Saturday, March 6, 2010

Report from … One Stop in Kentucky – March 5, 2010

I have heard of Kentucky bluegrass, Kentucky Woman, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Kentucky Derby and even Kentucky bourbon, but Kentucky wine?  Now that was a total mystery to me.  Which is why on our way down to Florida I got my one and only chance to try the stuff at Talon Winery in Lexington.

Located approximately 11 miles off of I-75 on a sprawling ranch, of which 5-acres of vines are planted to 7 grape varieties:  Traminette, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cayuga White, Vidal, Catawba and Chambourcin; I was shocked to learn from Lori Baumgardner, daughter of the owner, that a weed of a grape like Chardonnay “is hard to grow in Kentucky”.  I also learned that if the bottle says “Kentucky Wine” – an odd turn of phrase for any wine lover as something not heard very often – that the grapes were sourced from Kentucky (at least 75% of them anyway), while “American Wine” on the label meant it was fruit sourced from outside the state.

The winery’s name comes from a fusion of Lori’s mom and step dad’s last names, Allen and Tackett, who liked the sound of Tallen but then also liked the reference to the power of the eagle’s talon imagery it invoked, hence Talon.

More interesting was the story of the house that housed the tasting room and the estate.  It once belonged to Isaac Shelby, who was the first governor of Kentucky; the house was built for his daughter in the 1790’s around the time George Washington was in his first term as president.  Another interesting fact about the house is that it was built in what was then called Virginia, which later became part of Kentucky; my fiancée, Erica, pointed out that it’s the only house she’s ever been in that “has been in two states but has never been moved.”

The vines were planted in 2000 with the help of the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats), and wine started to come out for sale with the 2004 vintage.

I was not interested in the “American Wines”, as this would be my one and only chance to try Kentucky wine (on this trip), I had to make it count, so I tried 4 wines labeled as “Kentucky Wine”.  The 2006 Traminette was floral with orange blossom and a white pepper finish.  The label was mouth-painted by a family friend with cerebral palsy, a heart-warming story because the lady was given 18 years to live and instead lived well into her 50’s.  The family decided to honour her memory with the label.

I also tried the 2005 Monarch (Cabernet Franc), a black fruited, leathery and tobacco leaf number from what Lori described as a difficult vintage with plenty of crop damage, “we get something like that every 5 years or so around here,” she told me.  Since I hadn’t tried a wine made from Catawba in a while (since my last visit to New York State), I decided I had to sip on the Catawba/Concord blend called Afterglow – slightly sweet and grapy.  But the wine that blew my mind (and eventually bought a bottle of) was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($21.95), aged 1 year in, what else, Kentucky oak barrels.  Lots of red fruit in this one, like cherry and strawberry backed up by cassis.  The palate had a slight spice to it, but showed mainly strawberries and cherries.  Soft and easy drinking with a nice red-fruited finish, simply lovely and a much try.

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