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Iowa wineries getting increasing better results from new grape varieties

07/24/2014 7:56 PM

07/24/2014 7:56 PM

Summer offers me a chance to visit various wine regions and it might surprise people to know that wineries in Michigan, New York State, Washington, Oregon and even Kansas, Missouri and Iowa are routinely part of the itinerary.

I’ve been watching Iowa intently for years; its challenges are rather different from those around here because their winters are uniformly tough on grapevines. This year saw frigid cold in Kansas and Missouri too, but Iowa sees it year in and year out.

Iowans have learned to employ vines developed in places like Minnesota — speaking of winters — and Canada and as a result things just keep getting better.

Many of those grapevines are new to grape growers and winemakers alike; consumers are likely farther behind that curve. Reds such as Corot Noir, Noiret and Rougeon are surviving tough winter weather and offering rich wines as well, though these wines are often a bit tart for most red wine drinkers.

Grapevine breeders still haven’t completely cracked this nut; cold-hardy grapevines generally make for tart grapes that lack the sort of dry astringency — the wine industry calls that “tannin” — that most red wine drinkers associate with “fine” red wine.

Many more white grapes are showing excellence in vineyards of the Upper Plains: most people around Kansas City have had a chance to try Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles and some of the newer beauties, principally, Traminette and Valvin Muscat.

But north of us are some other lovelies: Brianna — think pineapple, LaCrescent — think even more pineapple, LaCrosse, Edelweiss and many others.

I can’t tell you that you will need to know about these grapes — except maybe LaCrescent — but I can assure you that wineries to the north believe there is something fascinating to taste amongst these new varieties. I agree.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.

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