When considering the alcoholic beverage of choice for the evening here in Iowa City, only the hardcore eco-warriors factor in environmental sustainability. The hardcore are not surprised that wine shipped to the Midwest creates a smaller carbon footprint when it comes from Napa Valley than when it comes from Bordeaux. Nor are they surprised that wine packaged in Tetra-Pak containers instead of glass bottles produces a smaller amount of greenhouse gases as it travels on its way.
What surprises hardcore wine-loving environmentalists here is that they might find an Iowa wine they like.
Park Farm Winery, Bankston
Miles to Market: 98.7
Five-sixths were attracted to the label, which portrays a blushing wavy-haired redhead staring straight back at the soon-to-be-imbiber. Her pink-lipped smile and rosy-cheeked pun were welcoming, the unabashed sweetness of the wine was not. This first wine we tasted was so sweet it assaulted the taste buds of my guests, who all preferred dry wine. Positives included its decent complexity that would complement the porch-sitting days of summer.
The Park Farm Winery website states, “All of our wines are produced from grapes and fruit that can grow in the upper Midwest.” That does not mean the winery’s wine was made with 100-percent Iowa grapes. The winery’s vineyard planting began in 2001 and now has over 4600 vines, said winemaker Dave Cushman. He said they’re purchasing a lot of the Cheeky Blush’s Steuben grapes from Pennsylvania while they wait for a four-acre vineyard near Dubuque to come in production next year.
Fireside Winery, Marengo
Grapes: Vignoles and Chardonell
The biggest overall hit of this wine was its label and its name. Everyone at the party loves a good story, and all good stories need good storytellers. I was the only one turned completely off by the label, calling it the upscale Wal-Mart look, pastel puke. The bookshelf-and-fireplace concept wooed the majority into a Reading Rainbow-like land of possibilities. Each spine of each book, with each night of imbibing different from all others, illustrated a refined individualism that the other wines of the evening failed to inspire. With the Fireside Storyteller, maybe my guests thought they could go twice as high. I don’t know why this wine didn’t score higher in the aroma and taste categories. Did my guests expect butterflies? Were they too anxious to get to the reds? Or was the book they wanted to read written in French?
Wallace Winery, West Branch
Grapes: Chardonel, Vignoles and Vidal Blanc
Iowa Barn White’s label was slightly reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World, with 100 percent of the wistfulness and 10 percent of the despair. The rural realism of the label compelled some but not others, earning an attraction rating of a strong maybe-I’d-buy-it. Being the last white wine tasted of the evening, expectations were low, but the individual ratings were all over the board on this one. One taster wrote, “I love it, tastes like a barn,” and “It’s the celery of wines!” exclaimed another. Despite the bias for reds openly professed in the room, this was the first wine where guests kept wanting another taste, which made me think it was welcomed a little more favorably than people would actually let on. That, or else we were sick of the tasting and wanted to get on with the actual drinking.
Cedar Ridge Vineyards, Swisher
Grape: St. Croix
Cedar Ridge Vineyards’ first estate-grown red was more than a happy change of pace for my guests. It was probably the most dramatic wine of the night, prompting love, hate, curiosity and redemption. The label was the biggest let-down of the wine–no one would think to purchase it on first or second glance. You have to squint to tell the white splotch is a cedar tree, and the Hawkeye-gold letter that’s supposed to represent the varietal looks like sunshine spittled out a typeface.
As the bottle was uncorked, a pungent alcohol scent shot into the air like a cannon, almost raping our nostrils. We let it breathe, the exaltations gave way to acceptance, and the red wound up having one of the higher ratings. Casual imbibers like me prioritize drinking the wine over letting it breathe. For the Cedar Ridge St. Croix, that oxygen turns a smelling salt into a rose, Tiger Balm into sweet mint.
Jasper Winery (J.W.), Des Moines
Wallace Winery, West Branch
Price: Out of Stock
The label was pleasant on the eyes, the majority favoring it, and one taster’s experience with the wine prompted the exclamation, “No, this is the best wine of the night!” The Wallace Malbec made from the Saracina vineyard in California has taught me a lesson about good wines made in Iowa: If you hear one praised, move on it. Buy it; try it. The grapes might not come from here, and they might not come here again. The depth of the Wallace Malbec was glorious and delighted even the hardest-to-please of palates.
Melody Dworak enjoyed her first glass of red (and second and third) 10 years ago, with a beloved friend and a Christopher Guest marathon. This one’s for you, Krannie.