Wines of North East Ohio: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to register for a wine-tasting class at Kent State, called Wines of N.E. Ohio. I have to say, it was an excellent decision! The class meets on three Fridays from 8am-7pm approximately. It’s a pretty long day (especially when you tack on a 45 minute commute each way for me), but my first day was so much fun, and I actually learned a lot too!

We started the day in a classroom filling out some required paperwork, and an introduction by our instructor, Tony Carlucci. Tony is an award-winning winemaker who was academically trained in enology, so it’s pretty awesome that we get to learn about wine from him. He’s extremely knowledgable on the topic (obviously). We started out with the history of wine in Ohio.

Did you know that in 1860, Ohio led the nation in the production of wine?

Neither did I! Well, not until this class, anyways. We also learned about the different wine regions in Ohio and the surrounding areas.

He taught us about how wines are labeled, including varietal designations (the name of the grape, i.e. merlot, chardonnay, etc.), proprietary wines/blends (mixes of different varietals, usually labeled as something like “Sweet Red,” “Classic Red,” or even just “Red Wine” – etc.) Wines in France like to label by region instead of varietal (like Bordeaux, Champagne, etc). Estate wines are when the winery grows & uses their own grapes. We also learned about sugar and alcohol content, as well as how wine is made. Sugar (the grape juice) and yeast are combined to make alcohol and CO2. Dry wine is when all of the natural sugar has been fermented into alcohol and CO2, and generally has less than 0.75% Residual Sugar (RS). Anything with 2% or more RS is considered a sweet wine. We also learned about fermentation, tannins, aging wine, and more! As you can see, it was a very interesting lecture! I could probably go on more about the rest of the information we learned too, but I won’t go into 100% of the details.

Then, it was time to start sampling wine! He showed us the proper way to sample wine – swirl it, sniff it, then taste it.

Wine Tasting Class

Our first glass to taste – a 2010 Eberle Chardonnay Estate wine. We got amish cheese to pair it with, as well as crackers, and dark chocolate for a red wine we were going to sample. I liked the chardonnay, but I especially liked it when paired with the cheese. It was so good! The cheese mellowed out the dryness perfectly. This wine had 13.9% alcohol content and should be served at room temperature. He recommended serving dryer wine with food.

He showed us how to look for the level of alcohol content, by swirling the glass and looking for tears (lines going down the side of the glass). The thinner the tears, the higher the alcohol content. Here’s an example from our red wine sample:

Red Wine SampleSee those tear-drop looking lines on the back side of the glass?

The red wine we tasted was a 2009 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a 100% Napa Valley wine that had 13.8% alcohol. I really liked this one with the dark chocolate – mmm! The third wine we tasted was a 2011 Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Auslese from Germany. This one was my favorite! It only had 8.5% alcohol content, and it was also really good paired with the cheese. I would probably buy this one out of the three! Tony recommended to serve this one slightly chilled.

The next item on our agenda was to travel to local wineries! How fun 🙂 This was our transportation for the day:

A Cavaliers-decked-out charter bus!
Traveling in style… Cavs style!

I was honestly expecting a school bus or something, so this was a pleasant surprise. Our first stop was the beautiful Ferrante Winery in Madison/Geneva, Ohio, which is part of the Grand River Valley region. They had lunch and a tasting prepared for us, as well as a tour afterwards!

Ferrante Winery Wine Tasting SamplesThese were our three wines to sample, then we saved the rest to pair with our three-course lunch! It was so fantastic. The lady who was overseeing our tasting/lunch/tour gave us a little introduction to the winery, where we learned that all of their wines have won at least one award at some time. Most of their signature wines have won multiple awards! Very cool!

The first wine (on the left) was a Pinot Grigio from the Grand River Valley Signature Series, which we paired with our first course. The middle wine is a Vidal Blanc from the Grand River Valley region that we paired with our second course, and the last wine is a Merlot that we paired with our third course, the dessert.

Ferrante Winery Lunch Pizza Wine Pairing

This was our first course – a creamy, cheesy pizza with spinach, mushrooms & more. (I can’t remember all of the ingredient details). We paired this with the Pinot Grigio, and the cheesy creaminess went perfectly with it, and helped alleviate some of the dryness of the wine. It was delicious!

Ferrante Winery Lunch Second Course Wine Pairing

Our second course was a chicken breast topped with cheese, spinach, and maybe other things, then wrapped in a slice of prosciutto, and served with vegetable cous cous and a roll. The saltiness from the prosciutto paired extremely well with the sweeter Vidal Blanc. The Vidal Blanc was probably my favorite of the three wines (I tend to like slightly sweeter wines). And the cous cous was so yummy, too!

Ferrante Winery Dessert Third Course Wine PairingOur third course was a decadent dark chocolate mousse with pieces of chocolate cake! We paired this with the merlot, and they also went really well together. It was kind of weird for a lot of us in the class, because we’re not used to pairing wine with dessert, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Ferrante Winery - Wine and Food Pairing (Merlot and dark chocolate mousse)

After our lunch, we made our way into the lobby for our tour of the facility! While we were waiting in the gift shop area, I snapped this little gem:

Save Water Drink Wine
Amen to that!

Our tour guide (who was super nice), showed us around the back to where they squeeze the grapes & ferment the wines, and also where they bottle!

Ferrante Winery Fermentation ProcessThese giant stainless steel vats are where the wines ferment! It was very interesting to see how they go through the whole process. It’s pretty complicated! We also got to learn about Ice Wine, which is extremely popular in this area due to the cold temperatures. The Grand River Valley region actually just recently had an Ice Wine Festival, which I think I’d like to go to next year! Ice wine is basically the same as regular wine, but they make it when the grapes are completely frozen. They are also much sweeter because the grapes hold their sugar content more.

After our tour, we were able to go to the bar and purchase more tastings, so I tried their award-winning Vidal Blanc Ice wine, as well as their Raspberry Blanc.

Raspberry Blanc and Vidal Blanc Ice wine from Ferrante Winery
Raspberry Blanc on the left, Vidal Blanc Ice on the right!

I really enjoyed both, but I think the ice wine won me over! After we were all done, it was time to say goodbye and get back on the bus for our next stop. I took a silly photo of myself on the ride up:

Bus Ride Selfie
Yep, we had to wear goofy name tags & everything!

Our next stop was the St. Joseph Vineyard for a tasting with their owner, Doreen Pietrzyk. She gave us an introduction about their winery, the process they go through, and what wines they are more famous for. This winery is an estate winery – meaning they grow all of their grapes that they use for wine. It’s common in Ohio for wineries to not use their own grapes because of the colder climate. Which makes it cool that some of them do grow their own grapes!

I didn’t get too many pictures here, it was just a simple tasting of 3 wines and they had some crackers available too. The wines we tasted were:

  • A 2011 Pinot Grigio
  • A 2011 Pinot Noir Gamay (blend)
  • 2011 Riesling

Overall I liked the wines, I don’t think I had a particular favorite though. We did have fun trying to identify what flavors and fruits we were tasting!

St. Joseph Vineyard - Grand River Valley

I also ended up getting a shot of their vineyards! It was a typical cold, snowy Ohio day. I also got pictures of a couple signs they had hanging up:

St. Joseph Vineyardswine sign

That was pretty much the end of our day (unless you want to count the hour and a half ride home, which most of us napped during…).

I’m looking forward to our next 2 classes though, this really has been a fun learning experience. Some other wineries we are going to visit are Silver Run Vineyards, Troutman Vineyards, the OARDC Research Station, West Point Market, Ravens Glen Winery, and the Yellowbutterfly Winery. Before taking this class, the only real winery I had been to was John Christ Winery in Avon, Ohio – which is quite enjoyable!

Heinen’s actually has a couple of wine-tasting events coming up! My mom and I registered for one on April 20th at the Heinen’s in Avon. They’ll be having a tasting of wines from Fess Parker Winery.  Bob Campbell, owner of Campbell Fine Wine Selections will be the guest speaker. A variety of artisan cheeses and other fare will be served to complement the wine selections.

I never knew Heinen’s had such cool events – and they have them all the time! Go to their website to see what’s going on at a Heinen’s near you 🙂

Well… Until next time, fellow wino’s 🙂

What’s your favorite local winery in Ohio or the Great Lakes region? What’s your favorite kind of wine? Have you ever tried Ice Wine?

Update: Check out Part 2 of my Wines of North East Ohio series!


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