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KC Magazine’s executive editor sips and swirls to find out if the stigma against local wine should be a vintage viewpoint.
It’s the culinary equivalent of “Who are you wearing?” Names of local food providers are sprinkled like designer labels in top restaurant menus: Green Dirt Farm, Local Pig, Campo Lindo, Crum’s Heirlooms, Farm to Market Bread, The Roasterie, Shatto Milk. But the kumbaya seems to stop at local wine.
With few exceptions, Kansas City eateries ignore labels from the more than 150 Kansas and Missouri wineries and the dozen or so within a 20-mile radius.
Blame it on a lack of knowledge on the part of both wine management and the dining public. And how much does snobbism come into play? Plenty. Local wines can’t possibly hold their own against big names from Napa, right?
Guilty on both counts. I’ll admit to calling wines produced from Norton, the state grape of Missouri, clunky at best. Doug Frost is much more kind. One of only three in the world to achieve both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, he refers to Norton as “a huge, massive, complex, loudmouthed wine.”
So I wasn’t the only judge surprised when Stone Hill Winery’s Norton 2008 crushed the competition from California and France during a blind tasting hosted by KCPT’s “Local Show.” Eddie Kennison, former Chiefs wide receiver and owner of Cellar & Loft wine store, and I gave the $18.99 bottle the highest possible rating, while Stephen Molloy, Classic Cup’s wine manager, opined that it was “lovely, with taste components I can’t quite catch.”
Just as remarkable was the winner from the white wine competition. Plumeria from Belvoir Winery in Liberty topped offerings from Bordeaux, Napa and Washington State.
So how does an eager locavore begin to appreciate wines from Kansas and Missouri? One way is to marry education with experience by visiting local wineries or taking part in off-site tasting events, usually listed on individual websites. Talk to the vintners, who are often the people pouring samples. Notice ribbons and trophies from not just regional but also national and even international wine competitions. Best of all, taste and ask questions about food pairings and which area restaurants carry their goods.
Several area wineries offer tastings throughout the year, including Amigoni Urban Winery (1505 Genessee St.) in a handsome space in the West Bottoms. Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery (29725 Somerset Road, Paola) serves up samples at its own winery and at various retailers around town. Belvoir Winery (1325 Odd Fellows Road, Liberty), quickly becoming a favorite spot for weddings amidst its sprawling landscape, is happy share the fruits of its labors. And at Fence Stile near Excelsior Springs (31010 W. 124th St.), tastings often come with live music on the patio, complete with fire pit during cold weather.
Many of the local wineries let guests become vintners for a day by helping to pick grapes during harvest. Or turn the tasting into a weekend getaway to Hermann, Missouri, home to Stone Hill Winery (1110 Stone Hill Highway), which is hosting several wintertime events including a traditional German Christmas fest. The Say Cheese Wine Trail, December 8–9, includes seven wineries along the trail (visithermann.com). See a complete list of local wines and upcoming events at kansasgrapesandwines.com, missouriwine.org and missouriwinecountry.com.
Must see video: Cheers to local wines
Watch the aired episode of Katie and three other taste-testers as they see how local wines stack up against those across the country and the pond.