The Hermann Wild Bacon Wine Trail was held recently with seven participating area wineries. My question, since Missouri wines are distinctly Missouri wines, is, “Do we have something that really compliments the full spectrum of flavors, the sweet and savory umami and smokiness of bacon?” More directly, “What can cut through the smoke and richness that will also compliment these porky-powered flavors?” Ah-ha! My first thought was, it’s got to have some almost fizzy acidity. Maybe something like a German Riesling or a fresh, but dark, sparkling rosé? I could almost taste Hermann, that salivating thought of country salted pork and pepper drowned in a swirl of semi-sweet, white grape golden butter fizz. Which winery would help me reach that gustatory vision, here on this fine rural Missouri River morning?
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I had to limit my trail to the four wineries in Hermann. I would be focused on my hunches. The first stop was Adam Puchta Winery, where a Mexican street corn and bacon soup was paired with a Vignoles margarita. Interesting. To clear the palate, a sip of soup was called for and it was smoky delicious. The corn was the star, with just a hint of bacon. I was skeptical about the Vignoles margarita, but I swear the grape did not get lost in the Tijuana taxi shuffle of syrup and whatever else made it a margarita. If anything, it was fun, though definitely coloring outside the lines of a wine trail. Still, wine-making is a competitive business and if the Puchta’s want to lead the charge to alternative wine-based drinks locally, who am I to question? Like I said, I could still taste a Vignoles presence, even if the power of suggestion—“Vignoles margarita”—played a trick on my taste buds. The pairing was “fun.” It was so much fun, I decided to wear half a bowl of the soup down the front of my shirt, on my shoes and camera bag (don’t ask). Puchta employee Louie Montegue threw me a couple of napkins, taking it all in stride.
“Here,” he said, not once frowning.
Nobody seemed to notice, so I’m not sure what that said about my appearance to begin with, something I would describe as a “1950s Saturday around-the-house look” with 21st century shoes.
The worse for wear, I headed to Stone Hill Winery for their “Cheesy Bacon Jalapeno Popper Dip” paired with their Steinberg White. Now, we were getting close. Well, it was a dip alright. I know because there were little breadsticks stuck in the cup of cheese. It may not have been much on presentation, but it probably fit my 50s look. Cubed Spam on toothpicks would not have been out of place with my short-sleeved button-down shirt and khaki pants, though now stained with Mexican Street Corn soup.
The dip was actually very good—who doesn’t like cheese infused with bacon? But here is where it got better. Stone Hill’s Steinberg White is described as a semi-sweet “German-style” white, not too dry and not too sweet. I asked the salesperson at the counter what “German-style” meant. She was kind enough to share a cheat sheet with me, showing the term refers to Riesling grape wines—high in acidity and sugar, though it could also refer to a dryer Alsacian Riesling that is still acidic. We were on to something.
In Karen MacNeil’s “Wine Bible” she writes, “On the palate, riesling is meant to move — to shimmer; to surge, to burst, to dance, to arc, to soar. Riesling has a rare trait – velocity. Of all varietals, it is the most kinetic and alive.”
The Steinberg White was certainly alive and it sat right in the center of “semi-dry.” Stone Hill’s notes say it’s “a delicate, semi-dry German-style white wine similar to a Piesporter. A touch of natural sweetness makes Steinberg an ideal sipping wine or accompaniment to lighter dishes such as stir-fry, spicy sausage, quiche, smoked salmon, fresh fruit salad, or a cheesy bacon jalapeno popper dip (just thought I’d add that). Now we were getting close. The bacon flavor in the dip was evident, but it wasn’t enough of a test for me to see in-your-face-bacon flavor that could be tamed and enhanced by one of Missouri’s wine offerings being served today. On to Hermannhof Winery to get a Bacon Twisted Romano Breadstick paired with Vidal Blanc. It was lunchtime and half-of-a-half-pint cup of soup and a little cheese dip whetted the appetite. I was glad to see something a little more substantial in the form of a roll. The cheesy roll was good and I actually got a slice of bacon wrapped around it to hit a one-two punch with the Vidal Blanc, admittedly, one of my Missouri favorites. It is comparable, according to Hermannhof’s tasting notes, a sauvignon blanc. For some strange reason, the server kept telling visitors it compared to a Pinot Grigio, possibly one of the most insipid wines made. Even the Venetian Italians shun it for other wines, just glad to have the U.S. scarf it up by the barrelful, our naivete only surpassing our enthusiasm to drink the stuff.
The yeast and bran scent/flavors of the roll almost overpowered the bacon, but paired with the Vidal Blanc, all was right with the world. Not amazing, but balanced and good in a conservative way.
My final stop was just up the steps as I entered the Dierberg Star Lane Tasting Room. I was about to introduce my buds to Asiago Dusted Bacon Knots, paired with Chardonnay.
Hermannhof Winemaker and General Manager Paul LeRoy says they took full slices of bacon and tied them into double-knots.
“We put these on a sheet pan and sprinkled just a little brown sugar,” he said. We baked the bacon at 425 degrees until it was done. We pulled these [out of the oven] and sprinkled Asiago cheese over the bacon. When we serve, we drizzle a Thai chili sauce which has a sweetness in the front [of the tasting] and a low burn in the back (the finish).”
Paul adds the Thai chili sauce is cut 25 percent with honey. He said that was a tip from Eric Guthrie, the GM of Tin Mill Restaurant and Brewery. It was good advice because these were very good, quite possibly because most of what we were tasting was the main attraction—the bacon, enhanced with honey and a little fire. I tried the Chardonnay, but for this pairing, it landed a little soft. Maybe Paul was after more subtlety.
Here are the venues I missed and what they served:
Röbller Vinyard, in New Haven, served an orecchiette pasta with bacon, rosemary, garlic and Parmesan cheese, paired with a Seyval.
Bias Winery near Berger had loaded bacon bombs, paired with Liebeswein.
OakGlenn Winery went the dessert route with chocolate bacon squares, paired with Sweet Ruby.
Had I missed my taste vision at Bias Winery? Their Liebeswein is certainly made in the Riesling tradition with just a little sweetness and the acidity to quite possibly infuse into their bacon bombs, producing a mouthful of fireworks. I’ll never know. These Wine Trails are a place to learn—meeting expectations, second. Not getting to Bias Winery was a missed opportunity to be sure, but there’s always next year.