Thursday, April 22, 2010

Try Indiana's Signature Wine - Traminette

It’s a fair guess most Hoosiers didn’t know Indiana has a “signature wine.” Sure, California has Cabernet, Oregon has Pinot, and Italy has Chianti – but Indiana?

Last fall Indiana’s Department of Agriculture, Office of Tourism and the Indiana Wine Grape Council introduced Indiana’s first signature wine – Traminette.

Would it help if it’s noted Traminette is much like Gewurztraminer? Hmm, guess not!
Traminette is a grape that is ideal for Indiana’s climate. Currently 23 of Indiana’s more than 40 wineries offer a Traminette. For many years Indiana seemed limited to the Concord, Niagara, and Chambourcin grapes but many wineries are really expanding their crops.

Indiana has a booming wine industry with more than a million visitors last year.
The great thing about this wine is it’s very likable. It’s incredibly floral on the nose with some spice. Most of Indiana’s Traminette is on the sweet to semi-sweet side of the palate. There are a few wineries making really interesting dry Traminette. (Note my picks at the bottom of the column.)

Indiana is up to 46 wineries with no end in sight. Most make wines based on the sweet grapes that have flourished here for so long. But there are wineries like Huber’s at Starlight now growing Malbec and Petit Verdot. Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run is experimenting with interesting blends unlike anyone else in the state.

As the vines in Hoosier vineyards mature, so are Indiana’s winemakers.

On recent visits, Easley (Indianapolis), Huber, and Turtle Run (east of Corydon) are pouring great Indiana wines. Recent tasting opportunities, including six to seven newer Indiana wineries last summer, has convinced me Indiana’s wineries are taking a big step forward. Most Hoosier wine remains on the sweeter side, but I’ve learned to appreciate well-made wine even if it doesn’t suit my particular palate.

There is a winery near you wherever you read Grape Sense. The Indiana Wine Grape Council has a website listing all wineries, wine events, and lots of other great information.

Indiana also has a couple of great wine festivals where you can taste the wines of many wineries in a really fun atmosphere. One of the two biggest is coming up at Story, Indiana, April 24. Story is near Nashville, Indiana. You can find plenty of details for the Indiana Wine Fair online.

The other big show is Vintage Indiana June 5 in downtown Indianapolis. It is held in Military Park near the Eiteljorg and IUPUI.

The great thing about these two festivals is almost every Indiana winery participates. For a flat cover fee, you can select from hundreds of different wines to taste.

These are all fabulous one-day trips. And with Indiana’s wine trails, you can easily visit four or five wineries in a single day!

Howard’s Picks:
Turtle Run 2008 Dry Traminette
– There is a lot of Indiana Traminette I have not tasted, but Turtle Run offers the driest version I’ve found. This is going to be similar to a dry Riesling or a dry Chenin Blanc for someone who has yet to try Indiana’s signature grape. ($12)

Easley and Huber Traminette – I find both of these wines similar with strong floral hints and a beautiful balance. Both are semi-sweet wines that really express the grape boldly. Both wines are selling for approximately $15.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast who writes about wine in this column and his blog – Grape Sense – at

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Must Try Chile's Wonderful Carmenere

If you like a red wine with big, bright, and dark fruit flavor with a mild finish it’s time to try Chile’s signature wine, Carmenere.

Chile’s explosive growth and ever-increasing quality has been a major wine story in recent years. It’s fueled in no small part by Carmenere. The Chileans are also producing nice Cabernet, Syrah, and experimenting in some areas with Pinot Noir.
The Colchagua, Rapel, and Maipo valleys have long been the leaders in Carmenere production.

Like so many varietals, Carmenere is believed to have been originally grown in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France. It was used primarily for blending of the great Bordeaux wines.

Chile came by its signature wine somewhat mistakenly. For years many thought Carmenere to be Merlot or a Merlot clone. Scientific studies have shown it’s more likely to be a clone of Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenere was believed to have first appeared in Chile in the mid-1800s.

The grapes were planted around Santiago. Chile’s light summer rain and warm temperatures allowed the grape to flourish.

The wine is incredibly delicious, approachable, ready to drink, and inexpensive. If that sounds like my description of Argentina’s Malbec from previous columns, you’d be right!

Carmenere is an extreme value buy. You can find good bottles for well under $15 in most wine shops.

The grape has almost disappeared from France while thriving in Chile. Italy, California and Washington state have limited Carmenere vineyards.

The Chileans have started to use Carmenere as a blending grape with their Cabernets. If you find a Carmenere, you’re likely to find a Cabernet/Carmenere blend from the same label.

The wine has a really bright characteristic to it. Some wine drinkers might use the word “freshness” to describe the palate. It often has characteristics of blackberry, blueberry, and a peppery finish. It pairs well with all kinds of food and is quite drinkable alone.

If you are expanding your wine palate, and taking Grape Sense’s advice to try, try and try new things – you need to buy a Carmenere.

Here are a couple of names to look for: Concha Y Toro, Cantus, Santa Alicia, Terra Andina, Santa Rita, Santa Ema, and Montes Alpha.

The wine is becoming more sophisticated with each vintage. Montes Alpha, one of Chile’s most respected producers, makes a premium Carmenere called “Purple Angel” which sells for $55-$65. I recently participated in a grand tasting of more than 40 wines with eight wine journalists. The Purple Angel was the top scoring wine of the group.

Howard’s Pick:
2006 Santa Ema Carmenere Barrel Select
– This wine will just amaze you. It has a huge nose with really intense flavors of licorice and dark berries. It is often scored high in “Best Buy” categories by many of the major publications. The winery has been around since the early 1900s, so they know what they’re doing. The most amazing thing about this wine – the $10 price tag!

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a career journalist who now writes about wine. Read his frequently-updated blog at: