I can’t think of a better way to taste a lot of different wines and beer than to go to the annual Des Moines Opera Wine and Food Showcase. This year’s showcase was held on Friday, February 18th at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott. The wine and beer selections seem to have expanded considerably. The crowd was also heavy. I’ll start with the wine.
The top wine find of the day was Hollen Family Vineyards. Argentinian wines were being pushed heavily by a lot of the distributors at the showcase and it is easy to get tired of the hit-or-miss nature of a lot of South American wines. I can tell you that with Hollen Family Vinyards it is all hits. Another side benefit here is that there is an Iowa connection as these Argentine wines are produced by Mike Hollen and his family. Mike Hollen is a Waterloo, Iowa orthodontist and restaurateur (CU Restaurant and The Cellar). I have to tell you that these wines are fantastic and are equal to or better than any under-$40 Bordeaux or California wines I’ve tried lately. They might be better than even more expensive wines, but that is a judgment that must be made by somebody with a more sophisticated palate than I own.Lets start with the 2007 “Don Giaroli” Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a wine that in my opinion combines the best of French and California wines. It has very nice tannins and the leather and earthy aroma that I miss in many California wines but that is frequently present in a good Bordeaux. It also has the fruit and a super smooth and tasty finish that California wines do so well. I will definitely be trying to find a more of these wines to buy. Hollen also makes a Cab without the “signature” of the Argentine winemaker but this 2007 Cabernet was also very good. It may not have been quite as smooth as the “Don Giaroli” but it was a very good Cab. All of the wine bottles are hand-marked with the bottle number and the bottling date (Euro-style of dating, I see). The 2008 Syrah was also a fantastic wine if you want a Syrah that is truly jam-packed with jammy flavor. This was actually the first wine I tried from the selection offered by Hollen Family Vineyards and it was the wine that told me that this was a label worth checking into more. It was nice to try a fruit-heavy wine that was not also a super sweet wine. This bottle proves that it is possible to keep the flavor without loading a wine down with sugars.
I asked Mike Hollen how he made these wines. He told me that the grapes are selectively picked in the field and that they only use the middle crush for the juice in order to avoid bitterness. Then, the product is then kept under climate-controlled conditions. The wines are grown in Argentina’s Mendoza province and processed in a bodega owned by the Hollen family. These wines have been picked up by Dimitri Wine and Spirits Distributing and should be available at Iowa Hy-Vees.
Another wine worth mentioning is the 2009 Apothic Red. This is a “winemaker’s blend” from California. The main attribute of this particular bottle, other than its fancy label, is the chocolate taste of the wine. Other reviews of the wine are all over the place, but you can’t go wrong if you want to see just how much chocolate taste can be extracted from a grape. While not a wine that I would want to drink every week, it would be a fantastic addition to a wine tasting or a large party where it would be, I am sure, a party favorite for its novelty. Sometimes you need to mix things up.
Another Cabernet Sauvignon that was definitely a hit at the showcase was the 2007 Columbia Valley NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon by North by Northwest, or NxNW. This is a blend of a number of grapes from different vineyards and includes 10% Merlot, 3% of Cabernet Franc and 3% of Petit Verdot grapes. The vineyards are printed right on the label. This is a highly rated wine and it was true to its reputation. The wine had a very sophisticated taste, complete with the oak and tannins that are a feature of Cabs, though without being oppressive. This is a very nice $20 bottle of wine that comes with some very high ratings.
Other wines that I thought were very good for their reported price included The Opolo Vineyards Mountain Zinfandel, The Horse Heaven Hills Columbia Crest 2008 Merlot and 2008 River’s Edge Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir. All three were very good representatives of their varietals and all shared one aspect that I like in a wine, and that is great flavor.
Now on to the beer.
Peace Tree was offering tastes of their three beers, Red Rambler, Hop Wranger, and Rye Porter. Of the three, the Rye was most surprising, though all three were well made. The Hop Wrangler is, as the name implies, a hoppy beer. It featured a very hops-heavy aroma and a bitterness on the backend common to those brews. The Rye Porter was a malt-heavy beer. It was smooth and had a depth of flavor worth trying. The beer seemed to have a effervescence embedded in the brew. I also learned that in a few weeks that Peace Tree will be shipping out some Peace Tree Double IPA for fans of super hopped up beers. This beer has the coolest label (looks like an old-fashioned liquor certificate) and is highly rated. So, keep your eyes peeled for that.