Showing posts with label Brianna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brianna. Show all posts

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wine Country: Iowa - Tassel Ridge Winery

The Wine Country series stays in Iowa for another winery from the Hawkeye State.  You can catch up on Iowa wine here and here, while we taste a third set of wines from Iowa.

Tassel Ridge Winery is located in Leighton, Iowa, along the Heart of Iowa Wine Trail.  My thanks go to Bob Wersen for including some pretty extensive notes on the grapes in his vineyard, some of which I’ll share here.  Bob was kind enough to send six samples of his wines.  We’ll start with the whites.

Tassel Ridge Edelweiss Iowa 2008
Tassel Ridge and all the other vineyards in the midwestern and northern United States owe a great debt to Elmer Swenson.  He was a grape breeder who came up with a number of varieties that thrive despite cold, harsh winters.  The Edelweiss grape is an Elmer Swenson creation.  From Wersen’s notes:

Swenson crossed Vitis Riperia with Vitis Labrusca as he attempted to create a cold climate grape ‘that tasted good.’  He didn’t leave very clear records so we really don’t know exactly what the parentage of Edelweiss (or that of most of his other creations) is, but its Labrusca component is immediately clear.  In order to control the Labrusca qualities, we harvest this grape early with relatively high TA, low pH, and modest sugar.  Because of its natural high acidity, it is best when sweetened after vinification.  So, the Edelweiss is sweetened to about 7% R.S. whereas the White Blossom is not sweetened at all.  The sugar masks some of the natural flavors, but our market in Iowa demands sweet wine, so we sweeten our Edelweiss. We grow all of our own Edelweiss in our own vineyards.”  
Edelweiss is the largest planting of all the grapes in Wersen’s vineyard.

The Tassel Ridge Iowa Edelweiss has a nice, warm, golden tint.  The nose is sweet with candied apricots and pineapple juice aromas allowing only a peek at an herbal scent in the background.  The wine tastes only slightly less sweet than it smells.  Delicious apple flavors in the foreground lead to apricots and oranges on the finish.  There's a nice bit of acidity present despite the full mouthfeel.  Fans of semi-sweet wine should enjoy this effort.  It sells for $14 and carries 12.7% abv.

Tassel Ridge White Blossom
As noted by Wersen above, the White Blossom contrasts with the Edelweiss in that it is not sweetened.  It’s also a 100% Edelweiss wine.  Light in color, White Blossom has only a very faint straw tint.  It smells of pineapple and orange peel, but the fruit seems to lurk behind a wall of wet underbrush.  There’s great acidity in this wine, and the palate shows more orange zest with some green apple notes.  It actually seems rather Sicilian, with a salinity on the palate.  The nose however, shows more earth than ocean.  It’s very refreshing, and should do well chilled for a warm afternoon.  It should also serve nicely with all sorts of salads and some lighter meat fare.  The wine costs $14 and sports a 12.6% alcohol content.

Iowa Brianna 2009
Brianna is another Elmer Swenson creation.  It’s a particularly cold-hardy white wine variety and, for that reason, it has become quite popular among midwestern wine growers.  A golden hue makes the Brianna the richest looking of the three whites. Its nose is quite aromatic.  Denise smelled banana from across the room after I opened it, but I might characterize it as a whole bunch of bananas, an aroma that's both sweet and herbal at once.  There's a hint of oak on the palate, and it plays against the green fruit flavors very well.  It's quite dry with a bracing acidity and the label lists its alcohol content as 14% - rather hefty for Brianna, I would imagine.  I love the sour apple finish. It's a brilliant match with sharp, white cheddar and with a handful of peanuts the taste sensation is absolutely transformative.

Now we turn to the red wines.

Pizzeria + Pasta, Too! is a  varietal wine utilizing 100% estate-grown Sabrevois (I understand the pronunciation is “sa-brah-voy”) from the Tassel Ridge vineyards.  The grape is another Swenson creation, by the way.  This red is very dark in color, nose and palate. Ths is a dense wine, with a somewhat forceful nose that smells of plums well trodden into the ground.  Tarry notes are also present after its been open a while, and a grapey aroma hangs in the background.  It's a medium weight wine, despite the darkness in aroma and taste.   It goes with a cheese plate well, one featuring Vermont cheddar and smoked provolone, walnuts and dried cranberries.  I'll be honest - this is a very different sort of wine than I am used to drinking, and it takes a little getting used to, at least for my palate.  I don't really care for it as a sipper,  but once it hit the food, it was really quite enjoyable.  $13.

Marquette 2009 
The Marquette grape is another hybrid, actually a cross of two other hybrids created at the University of Minnesota.  These are estate grapes, too.  The wine spends a year in new French oak barrels and another 11 months in a mix of French, Hungarian and American oak.  There is an intense expression of fruit on the nose, with a bit of a balsamic edge.  The dark and luscious aromas are actually stunning.  Notes of tar turn flat paint into metal flake.  It’s jammy.  The palate has cherry cola and plums  showing with a richness that reminds me of Port-style wines.  It's not sweet, though - very dry in fact, with lip smacking acidity.  This should be great with a steak.  It sells for $25 - worth every penny - and carries an alcohol level of 16.2%.  That's right in between a Paso Robles Zinfandel and Port.

St. Croix 2008  
The St. Croix grapes are also courtesy of Elmer Swenson - I told you he was a big deal - and are grown on the Tassel Ridge estate.  This is a dry, red wine with an earthy nose, almost funky, with meat and grease notes showing amid an array of spices.  I smelled it immediately after I had smelled the Marquette, and thought something must be wrong.  As I wondered if it was corked, I remembered the Stelvin closure - all six wines are closed with a screwcap - and thought that it was probably just me.  It was just me.  Sampling the nose again on its own, I found it reminded me a bit of a funky, old Côtes du Rhône.  The bouquets on these last two wines are simply worlds apart.

On the St. Croix’s palate, the acidity is bracing and the fruit is tart.  Plums and black cherry show up with an oak spice which makes an appearance but is not overplayed.  The tannins are quite gentle.  Of the six wines featured here, this is the one you’ll ponder over.  For some reason it had me wanting meat loaf.  And I never eat meat loaf.  It’s a $20 wine with 12.9% abv.

So, we have another impressive entry from Iowa in the Wine Country series.  The Brianna, Marquette and St. Croix really stood out for my palate, and for the wonderful way they paired with food.

Iowa is the 20th state from which we have sampled local wine in this series, so we still have a way to go.  If you are a winery wanting to represent your state on Now And Zin's Wine Country, or if you know of one that should, email me:

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Thursday, June 23, 2011


The wine industry in Nebraska began in the late 1800s, but never really got a major foothold.  What was left of the Nebraska wine industry after Prohibition was decimated by a huge blizzard in 1940.  There's an interesting story about that storm here.

Nebraska's first winery of the new era didn't open until 1994 and there are a couple dozen on the books now.  There are no AVAs designated for Nebraska, but the University of Nebraska - Lincoln has a viticulture program.

Deb and Rick Barnett are the proprietors of Big Cottonwood Vineyards and Winery, a small farm winery located in the rolling hills of northeastern Nebraska four miles west of Tekamah and about 43 miles north of Omaha.

Big Cottonwood uses estate grown fruit as well as grapes from nearby Nebraska vineyards.  They rely heavily upon grapes which are suited to cold weather - Frontenac, Seyval, Brianna, St. Vincent, De Chaunac, St. Croix, Vignoles and Prairie Star.

The Barnetts say Big Cottonwood is the only Nebraska winery they know of which makes a méthode champenoise sparkling wine.  It's made from Brianna, a fairly new grape variety which can survive the brutal winters and is found mainly in Nebraska.

Their line known as The Pelicans are wines made as a tribute to Lewis and Clark's westward exploration over 200 years ago.  There is a mural commemorating the trek on the side of the VFW hall in Tekamah.  I like this facet of Nebraska wine, as the Wine Country series dabbles a bit in history, too.  We are usually restricted more or less to the grape history of America.

The pelican tie-in results from the fact that the Lewis and Clark expedition stopped along the Missouri river east of Tekamah and shot a pelican there in order to measure it.  That's how it was back in the pioneer days - shoot first and break out the tape measure later.

Big Cottonwood Winery was kind enough to supply two wines from their Pelican line as the Nebraska entry to Now And Zin's Wine Country series.

Big Cottonwood PelicansPrudent Pelican

This white wine is a blend of Brianna and Prairie Star.  Brianna is a hybrid grape developed by Wisconsin grape breeder Elmer Swenson, who also developed Prairie Star and St Croix.

It has a lovely golden color and the nose shows a honeyed herbaceousness.  The wine is off dry with a medium mouthfeel.  Flavors of dried pineapple and banana - are carried along on a vibrant acidity.  I’d love some shrimp or a swordfish steak with this.

Saintly Pelican

This red table wine is a blend of St. Vincent and St. Croix - another pair of hybrid grapes - hence the "sainted" name.

Medium ruby in the glass, it's not so dark that I can’t see through it.  The nose has a rubber aroma and a strong scent of mint.  An unusual spice aroma wafts in and out, and there’s a note of brown sugar.  To say the least, it's quite a striking and distinct aroma package.

On the palate, it’s just as distinctive.  Very dry and rough hewn, the tannins are not too tough to handle, but they do speak up.  Flavors of sour cherry draped in tart raspberry make me want to pair it with grilled chicken or venison sausage.  A ferric quality persists into the finish, which is lengthy.

Both of these Nebraska wines from Big Cottonwood are very different tastes for a palate accustomed to wine made from vinifera grapes.  This is part of the American wine experience, though.  I’m glad I had the chance to get to know these grapes a bit.  I hope you'll get that chance, too.

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