Buckeye Born

Ohio has a growing — but often overlooked — crop of wineries and cool-climate vintages.
l'll bet you a bottle you can’t name our country’s top wine-producing state in 1859.

If you said Ohio, please contact my editor. If not, I’ll take one of the fine vintages from the locally grown grapes being picked, crushed and fermented into beautiful food-friendly wines.

Back in 1859, Ohio had more than 3,000 acres under vine, but America’s 13 years of Prohibition reduced our state to a mere dot on America’s vinous map. Thankfully, times have changed. Ohio is now the 10th-largest producer, with more wineries cropping up each year. Yet many locals seem to shy away from locally produced wines.

Here’s why: Though blessed by the moderating effects of Lake Erie, Northeast Ohio produces cool-climate wines. That means they are typically lighter in body, with moderate alcohol and high acidity.

So if you are looking for the sun-drenched richness of a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, grab a bottle from California, not Ohio.

Basically, all grapes start out green and sour. With more days of sunshine, the grape begins to ripen, causing acidity to fall and sugar to rise. Since sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation, the higher the sugar level in the grape the more alcohol it will produce, creating a fuller-bodied wine.

Ohio’s sunshine is limited, making it almost impossible to fully ripen popular grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But, much like the cool growing regions of northern France and Germany, Northeast Ohio has the potential to make fine wine, given the right varieties. Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are cool-climate offerings with bright fruit and mouthwatering acidity.

If acidity levels are too high, the winemaker may decide to stop the yeast from eating all the sugar in the vat. Doing so leaves a bit of grape sugar behind, giving the wine a hint of sweetness to help curb the acid. Think grapefruit sprinkled with sugar and you’ll get the picture.

Perfect for the table, high-acid wines are designed to go with food, so try a bottle of locally produced wine and raise a glass to Ohio’s 2008 grape harvest.

2006 Ferrante Golden Bunches Riesling ($10): High in acid and light in body, this dry-styled Riesling is great with food. Lemon, peach and green apple aromas are supported by moderate alcohol, providing a long, textural finish. Uncork for appetizers.

2007 Harpersfield Gewürztraminer “St. Fiacre” ($22): Medium-plus body with lovely, exotic fruit aromas. Lychee, white roses and nutmeg spice. Acidity levels are moderate, making it a great sipping wine alone or with food. Perfect fall white for the table.

2006 Debonné Grand River Valley Riesling ($10): Medium-light in body with crisp acidity and refreshing floral, fruity aromas. A moderate dose of sweetness perfectly balances the wine’s high acidity. Try with Asian, Mexican and German cuisines.

2006 Harpersfield Pinot Noir “Clos Mes Amis” ($27): Ruby red with earthy fruit aromas and a hint of spice. Crisp acidity is balanced by moderate alcohol, tannins and earthy strawberry, red raspberry and sour cherry aromas. Uncork with dinner.

2006 St. Joseph Pinot Noir ($25): Light ruby color with lots of cherry and strawberry fruit as well as cedar and earth aromas. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity, moderate tannins and alcohol. Serve with duck, mushrooms and soft cheeses.

2005 Debonné Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 375 ml ($30): Crafted from grapes left on the vine until frozen, ice wine is a stellar dessert wine and a specialty of our region. Intense fruit aromas are clean on the note and palate. High acidity is tempered down by the residual sugar. 
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