Archive for category Kentucky Wine

Wine Tasting Around Kentucky – Part 2

Here is the long-procrastinated Part 2 of our whirlwind tour of Lexington-area wineries.  In case you missed part 1, you can find it here.  This post focuses on two South Lexington favorites – Talon Winery Jean Farris Winery.

Talon Winery

TalonJust south of Lexington on Tates Creek Road, Talon Winery has become one of the area’s most coveted wedding venues, so expect them to be busy during the summer.  Their 200 year old farmhouse-turned-tasting room is very pleasant with a traditional tasting bar that overlooks the vineyards.  There’s also an outdoor picnic area in case you want to pack a lunch, buy a bottle and make an afternoon out of it!

Talon produces 16 wines.  Their Chardonnay has been consistently good over the years, full of lemon and grapefruit flavors with very mild toast and vanilla from the French Oak aging.  I was also impressed with their two Cab Franc blends: Equestrian Series III and Monarch,which were rich in pepper, tobacco, and berry flavors.  Their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignons had very different personalities.  The regular Cab was spicy and earthy, while the Reserve Cab was a fruit bomb with vanilla, oak, chocolate cherries.  They were both great, but priced unjustifiably high at $29 and $50 respectively.  The Traminette and Syrah were both off-putting.  The Traminette tasted soapy, and the Syrah was just weird.

Our Favorites:
– NV Chardonnay ($20)
– Equestrian Series III (Cab Franc/Cab Sauv Blend) ($23)
– 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($29)
– 2008 Cabernet Sauvingon Reserve ($50)
– NV Monarch ($25)

Jean Farris Winery

Located off Richmond Road, Jean Farris almost deserves its own blog post.  A visit to a winery – not in Italy, not California, but get this – Missouri, inspired winemaker Jean Farris to begin a career in wine.  Now there’s a fun story!

jean farrisThe hallmark of the Jean Farris property is their very popular restaurant – wine tastings are held at its (relatively small) bar.  If you visit, try to avoid the dinner rush.  Or better yet, stay for dinner and taste at your table while you dine!

Jean Farris sources all of their grapes from Kentucky vineyards, with the exception of Zinfandel (which I assume is used in some of their blends, since they don’t produce a zin.)   Taste the reds… you won’t believe it.

We skipped their white wines this time around, and started instead with their red blends.  The rose was a little funky.  The nose was buttery and caramelized, almost like a creme brulee and the taste was of tropical fruit and strawberry.  But for some reason the flavors just didn’t work together.  The 2009 Tempest was complex, but seemed astringent.  The 2009 Hell Hound Red was a total knockout – complex, and terrifically balanced.  We bought a bottle.

The single-varietal reds are where Jean Farris really shines.  They were all rich, well balanced and very enjoyable.  You’d never guess these wines were from Kentucky!  Greatness comes at a price, however, as the Jean Farris wines are some of the most expensive in Kentucky.  On the plus side, their wine club discount is HUGE. It may be worth joining just for the discount.

Our Favorites:
– 2009 Hell Hound Red Blend ($32)
– 2010 Pinot Noir ($55)
– 2009 Merlot ($18)
– 2009 Malbec ($40)
– 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28)
– 2009 Petite Syrah ($65)

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Wine of the Week #2 – Black Barn IX

Black Barn IXblack barn

USA > Kentucky > Lexington

Purchased From: Kroger ($22.50) – Also spotted at Wines on Wine, Twisted Cork, Liquor Barn, Shorty’s Market


I’ve been dying to try this wine for some time – and it’s made literally right down the road!  After spotting it at number of stores around town  I started asking questions, and never have I seen a local wine receive such high accolades from the local merchants.

california wine regions-sierra foothillsThis is a Lexington-made wine (the winery is located on Newtown Pike) but the fruit is 100% California, grown in the Sierra Foothills region.  Located midway between Sacramento and Reno, the Sierra Foothills region is well off the beaten path of California’s wine country, but some truly spectacular wines are made there.

Black Barn Winery makes only one wine per year.  Though it’s always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, each vintage is different as winemaker Collin Boyd adjusts the blend a little each year (presumably based on the quality of the fruit).  The IX signifies that it’s the 2009 vintage (the XII is the 2007, XIII the 2008 and so on).

My Take:

This is a dry, full-bodied wine and in my opinion it was very balanced and well-made.  It was deep garnet in color and incredibly aromatic – chocolate and fig were the prominent aromas.  The palate could be described as slightly “green”, with flavors of cocoa, brambles and just a little dried fruit – the tannins were plenty firm.  The finish was a little jammy, but unexpectedly short.


No food with this one – we paired it with good friends and good conversation.  However, this would make a great summer BBQ wine – burgers, steak, or smoked meats.

Technical Stuff:

Blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.  Alcohol: 14.5%  Released: August 2012

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Wine Tasting Around Kentucky – Part 1

Europeans, I’m told,  have a tradition of drinking local.  A couple of times a year, they will launch off on a tour of their backyard wineries and haul home ten or so cases (whatever fits in their car) to get them through the next six months.

With that in mind, I decided to take a break from the mainstream wine world and taste some of the wines that are produced in our own backyard.   I’ve had a number of opportunities to experience Kentucky’s local wines in years past and my results were always mixed – a few gems, but many off-balance funky wines that really weren’t good.

This time around we were really impressed!  In just a few short years these wines have come a long way, with several wines that were complex, inspiring, and downright enjoyable!

The next two blog posts are a sampling of what I found.

Equus Run Vineyards

Equus Run 1

Just outside of Midway, Equus Run has been making wine since 1998 under the supervision of owner and winemaker Cynthia Bohn. I first tried their wines several years ago and thought they were kind of “meh.”  But their wines have been consistently improving.  In my opinion, the turning point in quality occurred several years ago when they were commissioned to produce a special recurring bottling for the Kentucky Derby.  The grapes were originally sourced from California and the wines become immensely popular.  The Derby wines are now coming from local grapes and the quality seems to be trickling down to Equus’ regular wines.

Equus Run makes 20 different wines, mostly labeled without vintages.  Among their current releases, the reds are what really shine.  We found the Reisling to be pleasantly smooth with notes of honey.  Their Chardonnays and Vidal Blanc however, seemed very acidic,  bitter and off -balance.  Their Zinfandels however (Zin doesn’t really grow in Kentucky, so it’s probably California fruit) were wonderfully aromatic and well-balanced.  We got some cola on the nose and both Zins were slightly jammy, with some black pepper and spice.  The Tempranillo was equally pleasant and balanced. Their two Merlots came up a little short – dried fruit and herbs, but overkill on the tannins.

 Our Favorites:

 –  Riesling ($16)
     –  Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir Rose ($16)
     –  Tempranillo ($23)
     –  Zinfandel ($22)
     –  Wine Club Reserve Zinfandel ($28)

Wildside Winery

Located just off the Bluegrass Parkway near Versailles, Wildside Winery is basically a one-man show. Owner and engineer-turned-winemaker Neil Vasilakes does most of the blending, winemaking, bottling and corking – occasionally soliciting help from his wife (or whoever is manning the tasting room.)  The winemaking facility shares space with the tasting room which offers visitors a glimpse into the process of making wine.


This was my first experience with their wines, and the ones I tried were pretty solid.  Wildside makes 19 wines: two whites, (a Dry Riesling and a Niagra) ten reds, and seven fruit wines.   The Dry Riesling was acidic, smelled like apple blossoms and had lots of green apple flavors on the palate.  If you like dry Rieslings from France or Germany, I think you’ll love this one!  The Cabernets and Chambourcins were a little disappointing – too astringent for our liking.  The Norton, Wild Duet Blend, and Cabernet Franc, were all pleasant – very peppery and with strong tannins. Most interesting is their Pawpaw, a forgotten local fruit, and honestly tasted like fruit salad in a glass.  It was so intriguing, I’ll probably devote an entire post to it.

Our Favorites:
     – 2012 Dry Riesling ($15)
     – 2011 Wild Duet ($12)  (red blend of Foch and DeChaunac grapes.  Jammy and tart – very nice)
     – 2010 Cabernet Franc ($25)
     – 2011 Pawpaw ($13)

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Kentucky Wine… a Primer

You don’t normally think of Kentucky as a destination for wine, but in honor of our new wine project, and encouraged by a few recent bottles that were quite good, I decided it’s time to take a fresh look at the Kentucky winescape.

A little history….

Even though it’s widely accepted that the Lexington area is home to America’s first commercial vineyard, it remains a topic of dispute among some.  A Google search reveals that California, Indiana, Ohio and New York also claim to be first. To confuse things further, various wine texts claim either Virginia or Florida as first.. so who knows.

Either way, before prohibition, the commonwealth of Kentucky was a pretty major wine producer.  Third in the nation.  Sadly, prohibition hit and farmers discovered that those vineyards could be easily converted to tobacco – the soil was a nearly perfect fit.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the tobacco industry in Kentucky has been slowly collapsing over the past twenty years and Kentucky farmers are returning to grapes.  Today, Kentucky is the sixth-largest wine producing state in the USA (Virginia is 5th,  New Jersey 7th) with over sixty wineries scattered across the state.  Even still, prohibition is alive in parts of the state.  Some wineries are located in “dry” counties where tasting rooms are prohibited, so to skirt the rules these wineries often operate the tasting rooms in nearby cities.

Conveniently for tourists, the densest concentration of both wineries and tasting rooms is located within the Lexington-Louisville- Cincinnati “triangle” which makes it easy to visit several wineries in a day or two.

Kentucky’s short, often unpredictable growing season is unfriendly to the vitis vinifera varietals (Cabernet, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir) that most people associate with fine wine.  Thus, most Kentucky vintners are advised against planting them.  Fortunately, many Kentucky winemakers ignore that advice.  Chardonnay and Riesling are widely planted here, and the quality of these wines  can be outstanding. Cabernet Franc also seems to do well here and enjoys wide popularity in blends and as a stand-alone wine.  Other traditional traditional European vinifera  grapes you’ll find here include Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but the quality is very spotty.

Most Kentucky vineyards are planted heavily with vitis labrusca (American) and French/American hybrid grape varietals such as Corcord, Chambourcin,  Catawba, Chancellor, Vidal Blanc, Traminette and Bacco Noir.   You’ll find several well-made Vidal Blanc (which resemble California Sauvignon Blanc.)  The Norton grape is also one to watch out for.  A North American grape popular east of the Rockies, these wines run the gamut in quality, and are made in sweet, off-dry, and dry styles.  Norton and it’s sister grape Cynthiana have incredible potential, and quality Norton wines are worth seeking out.

Most Kentucky wineries also produce a line of fruit (non-grape) wines as well, and often use them as a fallback during rough grape harvest years.  Some swear by them, others swear at them.  But given Kentucky’s long history with moonshine, I guess you can’t fault them for trying to make wine out of anything they can lay their hands on!  And even if you can’t bear to drink them, the fruit wines do make a lovely drizzle over a cheesecake…