Thursday, February 24, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: FLORIDA - KEEL AND CURLEY WINERY

As Now And Zin attempts to travel around the 50 states in a wine glass, this time we find ourselves in the southeastern corner of the USA, Florida.  Maybe Florida doesn't immediately come to mind when you think of wine, but the Sunshine State was ranked 6th in wine American production in 2009-2010.

Keel and Curley Winery is located outside of Tampa, in Plant City.  The winery was founded in 2003 by Joe Keel, a central Florida blueberry farmer who had a lot of unharvested blueberries on his hands after the price fell.  He decided to try his hand at making wine with them.

Today his wines - three 100% blueberry wines and some fruit/grape blends - are popular all along Florida's Gulf Coast.  The blueberry wines come in dry, semi-dry and sweet styles. Their tasting room - unlike that of many wineries - has seats at the tasting bar, indicating you may want to stay awhile.

Keel and Curley provided me with three of their wines to sample, a dry blueberry, a sweet blueberry and a Strawberry Riesling blend.  I must admit, I didn't have much experience with wines made from fruit other than grapes and I approached these with a little bit of trepidation.

Keel and Curley Dry Blueberry WineDry Blueberry Wine

My fears were soon dispelled as I tried Keel and Curley's Dry Blueberry wine first.  Bottled in strikingly blue glass, the wine is made from high bush blueberries, according to the label.  I suppose those are preferred over the berries from the bottom of the bush.  The label also informs that the wine is fermented with the skins to concentrate the colors and flavors.  It has an alcohol content of 12% abv.

The nose - not surprisingly - shows a very pure and uncomplicated blueberry aroma. It’s not the blueberry of jam or jelly, though. It’s the blueberry right from the bush, with a hint of herbal or vegetal notes.

As I take my first taste I find this is surprisingly good wine!  It is actually off-dry, but just barely.  The sweetness is only winked at by the well-structured fruit.  It is actually just a bit hot upon opening, but let it just sit in the glass for 15-20 minutes and the heat decreases.  At half an hour open, the wine is silky smooth, but still has a good structure and tannins.
I tried pairing it with a rather spicy piece of beef, but it didn’t seem to work too well.  It was better with blue cheese, but still not a natural.  The pairing I kept thinking about - and finally tried - was peanuts.  A handful of peanuts with this wine is like an instant PB&J.

Keel and Curley Sweet Blueberry WineSweet Blueberry Wine

Again the striking blue bottle makes a good visual impression and the Sweet Blueberry Wine is a good dark purple in the glass.  The nose again shows all blueberry, but with less of the vegetal aroma present than in the dry version.

This one is sweet for sure, but it's not cloying.  It’s not even dessert-wine-sweet, really.  The sweetness is so fruity and natural tasting it seems more like a blueberry juice.  I would compare the sweetness in this wine to that of a sweet Lambrusco.  There’s a nice little acidity, but I don’t know exactly what I would pair it with.  Don't bother worrying about it - it’s a delicious wine to sip.  At 12% alcohol by volume, you feel free to sip a little more the you might normally.  I found it tastes great at room temperature, but the winery recommends serving it chilled.  It is very good that way.

Keel and Curley Strawberry Riesling WineStrawberry RieslingThis wine also utilizes non-grape fruit, but includes some actual wine grapes as well.  It comes in a clear bottle, all the better to show its pale golden hue.  The fruit on the nose is all strawberry, all the time.  It’s not a candy-like aroma, or like a strawberry candle.  It’s like a strawberry farm.  The smell of real strawberries jumps right out of the glass and into my nose.  On the label, the winery claims the Strawberry Riesling is what summer smells like.  That sounds like a good assessment to me.  The taste is sweet like ripe strawberries and mildly acidic.  I don’t know if it pairs too well with many foods - fruit salad, anyone? - but this wine could be sipped poolside all day long.  At 12% abv once more, it’s very gulpable, especially when served chilled.

Keel and Curley's Dry Blueberry strives to be a "real" wine, and comes pretty darn close.  The two sweet wines I tasted are nothing but fun by the bottle.  It's easy to see why these wines are so popular in Florida.  I think they should go well anywhere there's a pool.



So far in the Wine Country series