Something for Everyone at the Art of Wine & Brew
August 24, 2013, by T.A. Bergin, The Art and Balloon Fest's Art of Wine venue began its second decade by expanding to include beer from two area micro-breweries. And like a good wine, the event is maturing nicely. Over the past 10 years, the quality of both the wineries and the wines has improved; with the addition of craft beer, there's something to please every palate.
Craft beers: Rolling Meadows Brewery, based in Cantrell, Ill., brought all three of their beers: Springfield Wheat, Lincoln’s Lager and Abe’s Brown Ale. All three are excellent examples of their type. The Wheat beer, made in a traditional Hefeweizen style, is well balanced with a clean finish; the Lincolns Lager is a little dark for a lager and quite hoppy. The Brown Ale is very smooth, with pronounced malt and notes of chocolate and coffee.
Springfield’s Obed & Isaacs brought just two of their more popular brews: the Strawberry Blonde Ale and the American Pale Ale. The Strawberry Blonde has a very fruity bouquet, but thankfully has a good ale color, quite a lot of carbonation, and a dry finish. It’s not one of those sickly sweet fruit beers you sometimes find. The Pale Ale is very pleasant in the mouth, smooth in the middle, and finishes with that hoppy bitterness that true ale drinkers find so refreshing.
Wineries: The 2013 winery line-up includes some old favorites and three newcomers that added some real variety. Even with the almost infinite column space of the Herald’s on-line format, it’s just not possible to review all of the 100-plus wines being poured by the eight wineries. I chose to focus on the newcomers, and the basics: dry and off-dry whites and reds.
The first of the new wineries, Lasata from Lawrenceville, is an excellent addition to the Art of Wine. Ten of their 20 wines are in town for tasting. They produce several of the traditional Illinois varietals, and grow 99% of their own grapes. Their Traminette is a little sweet but crisp, a real summer patio wine to enjoy with a fruit and cheese platter. I also liked their Sunset, a sweeter-style Seyval Blanc that is fruity and very smooth. Their two reds, Chambourcin and Cynthiana (aka Norton), were also quite good. Both are made in a lighter style; the Chambourcin is dry and lightly spicey, while the Cynthiana is a semi-dry with light notes of spice and tobacco and a nicely smooth finish. For the sweet wine fans, they also have a Concord, a Moscato-style white, a raspberry-infused white, and a blueberry wine.
Next is Lavender Crest from Colona. Unlike Lasata, they make their 21 wines from grapes or pressed juice that they purchase from other growers, and they brought all 21 wines with them. I had to draw my tasting line at 10 so I can’t speak to all of them, but if you don’t find something here you love, you just aren’t trying. They use traditional varietals like Chardonel, Traminette, Seyval Blanc, Chancellor and Chambourcin, coupled with more mainstream grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Marechel Foch. I love a rich dry red wine, so the Miche Sepi, a Cabernet/Foch blend named for the Mississippi, got a high score. It has a deep, almost smokey, bouquet and is very well balanced. A glass of Miche Sepi and a slab of beef on the grill is really all anyone should ever need. The Red Velvet, another Foch, was excellent, semi-sweet with true Foch grape flavor. The 1836, a Chancellor/Vignoles blend, is a very nice, lighter, Beaujolais-style red that could go with anything. And the Ritt's Reserve--named for the winery's owner--is a classic Chambourcin with a rich golden-orange hue and warm, spicey flavor. And don’t miss the Chocolate Love. I’m not usually a fan of flavored wines, but this dark chocolate-infused Foch is a treat. The bitterness of dark chocolate fuses with the richness of the Foch to make a dessert wine that is still crisp and refreshing.
The last of the newcomers is Wild Blossom Meadery from south Chicago. Mead, an ancient wine made from honey, can be flavored in a variety of ways but really depends on the flavors that come from the flowers the bees make the honey from. I’m not a big fan of mead in general, but I did enjoy the Pom Nector a great deal; the tartness of the pomegranate offsets the sweetness of the honey. Wild Blossom is also pouring their Chicago South Side Pinot Grigio and the aptly named Chicago Bulls Blood, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot that goes from fruity nose to a very dry finish, and just bellows for a big beef roast.
Notable among the Art of Wine regulars are:
Willett’s Winery has a very nice, pleasantly spicey Noiret, and their Traminette continues to be one of the best examples of this crisp, off-dry grape that I’ve found.
Vahling Vinyards’s Cayuga-based White Satin is a good-value dry white that would pair well with seafood.
Hill Prairie Winery also has an excellent Traminette, made in a dryer, more complex style, that would be lovely with something spicey like Thai food, and a spicey, smokey Chambourcin that really showcases this grapes hearty character.
Kickapoo Creek Winery's Misty Creek is another Cayuga wine that is fresh and crisp and would be lovely with cheeses, while their Sun Kiss Seyval Blanc/Vignoles blend is another charming patio wine, a little sweet with hints of peach or apricot. Their off-dry Norton is a big smooth red that cries for Italian food. (Guzzardo’s lasagna, anyone?) Their popular Foch/Frontenac/Norten blend called Nookeenay Meskwaai, or Nookey? for short, was not available for tasting on Friday night, but might make an appearance on Saturday.
Rounding out the group is Fox Creek Vinyards, perhaps best known for their peach, apple and blackberry fruit wines.