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The Advertiser-Courier has been on several of the Hermann Wine Trails (HWT) and they all offer something different, primarily because they are designed to feature local grapes and food that is in-season. This one was no exception and if we had to use one word to describe it, it would be “fun.” It was a real summertime splash of seasonal flavors and beautiful settings on a gorgeous July day. All that was missing was the pool.

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Since the theme for this Trail was Berries and BarBQ it was going to interesting to see the creativity of the food offerings paired with Missouri wine. Some wineries made their summer entertaining look easy with entrees that could make feature photos in the glossy home and garden magazines. There were many surprises and only a couple instances that elicited raised eyebrows of disappointment, that were redeemed with other merits of the overall food and wine pairings. While wine trails are not considered fine dining and with many customers to serve, some things like temperature of the food and serving sizes have to be overlooked, though it makes a huge difference in taste and in this case, evaluation. Readers and wineries be warned, taste is subjective, but we gave it our best shot.

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Röbller Winery

The first stop was Röbller Winery just outside of New Haven. The offering was billed as “Barbecue Mac and Cheese, paired with Gabrielle’s Blush.” Picking up the plate, I was told it was barbecue pork and mac. I chose a plate with blueberries, since some of the plates didn’t have them. That’s the berries part, right? As a fan of casseroles, this looked good to me, but to pull this off, the servings need to be hot. Otherwise, it’s like eating cold leftovers. That didn’t bother me, trying to visualize this as a cold pasta salad of sorts without the dressing, but it needed a little more barbecue sauce to keep the pasta together or you get just bites of dry macaroni with a little barbecue sauce flavor. The sweetness of the blueberries were a nice addition to the flavor spectrum of what I was tasting.

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A mouth of mac with a swill of blush wine was very good, indeed. The wine was light, in the way of a rosé, fresh, with just enough acidity to cut through—a good balance, and in my estimation, an excellent pairing. According to the winery, this blush is a blend of vidal and vignoles with a touch of chambourcin added for body, flavor and color. It is a very good summer dinner party wine.

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Bias Winery

The next stop was Bias Winery, just outside of Berger, just above the Missouri River floodplain. I told the owner I appreciated some thought that was put into their entrees on these Hermann Wine Trails. They don’t mind tackling a fussy challenge when it comes to feeding the masses.

Todays entrée was “Seasoned Pork Tenderloin and fresh Veggie Medley, paired with a Berry Sangria.” The pork and vegetables (onions, mushrooms, green beans and yellow squash) were kept warm in their own little foil packets. The beef and vegetables served this way were hot, smoky and juicy. What a delight! Best of all, the raspberry sangria was full of raspberry flavor and quite refreshing. Raspberries were floating, Sangria-style in my little Wine Trail glass. It was made with Bias Winery’s Raspberry Weisser Flieder, a sweet blush.

A blush is not a rosé

Since this was the second blush of the day and since a rosé would be sampled later, here’s how a blush is made, not to be confused with a rosé. Pink-hued wine is usually made two ways. One way is "Vin Gris" where black skinned grapes (red wine grapes) are used to make white wine from a light pressing after grape harvest and fermenting that pressed juice without the skins (no maceration). This results in slightly sweet but mostly dry pale pink almost greyish (Gris) wines.

The other way, to "saignee" (bleed). Red-skinned grapes are allowed to macerate (color is leached from the skins) for a small amount of time to give the juice the desired color and depth before the fermentation process that creates rosé. This adds more flavor from the alcohols in the juice compared to the Vin Gris method.

What’s similar about both Vin Gris and rosé is that they’re both made like white wine—the juice is fermented without skin contact.

OakGlenn Winery

OakGlenn Winery is known for its breathtaking views of the Missouri River bottoms and it is quite the party venue. I like IKEA Swedish meatballs and gravy with the best of them, and as a carnivore, a well-seasoned meatball in the Nordic-style is a culinary thing to behold. So I was wondering what I would find with “Meatballs with Cranberry BarBQ Sauce, paired with White Muscadine.”

You might want to call this dish “The meatballs of summer.” They were served with baked crisps and a slaw zest with a tangy vinaigrette that packed a little red pepper heat. I honestly have never crushed a cranberry to see if its juice is colorless, but I thought I would see some vestiges of purple coloring. The cranberry influence might have been there, but I couldn’t detect the flavors of “tart” or “sweet” in the sauce. Had the meatballs been in a smoker, I would have considered this a nod to South Carolina barbecue.

With a mouthful of meatball, I swirled in some sweet white muscadine wine. The muscadine flavor was there. It wasn’t musky (a good thing)—maybe “earthy” and candied sweet. This was a heavy bodied wine—the sweetness played off of the vinaigrette and reminded me of a hearty German repast.

Hermannhof Winery and Dierberg Star Lane Tasting Room

I tried not to be biased in my assessments here, because in the past, these folks have always come up with something interesting and very good. It is obvious they put a lot of thought into their HWT menus.

First, I sampled Hermannhof’s  “Grilled Flatbread Pizza with Mixed Berries and Arugula, paired with Vidal Blanc.” At first glance, this looked like a spin on a fruit tart on flat bread. I chose to add the honey balsamic vinegar that was offered. Hermanhoff crushed it with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, arugula, provolone and asiago cheese creating a mix of sweet and sharp. The flatbread lent a savory flavor to the palate. The Vidal Blanc splash against this backdrop created a surprise explosion and was the best pairing of the day, thus far. It was crisp and clean with a white grape semi-dry sweetness. I’m always puzzled when the winery compares this wine to the insipid Pino Grigio. The Hermannhof Vidal Blanc I’ve sampled this year is in another orbit. Coming off the Hermannhof High of this pairing, I took a quick jaunt over to the Dierberg Star Lane Tasting Room to sample “Summer BarBQ Hot Dog with Blueberry and Corn Salsa, paired with Pinot Noir. The miniature hot dogs were made locally by Hermann Wurst Haus, so I knew the porky flavor would be there, but I wasn’t prepared for the salsa. Que lastima! If only my foody friends could sample this with me! Smoked corn relish with a hint of cilantro and the salt and porky goodness of the hotdog were a match made in gustatory heaven. Maybe the Pinot Noir pairing was to tame the corn relish rush, a bit. The dry, velvety grape mingled with the smoke, so if that was the intention, it played the part. I know Pinot Noir is a common pairing with pork in general, but with the relish, I would have preferred a little more zing to accentuate the flavors further, not pull them back. Still, exciting surprises at both stops.

Stone Hill Winery

While not very inventive, who says a pulled pork slider won’t be found at summer barbecues? I wanted to see how the Stone Hill pairing would fair, featuring “Braised Pulled Pork Slider with Blackberry Spiced BarBQ Sauce, paired with Blackberry Wine.” The slider was O.K., but the sauce was mixed in with the pork. I wish it had been on the side to savor both the sauce and meat separately, but I understand the logistics and packaging waste considerations. What made this work was the sweet blackberry sauce and blackberry wine crossed-over and mingled well. Not to overuse the adjective, but the pairing was different and fun. Maybe this simple pairing has an important message, because it is what entertaining is all about. The Wine Enthusiast says, "The key to successful wine-food pairing for outdoor dining is simplicity. Don’t choose a wine that requires too much thought because the setting doesn’t call for that. The wines should fit the food, but they should also fit the casual mood of the gathering."

As I entered the HWT tasting line, Stone Hill was giving out a bonus tasting of their rosé, Camellia. The winery’s tasting notes say:

“A sweet rose wine bursting with aromas of honeysuckle and lychee. This light and delicate wine is refreshing with subtle spritz and flavors of red grapefruit and wild strawberries.”

I hope they will pair something with this next year—it is a very good summer entertaining wine.

Adam Puchta Winery

Adam Puchta Winery has been breaking out of the mold lately to experiment with their wines in non-traditional ways for the adult beverage market. I admire their creativity—why not? They posted an intriguing HWT menu—“White Wine and Italian Herb Marinated Chicken Skewer with fresh watermelon, mint and Feta Salad, paired with Traminette Sweet Tea.” 

The watermelon salad literally burst with flavor. It was wow(!) refreshing. It was just watermelon, chopped mint leaves, extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, black pepper and salt and crumbled feta cheese, but did it pack a flavor punch! Mint and watermelon have to be one of the all-time classic combinations of summertime flavors. The white breast chicken was more subtle than I would have liked, but the herb notes were not lost on my palate. I swilled a little Traminette tea in my mouth with the chicken. How could you go wrong with the sweetness and underlying fruity flavors of this white wine with the thirst-quenching properties of iced-tea? This was a great summertime menu and pairing. I had one word written down under this assessment and it sums up my day on the HWT. By now, the reader knows what that adjective is. Fun!

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