Week 1: Getting to Know Indiana Wines
By Natalie van Hoose
Indiana's grapes have to be tough enough to withstand Midwestern winters, which is why many of them are hybrids rather than pure Vitis vinifera, the species traditionally grown in the mild climates of Europe.
This week, state winemakers and Purdue viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon describe four varieties—two whites and two reds—that are putting Indiana's vineyards on the map.
Purdue viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon discusses Traminette, Indiana's signature wine grape. Traminette yields a floral, aromatic white wine with a hint of spice.
Indiana's signature grape, Traminette, flourishes in all parts of the state. Cold-hardy and disease-resistant, it produces a floral, aromatic white wine with a hint of spice, comparable to its parent grape Gewürztraminer.
Among winemakers, Traminette is known for its versatility; depending on how the wine is finished, it can be dry, semi-dry, sweet or even sparkling, and it can possess a variety of floral notes, such as lilac or rose petal.
Traminette is what a bartender might call a "friendly" wine. Its floral qualities and lack of bitterness make it enjoyable, even for folks who are new to drinking wine.
"It's a good wine for beginners," says Jeff Martin, winemaker at Easley Winery and a Purdue alumnus in horticulture. "It's usually semi-sweet to semi-dry, and it goes very well with Indiana pork dishes."
Easley Winery's Traminette took home a trophy for White Wine of the Year at the 2013 Indy International Wine Competition.
Martin recommends pairing Traminette with pork tenderloin or a bleu cheese and bacon hamburger. Also consider trying Traminette with spicy dishes, such as curries.
Purdue viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon talks about Vignoles, an old French hybrid grape that produces a semi-dry white wine with unique tropical qualities. Vignoles wines won Wine of the Year at the Indy International Wine Competition in 2012 and 2013.
Developed in response to the phylloxera pest that wiped out many of Europe's vineyards, Vignoles (pronounced vin-YOHL’) is an old French hybrid that is well adapted to growing in the Midwest.
While Vignoles could be considered a semi-dry white wine because of its low level of residual sugar, its tropical fruit qualities give it a pleasant sweetness. It is characterized by flavors of pineapple, honey or melon.
Despite its rich history, Vignoles has only recently begun enjoying a moment of fame. Vignoles wines won Wine of the Year at the Indy International Wine Competition in 2012 and 2013. This year's award went to Huber Winery, where Dana Huber says Vignoles has long been a favorite.
"It's always very well-received in our tasting room," Huber says. "People are bashful about trying a semi-dry wine but pleased once they do. The tropical fruit on the palate makes it approachable. There's nothing else quite like it. It really holds its own."
Huber suggests serving Vignoles with creamy cheeses such as havarti and sweet Swiss and salads or bitter greens like arugula.
Purdue viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon showcases Chambourcin grapes, Indiana's most widely grown red variety. Chambourcin produces a rich, semi-dry table wine with notes of cherry and blackberry.
Regarded as Indiana's best red variety, Chambourcin (pronounced SHAM’-ber-sin) is another old French hybrid bred to withstand the phylloxera pest. It's a late-ripening grape that fares best in the southern part of the state.
Chambourcin has moderate tannins and can be made into a semi-dry table wine or a blush. When finished on the light side, it has strawberry and raspberry flavors; on the drier side, it exudes darker berries such as blackberry and cherry.
Until two years ago, Wildcat Creek Winery's Rick Black would never have considered making Chambourcin.
"It was my least favorite variety," he says.
But needing a semi-dry red wine, he decided to swallow his skepticism and give Chambourcin a shot.
"As a juice, it tasted great. It had a nice, fruity flavor, and it smelled tremendous," he says. "But I thought at some point it was going to trick me. I was holding my breath through the whole fermentation process, waiting for it to turn funny."
Then the moment arrived when Black poured himself a glass of the sweet reserve, the point at which the wine was essentially done but could be adjusted for balance. Nervous, he tasted the wine.
"I said, 'Oh, my God. This is really good.' We didn't have to make any changes. It was perfect the way it was."
He wasn't alone in his admiration. Wildcat Creek Winery's Chambourcin cleaned up at the 2012 Indy International Wine Competition, winning a double gold medal, Best of Class and Indiana Wine of the Year.
Chambourcin's richness makes it an ideal partner to beef, pork and pasta dishes. Black also recommends trying it with a decadent chocolate dessert.
Purdue viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon talks about Noiret, a newcomer to the Indiana wine scene. Most often used in red wine blends, Noiret is known for its deep color, moderate tannins, and peppery quality.
A newcomer to Indiana's wine scene, Noiret (pronounced nwar-AY’) may be the best alternative red variety to Chambourcin.
While it has low sugar and acid levels, Noiret is often prized as a blending grape because of its pepper and mint flavors, rich coloring and bold tannins.
According to winemaker Larry Satek of Satek Winery, the peppery nature of Noiret can be overwhelming in a stand-alone varietal, which is why it's more often used in a blend.
"Noiret has very intense black pepper characteristics—more black pepper than one would want," he says. "But in a blend, its black pepper and tannins make a much broader tasting wine," he says.
He uses Noiret in Larry's Luscious Dry Red, a blend that won Indiana-Grown French-American Wine of the Year at the 2013 Indy International Wine Competition.
"Wine writers have said it's like a Bordeaux blend," he says. "They're amazed that it comes from local grapes."
In years when the grapes taste less peppery, Satek makes a varietal Noiret.
"That's when it has nice fruit flavors, a bit of oak, and those tannins will soften up over time and become quite drinkable," he says. "Noiret's a new grape. We're still learning."
Satek recommends serving Noiret with hearty red meats such as steak and lamb.
Credits: Photos by Tom Campbell. Videos by Kelsey Getzin. Web version by Andrew Banta. Through the Grapevine graphic by Russ Merzdorf.