A lovely rainy weekend has set in, doing wonderful things for the garden, but making it difficult to produce the usual report. This gives me an opportunity to tell more about my Labor Day weekend adventures in Illinois. Before I went, my mother told me about an article she had seen in the Springfield Journal Register about a vineyard in New Berlin, about 20 minutes away. It turned out that the place was Danenberger Family Vineyards. This is an old family farmstead the Danenbergers bought when an aunt put it up for sale a number of years ago. All around were corn and soybeans and Susan Danenberger decided to grow grapes.
There are vineyards and wineries in Illinois, but there is always a certain amount of discussion about whether the soil is appropriate for grapes. Given it is some of the best farmland in the world, that seems to be code for an ongoing discussion about sweet versus dry. The palate of Central Illinois is not a dry one. For example, a number of years ago, my mother had picked up a bottle of apple wine by an in-state winery. It was delicious and dry with a crisp, crisp, apple-y finish. Over the next few years, it became sweeter and sweeter, so that for my family it is now undrinkable. The rest of that winery’s selections are also sweet, so this is less about soil than local market.
Susan Danenberger is specializing in reds and their quality shows. She also has a very nice selection of whites. There are two sweet wines on the list, to which I imagine their knowledgeable tasting room staff can direct people when they receive certain reactions to the other selections. Illinois is a high tax, high regulation state, so you can’t walk in and get a tasting the way you can in Virginia, where I live, or California. You have to pay a dollar per taste. This means that you have to be judicious and depending on your capacity, you have to tell the tasting room staff just to pour enough to taste. I tasted three whites and four reds, none of the sweet wines. I bought two each of these three.
The Carmin is a Cabernet Franc, which I have had some experience with in Virginia. It is a full-bodied, intense red with lots of black cherry and a bit of pepper. Until recently, at Potomac Point Winery in Virginia, all the Cab Francs that I tasted had a bit of a rough edge. There’s nothing wrong with this; it just means it needs the right food pairing, like a pork tenderloin. The Carmin, like the Cab Franc at Potomac Point, had a much softer edge, making it enjoyable both before and during a meal.
The Blanc is made with a riesling grape and is semi-dry. This wine has very nice body for a white, lots of peachy fruit and a lovely mineral finish. It compares to Potomac Point’s unoaked chardonnay–the first unoaked chard I’ve bought, and I’ve tasted quite a few.
The Scarlet is a Petit Verdot, something Virginia wineries also produce. Danenberger’s is lighter bodied, like a good Pinot Noir, but it has all the flavor of a heavier bodied wine. If you like a peppery Pinot Noir, this wine is for you. The fruit and the spice blend in a lovely, flavorful way. Because of its light body it would be excellent with lots of food, including salmon or that Thanksgiving turkey that will be with us sooner than we think!
Prices at Danenberger are comparable to what I’m used to here in Virginia and as the wines are certainly equal to the ones I buy here, I did not find them out of line. After our tasting, my mother and I took a glass to a lovely sitting room off the winery’s kitchen and dining area where Denise Perry, a local chef, was fixing flatbread pizzas. Mom and I had flatbread, brie, and grapes to snack on.
Other people ordered pizzas and were visited by the polite sled team that lives at the winery. It was so lovely, we want to go back this winter when the fireplace is working. Next week, I’ll get back to the fall garden!