June 2012 Issue
Red Wine Renaissance
Ohio winemakers use research and experience to boost the quality of homegrown reds.
Ohio winemakers’ earliest efforts to produce dry reds from grape
varieties better suited for sweet wines sent even the most open-minded
wine enthusiast sprinting to the spit bucket.
Some of the wines tasted like a not-so-hypothetical blend of green pepper juice and iodine.
But those days are history. In every corner of the Buckeye State, Ohio
wineries are today making excellent homegrown dry red wines that stand
up proudly to their counterparts made in California, France and Italy.
And the best is yet to come.
Todd Steiner, enology program manager at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center
and the state’s leading
expert on wine grapes, says several factors are contributing to the
surge in quality of Ohio’s homegrown dry red wines.
“Experience is really helping us out,” Steiner says, both in the
vineyards where grapes are grown and in the cellars where the wine is
made. Winery owners are planting more vineyards with red vinifera
grapevines native to Europe such as cabernet franc, pinot noir and
cabernet sauvignon. And the latest agricultural research is helping to
guide wineries to the best sites, the best soils and the best
microclimates for those vinifera grape varieties, which have shown in
vineyards around the globe that they can make fabulous dry red wines.
Long, warm growing seasons such as those Ohio has enjoyed in some recent
years also have helped, since the combination of warmth, extended “hang
time” for grapes and dry conditions during the fall harvest allow
grapes to ripen to the magical point that they make rich, fruity,
sumptuous dry wines.
“Whether you call it global warming or not, the environment we’ve had in
Ohio is a little more conducive than it used to be for growing wine
grapes,” Steiner says.
Ohio winemakers are getting plenty of good advice to help them obtain
the maximum potential out of the high-quality red-wine grapes growing in
“There’s a lot of good new research being done in Ohio and across the
U.S. that has helped our winemaking process considerably,” Steiner says.
“The research is showing us the optimal times to harvest, how to handle
the grapes after they’re picked and how to handle fermentations.”
Those lessons learned are also boosting the quality of red wines made
from hybrid grapes such as chambourcin and Norton that are crosses
between native North American grape varieties and European vinifera. In
the northern half of the state, pinot noir, cabernet franc and
chambourcin are reaching new heights of quality, while in the south,
cabernet sauvignon, syrah, Norton, cabernet franc and chambourcin are
all showing great promise, Steiner says.
Joe Schuchter has had a front-row seat to Ohio’s red-wine renaissance:
He serves as president of the Ohio Wine Producers Association
governing board and is part of the third generation of his family to
operate Valley Vineyards
in Warren County northeast of Cincinnati. His
winery’s 2010 Cabernet Franc won the “Director’s Award” last year from
the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Grape Industries
Committee, earning the designation of “best red wine in Ohio.” (Don’t
bother calling and trying to order a bottle — Valley Vineyards sold the
last case to the Palace Restaurant in the Cincinnatian Hotel, Schuchter
“A lot of the vinifera grapevines that we planted in the late 1980s and
early ’90s are finally reaching maturity, and I think that’s the case at
some other Ohio wineries as well,” Schuchter says, explaining the
widespread improvement of Ohio-grown reds. “Also, the winery owners are
allowing their winemakers to experiment more and to spend the money on
new oak barrels, and that helps boost quality.”
Dry reds from the 2010 vintage — which enjoyed a long, warm growing
season — are still available at many Ohio wineries (Valley Vineyards
released a 2010 syrah shortly after its cabernet franc sold out), and
these wines will offer proof of Ohio’s red-winemaking savvy to even the
most skeptical oenophile. Steiner and Valley Vineyards winemaker Greg
Pollman say the 2011 vintage, with its cooler growing season and
rain-soaked autumn, was more challenging, but many Ohio winemakers
overcame those obstacles to produce impressive reds.
We’ll just have to look for other sources for our green pepper and iodine.
Note: This recipe from Cheryl Bater of London, Ohio, is a “Best of Show”
winner in the Ohio State Fair
’s “Cooking with Ohio Wines” contest. It
called for Firelands Cabernet Sauvignon; we’ve adapted it to include
other Ohio dry reds. For more recipes, visit the Ohio Grape Industries
Seared Ribeye Steaks with Cabernet Sauce Reduction
2 boneless prime ribeye steaks
1 tablespoon mixed peppercorns
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup Ohio cabernet franc or
3/4 cup low-salt beef broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter,
cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons Roquefort cheese
3 tablespoons toasted walnuts,
1 tablespoons chives, minced
black currant clusters (optional)
edible flowers (optional)
Remove steaks from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place walnuts in single layer on rimmed
baking sheet. Bake 5 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside
Combine peppercorns, cumin seed, mustard seed and salt in spice grinder
or use a mortar and pestle. Grind spices thoroughly. Coat steaks lightly
with olive oil, rubbing onto all sides of meat. Rub spice mixture onto
steaks, coating meat evenly.
Heat iron skillet over high heat for 3 minutes. Add steaks to dry, hot
pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and sear steaks on one side for 4
minutes. Flip steaks over and continue cooking second side for 3 minutes
for medium-rare or 4 to 5 minutes for medium doneness. Transfer steaks
to plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
Reduce heat to medium. In same pan steaks were cooked in, saute shallots
and tomato paste for 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Gradually
stir in wine, low-salt beef broth and balsamic vinegar. Cook to reduce
liquid by one third. Strain sauce through small strainer. Add butter,
small amounts at a time, and whisk into sauce. Add additional kosher
salt if desired to taste.
Divide sauce evenly between plates. Place steaks on top
of sauce. Crumble Roquefort cheese over steaks. Top steaks with toasted
walnuts and chives.