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Elizabeth Spencer Wine Tasting – The Party Source – 6:30-8:30 PM

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Spring Wines – Water Tower Fine Wines – 5:30-8:30 PM

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  • April 23rd, 2010

    Cincinnati Secrets: Henke Winery (Part 2)

    This post is the second in a three-part series from Timothy J. Gabelman, the Cincinnati Wine Pairing Examiner with www.examiner.com. Tim has graciously agreed to be a contributing writer to Uncorked Cincinnati and we are very excited to have him. Look for a weekly article from Mr. Gabelman on Uncorked Cincinnati discussing food, wine, and local tidbits!

    Joe Henke, the winemaker for Henke Winery, would describe himself as a winemaker in the European, or more specifically, the French tradition. But the Cincinnati winemaker did not start off espousing this philosophy. Indeed, initially, Joe thinks of his style as one happily capable of “making mistakes” and learning from such unfortunate events to guide him to where he is today. “You learn by washing a man’s barrels, cleaning his hoses, watching and learning, and working in the cellar, you learn a lot. And by tasting the wines, you find the kind of style that you enjoy; strive to identify it and duplicate it,” says Joe of his experience.

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Of course, he had a great deal of help along the way. Arnie Esterer, the winemaker for Markko Winery encouraged Joe at the beginning of his fledgling career. Asked of Mr. Esterer’s encouragement, Joe says, “He was the first one to plant vinifera in Ohio in 1969 and his wines were of such acclaim that they were served at The Maisonette.” The Maisonette, of course, was the most awarded restaurant in America until it closed in 2005, and was heavily influenced by French culinary traditions. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Joe thinks of himself as a winemaker heavily influenced by the traditions of both Bordeaux and Burgundy.

    For Joe, this winemaking philosophy has lead to the realization that his wines are “drier than most” and also influences his technical decisions. “We do a sur lee on some of the whites, such as the Seyval. Sur lee, that’s where you leave it on the yeasts for many months. We do a Bordeaux style, like the Vendage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; its Left Bank, heavy Cab.”

    But no discussion of winemaking philosophy with Joe would be complete without the bon mot “Well, I guess my style is that I hope you enjoy what’s in your glass!”

    I was afforded the opportunity to taste five different wines, three of which are available for purchase at this time and two of which were barrel tastings and while be available at the next vintage release.

    We started with the 2008 Chardonnay ($14.50) during our interview with Joe. With grapes sourced from the Finger Lakes district and Lodi, Joe has crafted a rich, buttery and complex wine with hints of mango, pineapple, and nutmeg. It exhibited a gorgeous balance between oak integration and fruit flavors, and it had a warm and full mouth feel that drank beautifully without a food to accompany it. Nonetheless, this is a wine designed for a meal! Serve this Chardonnay with any cream- or butter-based sauce, chicken, pork, or seafood and you can certainly see the philosophy of enjoying whatever may be in your glass at work.

    Brett Johnson, accompanying me as a technical advisor, says, “Chardonnay is usually overdone and beaten so that the grape itself cannot shine, but rather, the winemaker’s work shines through. While that is not always a bad thing, it can get to a point that in order to tell one Chardonnay from the next, you just have to know how much butter and oak to expect in each. However with this chard, while there was 100% malolactic fermentation, there was much more fruit and balance than I expected there to be.” In discussing the wine, he says, “Really delicious. It was evident from the nose alone that you were in for a real treat.”

    From the Chardonnay, we moved to the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($16.00), a whopping 15.7% alcohol by volume wine that leads one to expect that the wine will taste “hot” — in other words, the alcohol will drown out any flavors. Indeed, Joe tells us that at the winery, they call this wine “Mr. Franc” to give it the respect that its alcohol level deserves! Nothing could be farther from the truth: a Gold Medal winning wine at the 2009 Ohio Wine Competition, it delivery an earthy, complex flavor that teems with the best notes of Burgundy. It has a finish that, in my tasting notes, I describe as “goes on forever.” Serve this delicious wine with heavy, rich sauce dishes, beef, or any hearty meat dish, and do not be surprised if it delivers the means of standing up to the meal!

    In Sideways, the seminal wine-lovers movie that no critic can avoid using to make a point, Miles says of Cabernet Franc, “I have learned to never expect greatness from a Cabernet Franc, and this is no exception.” Henke Winery Cabernet Franc would be the exception to Miles’ critique of this Bordeaux grape. As a proponent of Cabernet Franc, I heartily recommend this wine to any reader that wishes to try this noble cousin of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Brett says of his experience with this wine, “When drinking this, you are reminded of why you first fell in love with Cabernet Franc. All the beauty and depth of the wine was a showing of just how extraordinary Cabernet Franc can truly be. It was fruity, hearty, deep, sexy, and I’d go as far to say that it was the best glass of Cabernet Franc I have ever had.”

    From there, we were given an opportunity to join Joe in his cellar and taste his new Norton and Merlot.

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    The Norton (NV: Not Released), an inky, almost black wine, is hailed by Joe as an “American Claret;” research now shows that the Norton grape may be a hybrid of classic European grapes. Nonetheless, the wine, even young, delivers an inviting mouth feel and hints of cherries, plums, and red raspberries, and mingle with a beautiful tannin structure that will lead to a complexity as the wine ages. This was the first time that I have been afforded an opportunity to try a Norton wine and it very much impressed me with its structure and flavor.

    In its current vintage, the Norton is a “limited edition” that sells at a retail price of $29.95.

    The Merlot (NV: Not Released) is a pleasant, jammy wine that had clean, crisp fruit notes: berry and currant explode from the glass. Its nose evoked a hint of “something sweet” for Brett Johnson, something that conjured a happy memory. While he could not recall the aroma, he certainly did enjoy the wine. It also possesses a core of soft tannins and a nice acid structure that with additional aging will integrate into a delicious wine.

    In its current vintage, the Merlot sells at a retail price of $17.00.

    From there, we returned to the restaurant to order dinner and try our final glass of wine.

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