Friday, April 26, 2013

Wine Country Illinois - Illinois Sparkling Co.


Illinois wine has its roots in the mid-1850s, when Concord was the big grape.  After Prohibition, it wasn't until 1936 that the Prairie State got its first bonded winery.  Even so, the Illinois wine industry really didn't start moving forward with purpose until the 1980s.

The Illinois Grape and Wine Industry report for 2011, found at the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, shows an estimated 175 commercial vineyards in Illinois and over a thousand acres under vines.  There were another 136 "hobby vineyards" of less than an acre each.  Two thirds of Illinois vineyards are located in the southern half of the state.  Their 105 commercial wineries produced 651,800 gallons of wine in 2011.  The report states that 90 percent of Illinois grapes are grown for the purpose of making wine.

Hybrids are the grapes of choice for Illinois winegrowers.  Chambourcin is by far the most popular grape grown in the Land of Lincoln, representing twelve percent of the crop, followed by Norton, Frontenac, Foch, Chardonel and Vignoles.

Nearly half of Illinois wines are made from whole grapes, but only 44 percent of those grapes are grown in Illinois.  Says the report, "Fifty-one percent of Illinois wine is produced from grapes, bulk wine, juice and concentrates, and other non-grape fruits ... imported from other states."  My thoughts immediately went to California, but two thirds of all out-of-state winemaking produce comes from Michigan (35 percent) and New York (31 percent.)  California accounts for only ten percent.

An interesting survey included in the report shows that 24 percent of Illinois vineyards have trouble with the Japanese beetle, and that's the leading pestilence problem, coming in ahead of birds, black rot, deer and racoons.

The Illinois Sparkling Co. makes five sparkling wines, all in the traditional method used by makers of bubbly in a far away place called Champagne.  They use 100% Illinois-grown grapes and the wine is handcrafted at the winery in Peru, Illinois, in the northern part of the state west of Joliet between I-80 and the Illinois River.

Winemaker Mark Wenzel also toils in the vineyards and cellar for August Hill Winery.  He  hopes to put Illinois sparkling wine on the map after spending years on research, trials and getting advice from Champagne producers.

ISC was kind enough to provide me with two of their sparklers for review.

Franken’s

This is a tip of the hat to the French Hybrid grapes used by Illinois Sparkling Co., the grapes they say are “fondly known as ‘frankenvines.’”  A white sparkler made in the brut style from the red Chambourcin grape, this blanc de noir hits 12.5% abv with a dry 1.25% residual sugar.  The Illinois Chambourcin employed here comes from Two Oaks Vineyard in Benton , IL.

The wine is golden in the glass with a white layer of bubbles that dissipate rather quickly.  The nose offers a toasty show of bananas and earth.  The palate has citrus, cranberry, apple and a healthy zap of acidity that leaves a refreshing feel in the mouth.  It's a hit with roast chicken or a handful of almonds.



Stereo

The sec style is put to work in this wine, which means it is dry.  Not as dry as brut, but not as sweet as doux.  In Riesling terminology, it would rate "semi-sweet" on the sweet-o-meter.  The residual sugar hits 2.3% and the alcohol is restrained at 12.5% abv.  Illinois La Crescent grapes from ISC Estate Vineyard in Peru IL are the big show here, with some Frontenac Gris used in dosage.

This very pale sparkler's bubbles hang around on the rim a good, long while.  A subtle nose of apples and citrus leaves no surprise that the flavors are dominated by apple and lime.  There's only a hint of fresh bread on the palate, while the wine tends toward the sweet side without going over it.  A faint earthiness in the bouquet is hardly noticeable in the taste.  This is a great example of the sort of good things being done in America with the La Crescent grape.  The suggested pairing with spicy Thai or Mexican cuisine sounds like a winner to me.

I didn't try these two, but their I.S.C Brut has 12.5% abv with only 0.8% residual sugar.  It's made from 100% Illinois St. Pepin grapes from Hieland Hills Vineyard in St. Anne, IL.   Dollface is a demi-Sec rosé at 12.5% abv and 3.3% residual sugar.  Its grapes are Illinois Frontenac also from Hieland Hills Vineyard.


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