Friday, May 20, 2011

Butler Winery One of Hoosier State's Pioneers

BLOOMINGTON, In. – Every state has its wine pioneers, those brave souls who started turning grapes to wine when no one else would.

It’s easy to come up with California’s iconic brands like Gallo, Mondavi, Fetzer, and so many more. But can you name Indiana’s leaders? Names like Oliver, Thomas, Easley, Huber, and Butler are sure to be on just about anyone’s list.

Jim Butler, Butler Winery and Vineyards, got his start at Oliver in 1976 and then after about six years opened his own winery just north of Bloomington. Today, he has tasting rooms in downtown Bloomington and Chesterton. The third tasting room is at his vineyard and winery just a few miles north of Bloomington.

“Our focus has always been doing Indiana-grown grapes,” Butler said. “There are a lot of wineries that establish their name, but base things on California grapes. There are Indiana wineries that do that. But my philosophy has always been ‘as long as we’re bringing grapes in from California and using the names Cabernet and Chardonnay we’re promoting California not Indiana.’ ”

Butler has proven to the world he knows how to make fine wine equal to any California producer. He holds the honor of being the first Indiana winery to ever win one of the top five awards at the prestigious Indy International Wine Competition. Butler’s 2008 Chambourcin Rose’ was named best Rose’ in the 2009 international contest. The annual competition draws more than 3,000 wines from 10 different countries.

“We sold out of that one very quickly and we raised the price twice,” Butler laughed. “That just kind of established the fact it can be done. I don’t know how long the good will lasts but it definitely is good for credibility.”

Butler started at its downtown Bloomington location in 1983 and then expanded to its current winery/vineyard site in 1991. The Chesterton tasting room opened in June 2008. Butler produces more than 2,500 cases annually.

The grape varieties he grows and buys from other Indiana vineyards includes Cayuga, Vignoles, Chardonel, Chambourcin, Traminette, Catawba, and Concord. He also makes a few fruit wines from Indiana growers.

“I think clean and fresh (describe our wines),” he said. “We try to never put anything in the bottle we’re not proud of. No matter where you go, what state, you’re going to find wines and wonder why they bottled it. That’s something I’ve always tried not to do. We’ve always focused on good sound quality.”

Butler wants to increase his red wine lineup and he’s looking north for one of the possibilities. He recently planted Marquette, a grape developed by cool climate guru the late Elmer Swenson from the University of Minnesota.

“It’s an early grape, a cousin to Frontenac, but the Marquette has a better tannin structure,” Butler said. He hopes to make a 100 percent varietal bottling of Marquette. The wine is usually described as one with a cherry, berry, black pepper, and spice smell and flavor.

Howard’s Picks:
2009 Chambourcin Rose’, $13.95
– All of the 2008 top prize winner is gone but this remains a beautiful Rose’ wine. You get hints of cherry and even apple from Butler’s signature wine.

2009 Chambourcin, $18.95 – This really nice dry red wine, aged in French Oak, is at the top of Butler’s grape varietal wines. But it’s worth every penny. I’ve tasted a lot of bad Indiana Chambourcin and a few pretty good ones. Butler’s Chambourcin ranks near the top.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Value White Wine Picks for Summer

How can you go wrong with something light, refreshing, and affordable?

Summer time is white wine time for most wine-consuming Americans. There are so many affordable choices that are easy to find it would take two or three columns to list them all. Instead, here is a list of some of my most-recent favorites.

These wines are all available in Indiana and Illinois or will be soon.

Woodbridge 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($7.99) – This should be easy to find and even easier to drink. It’s a very light bodied Sauv Blanc with citrus and tropical fruit. The acid is milder than most Sauv Blancs. It’s actually a blend of Sauv Blanc, French Colombard, Semillon, and Verdelho. Try it all alone or with white fish.

Argiolas Costamolino 2009 Vermentino ($15.99 and less) – A very nice bouquet is followed by a mouthful of citrus and pineapple. It has a nice acidity that makes this Italian beauty pair well with food. Wine Advocate gave this light-colored wine 89 points.

Buried Cane 2009 Chardonnay ($14.) – This Washington State unoaked Chardonnay is a stunner for $14. The grapes come mostly from the Columbia Valley region. This would be great on the porch on a summer evening or with light fare. You’ll get hints of peach on this light and fruity wine. Currently available in Illinois and very soon in Indiana. Buried Cane is a great label with consistent wines.

Helfrich 2009 Riesling ($14.99) – This is an old French winemaker from the Alsace region that offers a beautiful Riesling for the price. Many U.S. Rieslings are a bit on the sweet side but the Helfrich gives you nice crisp green apple and medium acidity. I’d call it a ‘not too sweet, not too dry” type of wine.

Flipflop 2010 Pinot Grigio ($7) – Easy to find at an incredible price. This light-bodied white gives you a hint of pear and a nice clean finish. Pasta with white sauces, light snacks on the porch, or even a glassful on a hot day would be a great pairing!

E. Guigal 2009 Cotes du Rhone Blanc ($12) – For you Francophiles here is an inexpensive white wine than anyone can love. It’s mostly Viognier along with several lesser known Rhone white varietals. It’s certainly floral and a great pairing with spicy dishes.

Brassfield Estate Winery 2009 Serenity ($9.99-$14.99) – This was one of the nicest white blends I’ve tasted in years. The Napa wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, and Semilon. You will taste the honey dew melon on the palate and nicely balanced acidity. It’s a very well-made and refreshing white wine.

Again, all or most of these whites should be easy to find at any wine shop or well-stocked liquor store. But if these aren’t on the shelves here are some additional suggestions.

Try Torrontos, it’s the latest rage out of Argentina. The wines are ‘hot’ right now with wine fans. They are very inexpensive and feature a very floral scent with a fruity texture. Check the alcohol level before buying one though, I’ve found some Torrontos higher than most whites in alcohol content.

I’ve written before about Spanish and Portugal’s Albarino. It’s one of my favorite white grapes. It’s lean and crisp with a minerality that is a great thirst quencher. Great bottles can be found under $15.

Finally, here’s another plug for Indiana Traminette. Most Indiana wineries make a Traminette in a sweet to semi-sweet or semi-dry style. It will remind regular wine drinkers of a Gewurtz, but if you’ve never tried or heard of that think of a mildly sweet wine that is very floral.

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