continuing wine boom in this area (that I love and love to talk about!).

The wines are actually New Mexico wines, produced in that state from grapes there.  If any of you raised your eyebrows at the thought of wine in NM, I found out today that the state actually has the longest history of winemaking in our country.  Franciscan monks brought grapevines and wine making to the area with the Spaniards and starting producing their own vino in 1629.  Today, the New Mexico wine industry is growing fast, helped along with the two lines of wine Twisted Pine now carries in South Dakota:  The Relleno Brothers and Noisy Water Winery.  Mary Jo, the manager at Twisted Pine, has a personal connection with New Mexico--she lived there before migrating to Hill City and her son is associated with the winery.

These wines were quality and unique, showing some of the heat of the New Mexican climate.  Noisy Water produces diverse white wines with everything from a sweet Moscato, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Symphony blend, to a semi-sweet Malvasia Blanc, to a lightly oaked Chardonnay.  For reds, Noisy Water produces a spicy Sangiovese, Primitivo blend, a woody Merlot, and an award winning (from the Finger Lakes Wine Competition, my newest favorite wine region—see my recent blog post) Wine Maker’s Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon.   Relleno Brothers produces a lighter-bodied Cab, Merlot blend called El Cabron Viejo (meaning the “old goat” or “old S.O.B”), a single varietal Hab’s Cab, and a semi-sweet Riesling.  Both lines use some unique grapes, like a Semillon, Sierra Blanca, and Pinot Grigio; again, not grapes you would necessarily associate with the Southwest United States.  The most unique wine we tasted today, however, was actually the Besito Caliento—“Hot Little Kiss”—by the Relleno Brothers, a wine made with green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. After being a bit scared of the (absolutely gorgeous) green color, I tasted my first green chile wine.  It had a hint of the green chiles, yet wasn’t hot or spicy.  Definitely worth a tingle to your palette!  (Side note:  I bought the Wine Maker’s Barrel Select Cab by Noisy Water and the El Cabron Viejo by Relleno Brothers.)

In addition to the wine that impressed me, there were tasty cheeses (also from NM), heavenly olive oils, and scrumptious balsamic vinegars.  The twenty-five year aged balsamic was just as good as the aged balsamic I’ve been going to Colorado to get!  Imagine my pleasure now that I know I can get it just one hour from home. 

I always love to celebrate with a glass of wine, and my celebratory wine today was made even more triumphant since it was at the new kid on the wine block in my “neighborhood.”  I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Twisted Pine tasting room and look forward to going back! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Winey Summer--Finger Lakes Wine

Ahhh…summer--the time when full-time teachers like me are supposed to gallivant around, play non-stop, and do absolutely no work.  However, not all teachers are part-time sommeliers who feel like summer is a time to re-immerse themselves in the wine culture since they have no papers to grade!  That was me this summer.  I mixed family vacation business with the pleasure of wine when my family and I visited the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York.

Several years ago, when I was at events with fellow wine lovers, I began to get many recommendations to visit northern New York.  After some research, I learned that these New York state wine lovers knew what they were talking about, and our two-week family vacation to Pittsford near the Finger Lakes region began to take shape.

The Finger Lakes is a beautiful area of our country growing many vinifera species of grapes commonly thought of only growing in Europe or California.  However, these vinifera grapes’ ability to grow in the United States is actually because of Dr. Konstantin Frank, who grafted historically European grapes onto American root stock in order to survive in the U.S.  Thus began the wine revolution in our country!  Dr. Frank’s winery was a wonderful stop for us with its personalized tastings and wonderful wines.  I even had to join the wine club so I could continue to enjoy these special libations. 

Of the eleven lakes in the area, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Seneca Lake have the majority of the wineries.  The beautiful green hillsides surrounding the picturesque lakes create a wonderful backdrop for some great white wines that thrive in the colder climate, such as the dry Riesling and sparkling wines of Belhurst Winery.  However, don’t believe that this region can’t produce wonderful red wines; in fact, one winery, Shalestone, specializes in reds only.  A stop at the beautiful, iconic Heron Hill Winery (or one of its satellite tasting rooms) is also a must.  However, also producing wines are many small, family owned wineries like Wilhelmus Winery, whose tasting room is actually in the front porch of the family’s home.  Other wineries worth mentioning are scattered around every lake:  Casa Larga Vineyards, Magnus Ridge Winery, Anthony Road, Heart and Hands, and Zugibe. 

I could go on, but the ultimate lesson is this area is more than an up-and-coming wine region; it is a region producing some high quality wines that are worth a taste.  It is also an area worth a visit.  If you can’t visit, the next best action to take is read Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson.  It is a wonderfully written book telling the story of the Finger Lakes and the people who are working to put it, and keep it, on the wine map.  My real advice:  read the book and go to the Finger Lakes!  I know I’m going back…as soon as summer allows me.