One of the hardest things to overcome in dealing with wine is the tendency to think good wine can only come from certain areas and certain types of grapes. Take wine in the United States for instance. What do you think about when you think of U.S. wine? California, right? Maybe Washington, Oregon, or New York if you’re ‘enlightened.’ And which grapes do you think of? If I were a betting woman, I’d say Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, maybe Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.
But there’s actually grapes being grown and wine produced in all 50 states…good wines. I happen to live in Missouri, which was actually the nation’s first ‘Wine Country’ and had the first designated wine AVA…and I had no idea that was the case until just recently. Nor did I have a clue how good the wines coming out of Missouri and Kansas truly were. I had never heard of a Seyval Blanc, never tried a Vignoles, and couldn’t imagine I would like a Concord…
….boy was I in for a wonderful surprise.
I have only begun to tour the wineries right here in the Kansas City area, and what I found was wonderful. I had the good fortune of visiting Amigoni Urban, Somerset Ridge, and Stone Pillar Wineries. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to visit Holy-Field or Jowler or any of the other wineries around the area, but make no mistake about it, I’m definitely going. If what I found in the three I visited is any indication, I’m in for one fantastic tasting time as I check out the rest in the VERY near future.
The first winery on my day trip was Amigoni Urban Winery, located right in the middle of Kansas City in the West Bottoms area. They are currently in the historic Livestock Exchange Building, but are putting the finishing touches on what is going to be an architecturally beautiful tasting room right across the street. Winemaker Michael Amigoni is on the cutting edge of winemaking and is the only winemaker I know of in the area that grows and focuses on ONLY Vitis Vinifera grapes, no French-American Hybrids. Amigoni focuses mainly on the Bordeaux and Rhone varietals of France. Two of my personal favorites in their collection are Urban Cepages, a wine made of 100% Carignan, which paired particularly well with a pulled pork dinner I made. Pretty cranberry and cherry notes on the nose, with a soft, silky feel in the mouth. The Estate Cabernet Franc is one I would put up against any other from Washington, Bordeaux, Loire Valley…anywhere. It is really that good! The plummy, raspberry, dark cherry aromas carry on into the taste. This is a medium bodied wine that I’m pretty sure would have paired well with the venison steaks I was going to make. Problem is, I drank it all before I got around to cooking. Again, let me repeat myself, it really is THAT GOOD!
The next visit was to Somerset Ridge near Paola, Kansas. Nestled amongst quiet farms and a stone’s throw from the Louisburg Cider Mill, the vineyard is a picture of serene beauty and relaxation. The cabinesque tasting room is filled not only with their wonderful wines, but a whole host of fun, wine related items to take home with you. The tastings at the vineyard are always free, and you’ll find an assortment of entertainment including gardening classes and an “Art in the Vineyard” event showing off the talents of local artists amongst the vines themselves. Somerset Ridge grows a mix of the premium wine grapes from Vitis Vinifera, as well as hybrids that mix the winemaking qualities of the European vines with the heartiness of the American grape species. They also grow one all-American grape, Cynthiana, better known to wine drinkers as Norton. They use sustainable farming methods, with no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. My two particular favorites were their Chardonel: a light, fragrant white hybrid mix of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc that I refer to as “Chardonnay’s little sister.” I also am a fan of their Traminette: a hybrid of the Gewürztraminer grape. This one can go either dry or sweet. I prefer the drier, spicier, ‘zinger’ white, myself.
Finally, I made my way to Stone Pillar Winery. Just past the hustle and bustle of Olathe’s Great Mall of the Great Plains shopping area, and the chaos of I-35, you will find the vineyard smack dab in the middle of a residential housing area. The second you step on to the property, you immediately forget about the traffic nightmare you were in a few miles and a few minutes earlier. The dog and cat might greet you at the door of the tasting room, but it’s the turkey you’re going to HAVE to see. Yes, I said turkey. Jake is the prized pet both on display at the winery, and prominently displayed on the labels of their ‘Redneck Rose’, one of my favorites from the winery, a light, sweeter red wine that pairs up nicely with bbq and spicy foods. The other wine I particularly enjoyed was their Concord. Typically, Concord grapes are thought of as a regular table grape, but they also make a wonderfully sweet, fruity, red wine. Serve this one chilled for a refreshing sipper all summer long! The winery also is host to a summer concert series and several food and wine pairings throughout the year.
While I HIGHLY recommend visiting the wineries if you’re in the area, I guess the real point I’m trying to make is that wine drinking is an adventure, and good wines can be found nearly everywhere, INCLUDING right in your back yard. Don’t limit yourself. Check out your local wineries, uncork a varietal you’ve never tried, maybe never even HEARD of before. It would be a shame to miss out on what could possibly be your new favorite if you don’t bother to look right under your nose.