Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

Midwest Wines vs The Rest of the World

20 Jun

Tomorrow, Thursday June 21st from 730pm on Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) it’s the battle of the grape.  Two blind tastings, one for reds and another for whites, will determine if wines from Missouri and Kansas can compare with the best wine making regions in the world.   The show also tackles the issue of why most restaurants in Kansas City (and in cities all over MO and KS) are happy to serve local food, but don’t serve local wines.  The blind tastings will help determine if the preference for Californian, French and other international wines is actually fair and based on quality and customer preferences, or just a result of inertia, snobbery, ignorance – or all three.

White paper bags look quite classy don’t you think?

Surely if French and Californian wines are so good and the local wines so poor, the blind tasters will prefer those? The restaurants will be proved right afterall…but if MO and KS wines do well hopefully it will be a small wake-up call to consumers and restaurants alike.

So tune in to KCPT on tomorrow! Or come to Belvoir Winery in Liberty where we’ll be watching the show.

Lucinda, Stretch and Katie Van Luchene rehearse raising their numbers

I tried hard to make this a fair contest.  The five reds and five whites in each tasting cost between $12 and $20 retail, except for a ‘wild card’ that could cost anything.  Two of the wines in each red or white tasting are from MO or KS, one is from California, one from France  and one that ‘wild card’ that could be from anywhere.

The basis of prejudice against MO and KS wines is often based on their tendency to be sweet.  People seem to think that sweet is all the Midwest does well and discount the quality dry stuff that has emerged and is emerging all over the place.  This tasting will be meeting Californian and French wines on their own terms: all the reds competing are dry and all the whites are dry or semi-dry.

I was also conscious of how the order in which the bottles would be tasted could confer an advantage.  It is probably not ideal to be the first wine tasted, or the last.  The order of the tasting was determined by me reaching blindly into a case where I’d place the bottles and pulling the bottles out, lottery style, one by one.

The bottles were placed in white paper bags and each labelled with a letter – A to E.

From left to right: Nick Haines, KCPT host, Stretch, Lucinda, Stephen Molloy, Katie Van Luchene, Eddie Kennison and Doug Frost.

The 5 blind tasters were chosen to be widely representative of wine lovers and to be fun – there’s a mixture of celebrities (Eddie Kennison and Stretch), wine and food experts (Stephen Molloy and Katie Van Luchene) and Lucinda, a young woman and regular customer at Belvoir winery, chosen to represent ‘normal’ people (possibly like you?).  They all like a wide range of wines.  Overseeing them and to offer his analysis, wine brain and expert, Doug Frost.

The blind tasters are not comparing the wines to each other, they’re just making a very simple judgement: how much do they like each wine and why? In other words, how does the wine they’re blind tasting compare to their idea of the perfect white or red?  They mark each one with 1 to 5 points, 1 being ‘not to my taste or ‘I don’t like it’, up to 5, which means ‘excellent ‘ or ‘I love it’.

So tune in! Will this be a humiliation for the Midwest wine industry?  Or will this be a case of Bottle Shock and a humbling experience for  French and California? Find out on Thursday at 730pm…

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Amigoni Declares Cabernet Sauvignon Crop Best in Years

14 Jun

Michael Amigoni of Amigoni Urban Winery in Kansas City, Missouri has declared that his current crop of Cabernet Sauvignon is the “best fruit in years.” Amigoni Winery is unique among vineyards and wineries in the state for chosing not to grow local grape varieties like Norton and Chambourcin that are better adapted to the humid summers and cold winters.  Instead, Amigoni defies Missouri’s often extreme climate and exclusively grows European vinifera including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec and others.  Many local winemakers say the common European grape varieties are simply too difficult to grow and too many buds and plants succumb to the winter freeze.  Amigoni Winery has had success growing these grapes for more than a decade and agreed to talk about the recent crop with Regional Wine Taster… 

Amigoni’s current crop of Cabernet Sauvignon

How long have you grown Cabernet Sauvignon for and how much do you have planted?

We have about 1/2 acres of Cab Sav  now.  It is a clone 337 which we planted about 8 years ago and it seems to be as cold hardy as the Cab  Franc.

Can you describe how your fruit looks and what exactly warrants your expression of confidence in it? 

The mild weather in the winter allowed little if any bud death on the  plants.  So the buds were very healthy and with no frost to nip them this spring, the even fruiting allowed a very good fruit set of the  Cab Sav.  The clusters are long and full.

“It is double work or more to grow vinifera, but the rewards are awesome.”

How can you tell the fruit is the best in years? In terms of  quantity or quality? Both?

It is hard to say what the year will bear, but looking at the fruit at this time of year indicates that we will have a very good year and  I cannot remember when our fruit set was so good and healthy.  We would prefer the weather to stay dry to prevent any fungal pressure with black rot or powdery mildew.  It does seem that there is a little pressure from Japanese beetles but we will add more insecticide to the  tank mix to ward them off

Can you briefly explain a couple of techniques you use to help  your European vinifera survive the extremely cold winters here?

Since the vinifera is grafted to rootstock to prevent phylloxera we have to hill up dirt over the graft union so as to have  an insurance policy in case the buds were killed by a low temperature  winter.  This hill technique was started in the Finger Lakes of NY and  we actually purchased 8 years ago a side hoe to do this process.  We  have no fear of plant death, just bud death that would have us miss a  season of fruit. The hilling on dirt over the graft union would allow  us to keep the plant alive above the graft union in case of -11  degrees or lower.

Do you have to accept that a proportion of the crop will die each year to frost damage? Or not?

No. We fear the most a low winter temp to prevent a good budding of the crop.

How do your Cab Sav and other European vinifera cope with the  humiditity in summer?

The advancements of chemicals have allowed us to have a good toolbox of techniques to ward off the rots in case of a wet spring, summer or  fall.

To what extent do you believe the prevailing view among many winemakers that it is too  hard to grow European vinifera is wrong?

It is double work or more to grow vinifera, but the rewards are awesome.

How are your other grapes looking at the moment – your well-respected Cabernet Franc  for example?

We have across the board great fruit this year. Our Cab Franc, Mourvedre, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Viognier and Cab Sav are the best in years. We have new blocs of Mourvedre and Petit Verdot coming  on-line this year. We also planted Tannat and Teroldego this year.  The Tannat has the highest level of resveratrol of any grape in the world, so in a few years, it will be our health wine.

“The Tannat has the highest level of resveratrol of any grape in the world, so in a few years it will be our health wine.”

Wine Lists of Shame II: The View of the Winemakers

27 Jan

I was a little worried when I posted the Wine Lists of Shame blog.  I have enjoyed eating at about half the restaurants on the list (thanks to a generous mother and father-in-law) but was always disappointed by the absence of Missouri and Kansas wines from their wine lists.  The thought of stirring an angry response from the city’s restaurants got me quite excited and nervous in the moments before the blog was posted.  Of course my small act of defiance wasn’t in the same league as Martin Luther giving one to the Pope and I’m not reporting for BBC News anymore, this is a WordPress blog, so I suppose the muted response has been understandable.  So far only Bluestem Restaurant has commented and they say they’re planning to include local wines on their new wine list – full marks to them.

The issue of how to break into the Kansas City restaurant scene is a topic I brought up with the winemakers I visited on Mission Impossible I: The Search for a Drinkable Norton.  I also spoke on the phone with Tim Puchta, president of  Adam Puchta Winery  (resplendent in blue overalls in the photo for the Defenders of Norton blog) and in a long conversation he was clearly frustrated about the situation. “It’s a very tough issue to deal with”, he says, noting how on the one hand restaurants have adopted the slow food movement with local produce, “but when it comes to wine, they absolutely have a totally closed mind.  They absolutely do not like to even think about attempting to even try some of the Missouri wines.”

When I turned up at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport it sounded like winemakers Cory Bomgaars and Jacob Holman were trying to expunge their frustrations about this issue by playing in a heavy rock band.  The sound blasting out of the winery was so loud and clear I thought I was interrupting a band practice. It turned out to be just a very good sound system and anyway, Cory and Jacob are probably more surfer types than rockers.  Cory sees restaurants as crucial to positively changing people’s opinions about regional wines.  “The service industry is kind of the ambassador of wine, and good restaurants really have a lot of influence on perception of wine quality for the community,” he explains to me in his small office behind the winery’s shop.

Kansas City isn’t alone in generally turning its back on local wine, winemakers say the situation is the same in top restaurants across the region.   But there are notable exceptions to the Wine Lists of Shame, says Tim of Adam Puchta Winery, like Annie Gunn’s Restaurant in Chesterfield, Missouri that features about thirty Missouri wines on its wine list.  However, getting MO and KS wine into most restaurants depends heavily on the sales reps and distributors, who are more likely to push their better known French and Californian bottles because they are easier to sell.  For that reason, some restaurants say they never see any regional wines.  Cory says the answer is to incentivize the distributors and make it worth their while to push the local, regional wines.

But even if distributors are convinced to push the local stuff, Cory says restaurant staff need to be educated.  Otherwise, says Tim, even if the restaurant’s manager or wine buyer purchases the local wine, it generally won’t sell unless the restaurant staff know about the wine and promote it.  “We were in a couple of places in Kansas City for a while,” says Tim, but the restaurants would say the wine wasn’t selling and drop it from the list, “I would say 99% of the time the wine wasn’t promoted or mentioned.” Or there’s a change of manager or chef at the restaurant, and in the change of regime, the regional bottles are often the first to be dropped from the wine list.   Educating restaurant staff can be difficult says Tim, “even though we educate them, we bring them out to our tastings, we go through the motions and their minds are just really closed.”  But Cory says this education drive needs to continue and across the industry.  “Bring them up here and teach them about what we are doing with Missouri wines,” he says.  “All the way through to chefs thinking about what they are cooking and the waiters behind the product.  To really break that barrier is going to take some intense one-on-one stuff.” He says in the next twelve months Missouri vineyards are likely to do some organized industry-wide marketing aimed at restaurants.

The West Bottoms area of Kansas City © kcphotoblog.com

I met Michael Amigoni in the tasting room of his Amigoni Urban Winery in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City (for the full interview see: Regional Wines: “We’re catching up”). There was a tasting in progress and about a dozen people were there to taste Michael’s wines and listen to him chat about them.   With his commanding presence he reminded me of a Roman emperor as he strutted and talked about his wines (but I’m a bit obsessed with ancient history). His location right in the heart of KC has probably helped his relationship with restaurants there.  He told me afterwards that part of the restaurant problem is the difficulty selling wines made from grape varieties like Norton and Vignoles that haven’t been accepted by the wine establishments on the east and west coast and are still unfamiliar to many local wine drinkers.  Michael says he’s the only winemaker in Missouri who, despite the challenging climactic conditions here, focuses very heavily on growing European varieties like Cabernet Franc.  As a result, he says he’s had some success breaking into the Kansas City restaurant scene, but it’s been tough going.  “It’s very difficult, but we probably broke some of that ceiling that was there.  The local restaurants, especially here in the metro, have not embraced any of the Missouri wines.” He tells me as we talk on the long wooden benches in his tasting room.   “They felt that someone would have a hard time paying the prices for some of the hybrid varieties and the other varieties that people are not familiar with and since we brought in varietals that they can put on a restaurant wine list and people understand those varietals, they can be assured that they might sell it a bit easier.”

But at St James Winery the studious looking CEO, Peter Hofherr, told me with enthusiasm that times are changing and the dawn of the native grape breaking into KC restaurants is nigh.  “I think that the wine culture for local wines is changing. We’re seeing some of that now.” He says, “I’ve done a lot of work in Kansas City that shows me that while you don’t see them in the restaurants right now, we are seeing some chefs that really are embracing local wines, so I think that you will begin to see more than them.”

Cory from Les Bourgeois agrees and puts it down to improvements in the quality of local wines. “I guarantee that you could wrangle up 40 wines across the state of Missouri, red and white, that would be delicious at any dinner table,” he says. “I think we have the product now, and we have the reputation on the product.  Most restaurants at this point are really eager, and as the restauranteur says: ‘Well I’d put some local wines on the wine list if someone came and talked to me.” Winemakers say, ‘Well shit! I’ve got a warehouse full of wine!’    ‘You and I should get together!’”

Peter from St James views it this way: “We see ourselves as sort of on a wine frontier here.”