It seems we moved to Chicagoland just in time for every local oenophile's favorite time of year. Each weekend since we have moved here, there have been no less than 3 wine festivals within an hour's drive; this weekend, we decided to break from our usual routine of exploring our new stomping grounds to visit the Vintage Illinois festival at Starved Rock. Saturday proved to be a day made of the quintessential end of summer/ beginning of fall perfection I love: warm in the sun, yet chilly in the shade; trees barely kissed with varied autumnal colors; and air charged with the feeling that change is coming soon. One couldn't ask for a better day to celebrate the fruits of the vine.
We spent a couple of lazy hours slowly weaving through the crowds, people watching and, of course, sipping wine- some inexplicably bad, and some surprisingly good. Piasa Winery's semi-dry River Road Red, for example, surprised my palate with a tumble of fresh strawberries and almost no discernible acid. Mr. Milk and Honey's favorite, Starved Rock Marketplace's Pink Catawba, was another delightfully fruity wine perfect for everyday drinking; their Rose, however, was too acidic for both of us and ended up in the dump bin after one small sip. Galena Cellars Winery showcased their best wine, a decent semi-dry Oktoberfest (a blend of Riesling and Muscat grapes), and their worst wine, a Muscat Canelli reminiscent of mildly alcoholic simple syrup. Possibly the most disappointing wine we sampled came from Mary Michelle Winery, who advertised wines that they didn't actually have. Though I'm not a huge fan of fruit wines, I wanted to try their apple wine; instead, they gave me a taste of Mad Squirrel, an uninspiring, flat wine they said was comparable to their absent apple wine. Not surprisingly, my Mad Squirrel promptly found itself in the dump bucket.
My vote for the prettiest wine would go to Baxter's Vineyard and Winery's jewel-toned Sweet Red blend. If you could take a bright red ruby and melt it together with sunshine, it would probably look like this wine; but lest you think this wine is all looks and no substance, it's also full of deliciously sweet cherry- too sweet for my tastes, but still very good- and underlying blackberry and a very subtle smokiness that's almost too evasive to mention. My favorite dry red was easily Village Vintner Winery's aptly named Ziggy, a peppery, fruit forward blend that, once it hits the palate, just won't quit. I also tried Village Vintner's dessert port, Cocoa d'Orange, which had an amazing aroma and a pleasant enough flavor up front that quickly led to a bitter, acrid finish. Cooper's Hawk Winery's Sparkling Almond wine proved the most surprising wine of the day. I was absolutely sure I would hate it, and I thought I had validated my suspicions within the first second or two of my first sip- it was a bit boring and flat- but within another second, the taste and perfume of perfectly toasted almonds stopped me in my tracks. I wouldn't necessarily buy it by the case, but I'd bet that it would be a nice wine to have up your sleeve for a dessert pairing.
Our final tasting of the day came from Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery. I've never had mead before, so I'm not sure how this mead stacks up against others, but I do know that I loved it. I tried a honeyed mead that had been aged in a bourbon cask, which gave it a stunning aroma of, well, honey with a touch of bourbon, and the taste? It made me want to sit in front of a cozy fire, or cuddle up with a warm blanket on a large wooden porch swing and get lost in a book. It's very sweet, so it's definitely something of which I would only want a few sips, but there is something decidedly charming and medieval about mead, and I think I might get a bottle to have around during the holidays.