Speaking of Ohio
If you stayed up as late last night watching the U.S. election returns as I did, you'll understand why my eyes and my brain aren't sufficiently functional to delve deeply into obscure wine-related topics this morning.
But with the eyes of the nation and the world on Ohio today, with its 20 electoral votes critical to the outcome of the election of 2004, I can't resist going to the books for a peek at the relatively little-known wine history of this key Eastern state.
According to the Ohio Wines Information Pack of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, it was early in the Nineteenth Century that Cincinnati lawyer Nicholas Longworth "saw the potential of the Ohio River Valley to become a major producer of wine. In 1820 he planted the first Catawba grapes. This domestic variety was hearty enough to withstand Ohio winters and the wine produced from it won quick consumer acceptance. The light, semi-sweet wine was different from the other strong American wines of the day.
"Soon there were many acres of vines growing in the greater Cincinnati area and by 1845 the annual production was over 300,000 gallons. By 1860, Ohio led the nation in the production of wine."
Crop diseases and the Civil War put an end to this brief dominance and, in a development that seems equally unlikely to modern observers, the epicenter of American commercial wine moved to, er, Missouri for much of the second half of the 1800s. It was only in relatively modern times, after Prohibition, that California with its wine-friendly, Mediterranean climate became the state that most of us today associate with American wine.
As it happens, Ohio still produces wine, boasting nearly 70 wineries in every corner of the state, from the Ohio River Valley to the shores of Lake Erie. But as is typical of Eastern wines and wineries, few are available far from the winery door.
For more information on Ohio's historic and modern wine industry, see the Ohio Wines Information Pack,
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Rather than inflict a difficult-to-find Ohio wine on you today, I'm featuring a tasty, affordable blend from a California producer, a wine labeled, curiously, with no vintage or geographical appellation whatsoever. This bottle was sent me by a friend in Arizona who was intrigued by its mysterious background - and its hearty Mediterranean-style flavors. It appears to be moving into broader distribution, turning up recently in Kentucky for a penny under $10.
Pietra Santa "Sacred Stone" Master's Red Blend Old World Style Red Wine ($9.99)
Dark ruby in color, with warm, plummy aromas, a hint of raisins and a dash of spice; floral and peppery notes on the nose carry over to the palate with a burst of fragrant pepper and bright red fruit. Full bodied, tart and somewhat tannic, with an intriguing minerality lurking behind the forward fruit and peppery spice. Powerful alcohol (14.8%) leaves a distinct warmth in the finish. Made by a California producer and bearing no regional appellation or vintage, it's described as a "Rhone-style blend," with Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and the less characteristically Rhonish Sangiovese and Zinfandel. (Oct. 29, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Good with hearty seasonal fare, it made a fine match with a shepherd's pie variation, ground lamb and earthy Swiss cheese on a bed of mashed potatoes and cauliflower.
VALUE: A good buy at this $10 price.
WHEN TO DRINK: This wine is ready to enjoy now. Its structure and fruit and overall stylistic resemblance to a Rhone-style red suggest that it won't suffer from a year or two on the wine rack or longer in a temperature-controlled cellar.
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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004