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Sep 16

WBW #61: At the Source: Elk Creek Vineyards

Every month, wine bloggers the globe over participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday, where we all write to a specific theme. This month, our assignment is to go drink local, but to do it at the local winery, talk to the winemaker, and just get to know the place. Wine always tastes better "at the source."

This ended up presenting an interesting conundrum for me. I wanted to branch out and visit a Kentucky winery instead of an Ohio one. The nice folks at Elk Creek in Owenton invited me down for a tour and tasting (and even threw in Temptations tickets). So two weeks ago, I went to the winery, had a great time, and came home and whipped up this post (which has been patiently in my queue, waiting for WBW). Now for the conundrum: a few days after my visit, Elk Creek reached out to me for social media marketing. Effective today, Elk Creek is a client. I made the decision to go ahead and publish this post because it was written early, but I wanted to make my new relationship with the winery clear as well.

Now that we've got that out of the way …

I'd never been to Elk Creek, and I was surprised to find out it's only an hour from Cincinnati. In fact, it's only an hour from Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington, and it sits halfway between I-71 and I-75. To get there I took the scenic route from I-75, which had a lot of twisty-turny roads. I came home the highway, on I-71, which took about 15 minutes longer but was much more my speed.

The Elk Creek campus is lovely. It includes the winery, an outdoor amphitheater where they hold concerts, grape vines (of course), the Elk Creek Hunt Club (clay shooting), and a bed & breakfast with a small spa. Inside the winery building is an art gallery and a deli.


Vineyard and Lodge

While I got a great tour of the winery (they make over 220,000 bottles), what I really want to tell you about is the wines. They offer a lot of varieties, running the gamut from the popular and best-selling sweet wines to dryer wines.

Joe Hall took me through the winery and chose wines he thought I might enjoy. I'm not sure what Joe's position is at the winery, but he definitely has a handle on the production process as well as on what makes each wine unique. Joe also has his own watercolors on display in the art gallery!

Elk Creek grows some of their own grapes (about 45 tons), but they also bring in a lot of grapes for their wines. They source their grapes from farmers throughout Kentucky and occasionally bring in grapes from California and Oregon. Their current estate (grown on property) wines are a Chambourcin, a Chardonelle, and a Cabernet Franc.


Estate grown grapes

I tasted a fair number of wines, although not as many sweet wines as they offer. Not surprisingly, the sweeter wines, both white and red, are their best sellers. Here's is a quick run-down of the notes I scribbled:

2006 "Kentucky Blue" Vidal Blanc ($9.99/bottle): I tend to enjoy Vidal grapes, and this one was not too sweet, very light and tart. 

2007 Chardonnay (14.99/bottle): I was told that this particular Chardonnay is similar to their special edition bottlings for their US Open Chardonnay and the Ghostly White Chardonnay for this year's Halloween wine.  This vintage of the Chardonnay was oak-free. Despite my overall dislike of Chardonnay, this may have been my favorite of what I tasted.

2006 Kentucky Blue Riesling ($14.99/bottle): Light and sweet with apples and peaches. I have girlfriends who would love this wine. 

2006 Crazy Elk Blush ($9.99/bottle): I noticed at the Temptations concert that this was a pretty popular wine. It's not my thing though. The notes read that it's got a hint of strawberries – I'd say it was more than a hint. It's also really similar to a White Zin style, which explains both its popularity and why I didn't really care for it.

2006 Sweet Owen Red ($12.99/bottle): When I tried this the first time, I didn't really like it. It's a Norton, which is perhaps my least favorite grape on the face of the planet. Again, this is one of their top selling wines because it's a sweet red. However, I tried it again at the concert and this time, it was chilled. While still not my favorite, I thought chilling it showed a marked improvement. 

2007 Estate Chambourcin ($19.99/bottle): These grapes were grown right on property. I'm a big fan of Chambourcin in most cases and this was no exception. It was aged in oak for 1.5 years, but I thought it was well balanced.

2006 Viognier ($19.99/bottle): I wanted to like this one a lot, as I love a good Viognier. This one was too oaky for me, but it was very round, and filled my whole mouth (as it should). But I definitely needed less oak. 

2006 Chardonnay ($17.99/bottle): While I have girlfriends who would love the heavy feel and oak of this Chardonnay, I preferred the "naked" Chardonnay I had earlier. This one was too much for me.

2006 Sangiovese ($24.99/bottle): This is an enjoyable wine, although in the past I've tried what I think was the 2005, and its even better. The 2006  is a soft summer red, fairly dry. Apparently it pairs well with Italian (which makes sense) but I'll need to try it out. 

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99/bottle): This wine is supposed to be similar to the US Open and Halloween Bone-Dry Red limited edition bottlings. The Cabernet is a bright young wine, a bit tangy, and would probably do well to be saved for about a year.

2007 Estate Cabernet Franc ($34.99/bottle): This is a really good wine. Is it a $34.99 wine? I don't know. I understand the price point based on the work that goes into an estate wine, but I tend to get extra picky when the price crosses $25. That said, it's a soft Cab Franc and my exact notes are "not a lot of pepper, really enjoyable," which is saying something. I usually can't stand Cabernet Franc. 

If you live nearby (as in Louisville, Lexington, or Cincinnati), Elk Creek is certainly worth the hour drive. The people are incredibly nice, the wines are good (and in many cases local), and there's a lot to do. The view from their patio is gorgeous. It's a perfect excursion for a nice autumn day.


Elk Creek at Sunset

View all my photos from Elk Creek.

My big thanks to my friend Lenn at the newly renamed New York Cork Report for hosting this month's edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday.

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Posted by Michelle at 11:15 am in Local, Local Wineries, WBW, Wineries | Permalink | Comments ()
Aug 12

WBW #60: Zin with a Cincinnati Twist

Once every month, wine bloggers the world over drink wine with a common theme. This month is the 5-year anniversary of Wine Blogging Wednesday (originally started by my friend Lenn at Lenn Devours) and the willing host was Megan of Wannabe Wino. Megan asked us all to enjoy a nice Zinfandel with a meal cooked on the grill. Kevin and I took one look at our in-house Zinfandel choices and knew we just had to celebrate this WBW with a Cincinnati twist.

The meal: Pork (since Cincinnati is famous for, um, flying pigs) with a baked potato. The pork was marinated in Barleycorn's BBQ sauce, made right down the road in Cold Spring, KY.

The wine: 2006 Zincinnati Zinfandel, Mendocino, CA

What? A Cincinnati Zinfandel? You bet your flying pigs! A local distributor, Tramonte & Sons, got together with Rich Parducci, the wonderful winemaker at McNab Ridge. Together they created the limited edition Zincinnati Zin. In fact, the 2007 vintage was just released this month.

McNab Ridge is a fantastic winery out in Mendocino that participates in the Coro line of zinfandels. We had the opportunity to meet Rich and try several of his wines, including the Coro, back in March at the now-defunct Oceanaire. Rich makes some excellent wines, so it came as no surprise that the 2006 vintage of the Zincinnati struck just the right chord.

On its own (and admittedly a bit too warm), the wine was a little acidic. Cooled down to the correct temperature, we picked up a nice structure. On the nose, we got a lot of black raspberry and some chocolate. Dare I say it was as fragrant as Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip?  On the palate, we easily picked up more black cherries, as well as some nice earthiness. (I love to taste some earth in my wines.)  Finally, the wine has a supple and long finish, lingering in your mouth. I want to point out that this wine comes in at 14.8% alcohol. I'm usually sensitive to higher alcohol wines, but this one was balanced enough that I wasn't bothered by the alcohol content.

When we paired it with the marinated pork, we were pleasantly surprised. It was an excellent pairing. We had picked Barleycorn's sauce over the Montgomery Inn sauce because Kevin isn't a big fan of the Montgomery Inn sweetness. Turns out, Barleycorn's sauce is almost as sweet. This actually worked in our favor. The sweetness in the sauce brought about a softness in the wine. It wasn't overly tannic anyway, but the sauce seemed to soften it even more. For its part, the wine seemed to bring out a bit of spice in the sauce that might otherwise have been overwhelmed by the sweetness. Note to all local BBQ restaurants: put some Zincinnati on your menu!

The 2006 vintage is no longer available, but I know you can find the most recent vintage at the Dilly Deli & Cafe in Mariemont for $16.99.

Overall, this was a great pairing and a great theme. Our rating, for both the meal and the wine, is a

. Thanks to Megan for hosting and happy birthday WBW!

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Posted by Michelle at 7:00 am in Cincinnati, Tastings, WBW | Permalink | Comments (2)
Jun 10

WBW #58: Dean Martin and the Drink n Stick Syrah

This month's Wine Blogging Wednesday snuck up on me. I've been so wrapped up in work, travel, and family issues that it was just suddenly here. Thank goodness I was ready.

The theme, as put forth by Katie at the Gonzo Gastronomy blog, is pairing music with wine. Now, she specifically requested no Michael Buble, but here's the thing – I was a swing dancer for years and I'm still a ballroom dancer, with a love of foxtrot and quickstep. My ear is a distinctly retro ear, and my favorite music – the music that puts me in the mood for wine or sometimes a martini – tends to be somehow tethered to the Rat Pack.


I've always thought I was born in the wrong decade. 40 years earlier and I could have grown up listening to Frank, Sammy, and Dean while they were alive. I could have danced the Lindy Hop and Jitterbug the first time around, instead of the resurgence. (Although I believe Bob Hope sang that everything "is better the second time around.")

I have a collection of Dean Martin music, and I recently added a new CD, as in NEW – a Dean Martin CD released in the last couple of years. Oh, it has the standard classics on it, but it is beautifully remastered. And there's this black and white photo of Dean on the cover just cracking up laughing … Sigh. I think Dean Martin is dreamy. Of course, I understand he was also a a drunk and a womanizer, which brings me to my wine.

In honor of Dean, and because there's something about this bottle that perfectly (PERFECTLY) fits with the Dean Martin music in the background, I chose the Drink -n- Stick Mataro/Syrah blend from Some Young Punks out of South Australia.

I was distracted for a full hour by just the bottle. If you flip through the Flickr slide show below, you'll see that there is a Bettie Page-esque pin-up girl on the label. There's also a plastic strip that you carefully unwrap to reveal that our Bettie is actually the equivalent of a paper doll. That plastic strip has all sorts clothing on it. I think I tried almost every possible combination on Bettie before settling on a ruffly shirt and crop pants. Ladies, there are even scarves and hair bows.

You know, the bottle appeals to both sexes, as I discovered in the store. Unwrapped, it's a Bettie Page pin-up in retro lingerie. The guys were all excited – it's a pin-up!  The ladies, on the other hand, were enamoured with the paper doll aspect. I mean, when is the last time you played with a paper doll? Like Dean Martin, it's a great trip down memory lane.

What's inside the bottle? It's a blend of 59% Mataro (think Mouvedre) and 41% shiraz. This wine needs to be decanted for a bit first, although we didn't. For future reference, we will. It is, of course, a crazy high-alcohol wine from Down Under at 14.5% AbV. It didn't taste as hot as I was expecting, and it didn't give me the instant headache that some of these Aussie powerhouses do.

The nose was earthy and not very fruity. The wine started out just a mouthful of tart cherries. As it took some time to breathe though (and just interact with the oxygen in general), it changed to more fruit, with earth on the finish.

Sticking with our retro theme, Kevin took a big ol' steak and marinated it in the Drink n Stitch. This was a fantastic idea, by the way. The wine and the steak were a fantastic pair.

For all its big alcohol and big label, it's actually a fairly subtle wine. Maybe that subtlety comes from having Dean Martin in the background. "Everybody loves somebody sometimes …."
Our rating is a but had we decanted, that might be higher.  Hmm … I wonder what it would have tasted like with Bon Jovi in the background. No, that just would have been wrong.

Some Young Punks Drink n Stitch Mataro/Syrah blend. Available at Party Town Turfway for $22.

Our thanks to Katie at Gonzo Gastonomy for hosting this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday edition.

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Posted by Michelle at 11:00 am in Tastings, WBW, Wine Notes | Permalink | Comments (3)
May 13

WBW #57: California Inspiration

Today's Wine Blogging Wednesday is sort of a memorial to Robert Mondavi, who passed away about a year ago. It's hosted by Jeff at The Good Grape, and he asks us to taste a California wine that was part of a memorable chapter in our life, and tell that story.

The easy route for this theme would be to taste a Mondavi wine, but
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Mondavi would have preferred
an air of openness.  No good is accomplished by a singularity of
purpose that acts as an exclusionary barrier for others.

Please go buy or pull from your stash, a bottle of whatever that
California wine was that created a memorable chapter in your life, revisit the
bottle, and share your story.

Well, I am taking the easy route – partly due to lack of time and partly because one of my favorite evenings ever took place at the Mondavi Vineyard summer concert series in 2005, with a lot of Mondavi wine. One wine, in particular, stands out for me.

In July of 2005, we stayed in Santa Rosa, which proved to be the perfect vantage point to
access both Sonoma and Napa, and then enjoy a brewpub or sushi in Santa
Rosa come evening. Because Kevin attended an annual conference in San
Francisco, our trips tended to lead up to, and occasionally cross July
4th. On this particular trip, the Mondavi Summer Concert series was
hosting the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and celebrating July 4th. (2005 Mondavi photos)

On the recommendation of the folks at Domaine Carneros,
we stopped at the Oakville Grocery before the concert. Oakville Grocery
is practically across the street from Mondavi and in the "front yard,"
so to speak, of Opus One. It's surrounded by vines. Inside, it was
crowded with people and Kevin and I split up to pick up specialty
sandwiches, yummy pastries, and cheeses, as well as a bottle or two of
water. It all went into a box, and we wandered into Mondavi.

We
spread our blanket out behind a young family. Turns out these folks
lived there in Napa, which seems positively wonderful to me. What a
great family! We all purchased our various wines in the Mondavi wine
shop and we shared.We talked about the wine and enjoyed the wines with
complete strangers as the uplifting strains of New Orleans jazz floated
over the evening. In the back of the courtyard, tables were set up at
the vineyard edge. Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit, were there. At
times they were up and swing dancing, and looking very much in love. At
the end of the evening, fireworks exploded in the sky, lighting up the
vineyards and the mountains.

It was really one of the most
perfect nights of my life. Vineyards, wine, beauty, music, history, and
good company. I remember one of the wines the young couple shared with us, and I promptly bought two bottles.

Sorry Jeff, it's a Mondavi, but a suitably impressive one to fulfill the WBW qualifications, I hope.

2001 Robert Mondavi Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon, $55 @ winery

This wine was actually made by Robert's son Tim, but it shows that talent runs in the family. I know a lot of my friends associate the Mondavi brand with low-end wine, but the man (and his family) can make some great mid- to high-end bottles, without a doubt. After all, Mondavi was one of the guys behind Opus One.

This particular Cabernet was fruit forward, gravelly and volcanic. It was a bit sulfuric on the nose, but it blew off after a bit. I suspect two things: we should have decanted for a few hours (although we never think that far ahead) and our second bottle of this will age nicely for another couple of years.

Perhaps because I am emotionally attached to this wine, or perhaps I think it was my fault for not decanting in the first place, I still give this wine a .

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Posted by Michelle at 8:56 am in WBW, Wine Notes, Wineries | Permalink | Comments ()
Apr 15

WBW #56: Kosher Wine: Galil Mountain Barbera

So our monthly learning and tasting experience in the wine blogosphere, Wine Blogging Wednesday, occurs during Passover this year. Our host, the Corkdork, suggested that we put aside the Manischewitz bias and find ourselves some good Kosher wine.

I didn't have to go too far this time, as the kind folks at Yarden Wines had recently sent me a few samples. Last night we decided to pop open the Galil Mountain Barbera 2006, from Galilee in Israel.

Before I get to the wine review, however, let me explain a little about what makes a wine kosher. According to the Convenant winery web site, wine is considered a holy beverage in Jewish tradition.

The blessing
over the wine—or Kiddish—is an important part of many religious
ceremonies. For this reason, a kosher wine at its most basic level is
one handled only by strictly Sabbath-observant Jews. In addition,
kosher wine makers are forbidden to use any products, such as
unauthorized yeasts or other potentially non-kosher ingredients that
might fall outside the parameters of kosher convention. Kosher wine
makers can, however, use natural, indigenous yeasts, such as those
favored by many top winema
kers in the U.S. and Europe.

Now, if the wine is to be designated mevushal, it gets a bit more complicated. In Hebrew, mevushel is defined as "boiled." Back to the folks at Covenant for the details:

Mevushal wines are
nonetheless flash-pasteurized to a temperature that meets the
requirements of an overseeing rabbinical authority. The technique does
not necessarily harm the wine. In fact, a few well known non-kosher
wine makers believe it may enhance aromatics.

But that is not
why certain wines are made mevushal. For Jews, the technique simply
alters the spiritual essence of a kosher wine, making it less
susceptible to ritual proscription. That means anyone—whether kosher or
n
ot—can open a bottle of mevushal wine without altering its kosher
status.

So that's a benefit, right? That means that I could pour wine for my observant Jewish relatives without removing the kosher status of the wine. If it's not mevushal, the minute I open the wine (as a non-Jew), it is no longer kosher. The same applies, interestingly, if a non-Sabbath-observant Jew opens the wine – it's not kosher any more.

Between the need for special ingredients, an extra process for creating a mevushal wine, and the need to observe Jewish holidays and the Sabbath, well, making Kosher wine seems exceedingly difficult. No wonder it's hard to find!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Michelle at 11:45 am in Tastings, WBW, Wine Notes | Permalink | Comments (3)

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