Monday, March 16, 2015

Wine Country: Ohio - Meier's White Catawba Wine

Grape cultivation started in Ohio in 1825.  That’s when Nicholas Longworth started growing grapes for wine purposes.  By 1860, Catawba grapes were all the rage in Ohio’s vineyards and the state was the nation’s leading wine producer.  Ohio enjoyed a good run at the top of America’s wine industry, a run which came to a crashing halt when Prohibition was enacted.  After the repeal of the ban on alcohol, Ohio was slow to recover its lost wine industry, as were most American states.  They have come on strong, though, and now threaten to break in as one of the top five wine producing states.

Today, there are well over a hundred wineries operating in the Buckeye State.  Ohio wine is produced from a lot of grapes you probably recognize - Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc - and some you may not.  North American hybrid grapes are hardier during Ohio’s frigid winters than vitis vinifera grapes.  Grapes like Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Chambourcin and Catawba may sound foreign, but they lie at the heart of American wines made in the great Midwest.

The Catawba grape is an American fruit thought to be a cross between vitis labrusca and vitis vinifera plants.  Catawba’s place in American wine history was ensured in the mid-1800s, when the aforementioned Mr. Longworth produced sparkling wines from Catawba grapes.  His bubbles won raves even from wine lovers in Europe.

Catawba is no longer very highly regarded as a wine grape due to an essence it displays which is common to many North American grapes.  It is sometimes called “foxy,” and it is not usually given as a compliment.  This earthy characteristic may not be what floats everyone’s wine cork, but I think of it as the mark of America on the wine.  It’s like the funk of the Rhône Syrah or the petrol of the German Riesling - maybe not for everyone, but indicative of terroir.  It tends to wear better in sweeter wines than dry.  The grape is fairly popular - along with the Concord variety - as a source for grape juice, jams and jellies.

Meier’s Wine Cellars is Ohio’s largest and oldest wine producer.  They also make other beverages, grape juice included.  They once grew their grapes on an island in Lake Erie, but now purchase grapes from independent growers in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

Meier’s White Catawba Wine is made from Catawba and other unnamed grape varieties.  This viscous wine is colored like apple juice and scented with an earthy, Midwestern, broad-shouldered nose.  There is a sweet edge to that aroma, as in pear juice.  Sweet sap on the palate is fruity, and rather delightful in a North American kind of way.  The sense of sweetness remains after the sip, leaving a sticky sweet feeling reminiscent of a dessert wine.  It is actually more off-sweet in taste, but the sweetness tends to be more pronounced on the finish than during the sip.

There is not much acidity to speak of, but it does serve a purpose with food nonetheless.  It's a great wine to pair with salsa and tortilla chips, spicy Asian cuisine or peppery bar peanuts.


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