Saturday, March 8, 2008

Winery Review: Meinhardt Vineyards

Meinhardt Vineyards and Winery, located in Statesboro with a tasting room in the Downtown City Market of Savannah (according to their brochure), makes only one kind of wine: Muscadine. Hubby speculated this before we went into the tasting room, but as the Random-Oenophile who eschews snobbery and pretention, I felt it my duty, nay, obligation to try them. Because if you think about it, to any drinker of what we consider to be "normal" (vinifera) wine, Muscadine wine is pretty random.

One of the elements of a good tasting room is staff who is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the product without being pushy and snotty about it, as we found when we visited Badger Mountain winery in Washington. Joe Anderson, who poured wine last Saturday, embodied the perfect combination of someone who works in a Muscadine winery: knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and patient, even when I let the phrase, "funky Muscadine flavor" slip out.

The tasting list had ten wines and one cider on it. We were surprised to find that there are 438 varietals of that particular grape, more than any of the vinifera grapes we typically see in wines. With this large stable, Muscadine wineries produce whites, reds, dry, off-dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and yes, the very sweet we usually associate with that grape. Joe was able to tell us the varietal for each wine as well as who developed it. Apparently the Southern universities' agriculture departments have been heavily involved in Muscadine development, and scientists all across the Southeast have been interested in their health benefits, particularly large amounts of the antioxidant resveratrol . Apparently, muscadine wine has more of this agent than vinifera red wine.

So now that I've (hopefully) removed some prejudice against grapes, here are the wines with varietals and the place they were developed (I'm telling you, Joe knew everything!):

Smithfield: Tara varietal, developed at the University of Arkansas
Dry white: dry in front, mild fruit, interesting semi-sweet finish

Eagle Harvest: Carlos, Ole Miss
Semi-dry white: peach and apricot tones, like a semi-dry riesling, had sediment; would be good for Riesling lovers

Eagle Run: Summit, UGA
Sweet: milder than traditional, a little fruitier, wouldn't be bad for dessert

Windmill Harvest: Tower
Dry red: light orange-red in color, funky Muscadine flavor, rough finish

Southern Eagle: Noble, UGA or University of Florida
Semi-dry red: sweet in front, dry middle, light fruit finish, not bad

Kennedy Pond: Supreme by Ison (private breeder)
Semi-sweet: had funky Muscadine flavor

Hopeulikit (pronounced "Hope you like it") Red: Nesbitt released from UGA in 1887
Sweet: Muscadine flavor, sweet, red-peach color; I didn't like it

Plum Southern: Early Frye by Ison
Fruit/sweet: Yep, wild plum +grapes, sweet grape with plum overlay and finish; wouldn't be bad with Asian food; varietal has some scandal behind it (for the full story, you'll have to go ask Joe)

Nero Mora: Frye, UGA
Rose: blackberry and blueberry

Pesca: Late Frye, Ison
Fruit/sweet: wild white peach added to grapes at fermentation, sweet in front, dry in back, needed context

Muscadine Cider:
Non-alcoholic: really good, Joe suggested making a Martini of it with vodka and a twist of lime

We came home with a bottle of the Eagle Harvest.

Things to know when tasting Muscadine wines:

1. The red wines are very light, more in the rose color spectrum.
2. There is sediment in some of the wines. This is from tartaric acid, the crystals of which help to preserve flavor. This technique has been imported from Italy.
3. The front, middle, and finish flavors go across the palate more slowly than those of vinifera wines. This is an interesting experience.
4. Eat before you go! We hadn't had lunch yet. That was not a good idea. We didn't get the alcohol contents of any of the wines we tasted, but I'm thinking they were higher than normal.

Scorecard: Meinhardt Vineyards and Winery (visited March 1, 2008)
Fee: $5 for 5 wines plus the cider; you get to keep your glass
Atmosphere: Very nice, as you would expect in an "Old South" tasting room
Staff: Excellent - knowledgeable, enthusiastic without pushiness, and friendly
Wines: Just keep an open mind, and you'll be pleasantly surprised

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