The Cincinnati International Wine Festival is upon us for the 23rd year! This Friday and Saturday, the grand tasting will be held at the convention center in downtown Cincinnati.
I will be posting as early as I can on Friday afternoon the highlights from the afternoon tasting, especially the surprises that I find. Every year my goal is to find something unexpected, unusual, or interesting. With 133 booths and a few hundred wines, I have never failed in this goal.
Tickets are still available for both Friday and Saturday nights and the list of wines seems both extensive and exciting. While it always nice to see a few favorite importers like Terry Theise(booth 11), Vintner Select(booth 14), Cutting Edge Selections(booth 32 thru 34) and many wineries from years past, for different reasons: Charles Smith/K Vinters (booth 4) from my wine bloggers conference in Walla Walla), Cline Cellars(booth 51) my first wine club, Henke Winery (booth 125) for teaching me that Norton can have a level of depth and quality, Veleta Wines (booth 56) for helping me learn that the story behind the wine helps to explain the taste, JAQK Cellars (booth 98) for beign able to highlight how different approaches to the a grape can have a very different taste in the bottle, and there is also a place for Bully Hill (booth 39) which was my first every winery experience in the Finger Lakes. I think that is some of the power of the taste of wine is that is can transport us back to a different time and place where we first got caught up in trying to learn as much as we could.
I’m also excited to try a few new things this year, a 2011 Chilean Pedro Ximenez (booth 2), Sivas Sonoma (booth 21) a new winery for me, the Italian selections from Dalla Terra (booth 48), hoping there might be a bottle of Pinot Meunier somewhere at a booth.
Beyond just my excitement, we always like to publish a few ways to get the most out of the overall experience. Here is our annual post of tips and tricks compiled from our and other blogger’s experiences on how to best survive this festival:
Please realize that these tips are geared for people who are heading to the Festival to try new wines, learn new things, and not get generally hammered. If insanely drunk is your goal, well … get a cab and/or a hotel.
So in no particular order, here are our tips for surviving a festival with hundreds of wines and even more people:
Looking for something to do this Saturday night in the greater Cincinnati Area? Why not come down to the Purple People Bridge on the Newport, KY side and come to the Wine Over Water wine tasting on the bridge with Hors D’oeuvres and live music. Wineries include: Stonebrook Winery, Horseshoe Bend Winery, Redman’s Farm Winery, Smith-Berry Winery, and Little KY River Winery. See ya down there!
Once you have mastered surviving a festival, you can start to apply a few other techniques on navigating the amazing number of options you have. Here are a few different ways that I have approached large tasting events:
This is the basic system of picking an end and working your way around stopping at each booth along the way fully tasting options that appeal to you. The advantages are very little up front planning and it gives a large amount of time to socialize with your group. It does require you to switch from sweet to dry at every table and I remember the time I tried a heavy desert wine and stained the glass for the rest of the evening.
The two variations of this are stop at the shortest line or stop at the largest line. By stopping at a short line, you can get a little more personalized attention from whomever is working the booth. When this is a winemaker, winery rep, or distributor they can be very knowledgeable about what you are tasting. The additional information can give a better appreciation of the style and help to improve your overall knowledge. The long line theory is that this many people cannot be wrong. It’s a gamble that the wait will be worth it when you get to the front. Usually this line will make it more difficult to engage in conversation and learn about the wines.
This requires a glance through the program to see if there are any varietals or wineries that you have been wanting to try, but have not had the opportunity. It could be a desire to try something else from a place you have heard about, like Canadian Ice Wine (Booth 89), a new varietal like Blaufraenkisch (Booth 93), or a producer like Orin Swift (Booth 22). These are only a few examples. You could also visit local winery booths (along the left wall this year).
This is an additional layer of planning, but can be worth it. The goal of this is to try all wines of a certain type or color before moving on. Only whites, then rose, finishing with reds. This really helps when you like certain varietals or want to be able to compare the same type of wine from different regions and producers. The difficulty is remembering any place you want to return to on the next round.
The main goal of the wine festival is to have fun and enjoy yourself and the company you are with. These are a few suggestions on how to make the most of your time in the convention center this year. Anyone have other approaches? Did I miss an obvious way to navigate the large amount of choice? This year, I’m excited to revisit Pinot Meunier (Booth 116). This is the third grape used in most Champagne along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
This Saturday I decided to go the Ohio River Valley 6th Annual Barrel Tasting. First off it was a beautiful day and what a lovely drive. Since I live in Northern Kentucky, I decided to go to Harmony Hill Vineyards in Bethel, then to the Ripley to Miranda-Nixon Winery and then end at Kinkead Ridge Winery.
Disclaimer: When sampling wines that are still aging in the barrel are not complete or finished products. So when tasting them you can taste the potential of what they will be. All of the wines I will will be talking about came straight from the aging barrels.
My first stop was Harmony Hill Vineyards. As we drove back to the tasting room and the barrel tasting all we could think of was how beautiful and quaint it was. Harmony Hill is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and everywhere you look there are donkeys, fawns, birds, and many other wildlife. The Barrel tasting was held in the underground wine cave. We tried 2 wines a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chambourcin. The Sauvignon Blanc was good you could tell when it’s done aging it would be a crisp medium bodied wine. The Chambourcin was decent, but when you tried the finished product in their tasting room it was yummy. A great bold red wine with tastes of oak, currant, and pepper. My suggestion if you go to Harmony Hills go during their summer months, pack a picnic basket and buy a bottle of wine and listen to the live music. Its a whole entertainment experience.
Second was Miranda-Nixon Winery, this place was beautiful too! Not only can you see the acres of vineyards its next door to a horse farm. We sampled 3 wines from the barrel a Chardonnay, a Sangiovese, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay was amazing and it will be even more amazing once its finished aging. The Sangiovese was young of course but you could tell it had great potential when finished aging. I liked the Cabernet but I really thought the other 2 had more potential. There tasting room overlooks the hills of the vineyards and the horses on the farm. We tasted some of the wines in the tasting room and I fell in love with 3 of their wines. The 2010 Traminette (a crisp white wine that has a hint of sweetness), 2010 Catawba (a blush wine with hints of citrus and sweet), and the American Cabernet Sauvignon (a balanced cab with hints of berry flavors with a semi-dry finish). My suggestion go to their Saturday night tasting dinners $55 per couple accompanied with a bottle of wine with your choice of Salmon or Steak.
Now I have saved the best for last! My favorite Winery was the Kinkead Ridge Winery, they have their wines mastered. These wines will stand the challenge against of any wines anywhere. We first tasted wines as the finished product and then we tasted them out of the barrel. The first wine we tried was their Cabernet Franc and I all ready knew I wanted to buy a bottle. We tried 4 wines from the barrel and all of them were showing strong characteristics of big red wines. We started off with the Cabernet Franc which all ready had some tanins, a hint of cherry, and a little spice aftertaste. This was by far my favorite out of the barrels. I then tried the Cabernet Sauvignon which was on its way to be a full-bodied tanic cab. It was of course still in its young stage but it sure showed potential. Next we moved onto the Syrah which was a little more fruitier tasting or lighter tasting than I would expect from a Syrah. I’m sure after it’s fully aged and bottled the wine will be great after a few years of aging in the bottle. The last barrel tasting was a Petit Verdot this was also showing strong tannins and a spicy aftertaste. This will be the wine to buy when it gets released next year. Trust me when all of the wines get released next year, I’m going to be the first in line to purchase them.
] Pictured: I’m with the winemaker of Kinkead Ridge Winery, Ron Barrett, I bought the last bottle of Viognier/Roussanne which he autographed for my collection. Here it is on their website.
Cheers and remember support all your local vineyards/wineries. You’d be surprised what’s in your own backyard.
Summer is finally here … maybe. It’s May, right? Time for flowers and maybe, just maybe, hints of sunshine.
The most fun winery in Southern Ohio is kicking off it’s summer festivities this Saturday and you should join them. If it wasn’t for my enduring love of the Kentucky Derby, I’d certainly be at Harmony Hill.
This Saturday, May 7 from noon-8 pm, ‘The Hill’ will rock, as has come to be expected. We will release all of our five previously sold out award winning wines. We will have continuous entertainment all day. We have scheduled our Kick-off in conjunction with BAMfest, Bethel’s annual art and music festival in the heart of The Village. I can think of no better time to ‘Head East’ and see what this quiet farming village has to offer. We will kick off this 2011 summer in style. Our newly revamped website will answer any questions you might have about the upcoming festivities.
So there you go. Head on out to Harmony Hill this weekend for great music, great wine, and hopefully (fingers crossed), great weather. Perhaps if we start acting like it’s summer, the weather will catch up.
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