My wine column in yesterday’s paper:
Like many students of the University of Missouri, my first exposure to the wines of the Show-Me State came courtesy of Les Bourgeois in Rocheport.
Packed into picnic tables or standing in small groups in the baking sun, we would wolf down glasses of Riverboat Red or Pink Fox, concerning ourselves with neither the merits of the wine nor the prevailing laws regarding underage drinking. The wines were cold and available; nothing else mattered.
Much has changed since then. Missouri’s wine industry is flourishing —and not just with sweet and semi-sweet offerings of days gone by.
One of my favorites is Westphalia Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc, a balanced, peppery red produced about 20 minutes southeast of Jefferson City. In November, Wine Enthusiast magazine gave the wine 87 points, saying, “This wine has an elegant, refreshing character that offers complexity as well as approachability. The nose is a combination of red berry, spice and pepper, and on the palate, spicy, savory flavors give the wine a meaty complexity. Overall though, it offers good balance and minerality and a long, appealing finish. — S.K,” Oct. 1, 2009.”
The bottle appears on restaurant wine lists as far away as San Diego.
An online commenter offered some thoughts on Bommarito Estate Almond Tree Winery. Owner Nick Bommarito “grows a variety of Missouri grapes, including the Vignole, St. Vincent, and the Norton. His Norton is 100 percent Norton and is light, spicy, with an intense finish. He uses his wonderful Norton as the base for his Missouri Port, which is some of the best port I’ve tried — no foolin’!”
My wife and I had the good fortune of stopping into the small Bommarito tasting room one cold February day a few years ago and were impressed with their Norton ourselves. It’s well worth the short jog off of Highway 100 in Franklin County.
Some other highly recommended wines I have yet to try include the 2007 Cross J Vineyard Norton from Stone Hill Winery, the ports of Adam Puchta Winery and Montelle’s 2008 Chardonel, which has been compared to high-quality chardonnays from California. Les Bourgeois’ Chardonel and Norton have pleased as well.
One major problem when diving more deeply into Missouri wines is finding retailers that carry them. Hy-Vee carries a broad selection of Missouri wines — including Westphalia’s Cabernet Franc — but many of the most highly regarded are hard to find. Most wineries will ship, though I haven’t taken advantage of this option myself.
This year’s bottlings will test the abilities of winemakers across the state. The cool, rainy weather Missouri experienced in 2009 — along with a late harvest — could mean wines that taste watered down or funky.
“Normally we know about now, but this year it’ll be about Groundhog Day or Valentine’s Day before we know if we’ve had a good year,” said Chuck Dressel, owner of Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. “We’re waiting with bated breath.”
The winemakers will have a better shot than they would have even 10 years ago. The number of wineries in the state has more than tripled in that time, standing at 90 now. The quality, level of experience and technology involved in producing Missouri’s wines today give most of them a fighting chance.
Fighting back is what they’ve had to do since the once-proud industry was laid low by Prohibition. Brought back from the dead by a handful of committed vintners around the state, Missouri wines are now holding their own in competitions from coast to coast — and winning over former undergraduates across the state.
Scott Rowson lives and eats in Columbia and writes about it at showmeeats.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.