The Wines of Palaia Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Palaia produces 3 whites, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Traminette, 2 white blends, 5 reds, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, DeChaunac and Lemberger, 2 red blends, 1 blush, and, surprisingly, Mead.  All are fermented and aged in stainless steel with French and/or American oak chips added as required.

The Tasting Menu includes 20 wines, with different vintages of several wines being offered.  A tasting, while complimentary, includes your choice of five wines, and I must admit it was tough to select only five.  But with the advice of my host, I finally landed on one white, the Traminette, three reds and the Mead.

2006 Traminette Pale gold in color, the nose is bright with pretty floral notes of citrus and honeysuckle.  In the mouth the wine is very light and crisp with notes of orange blossom and a hint of peach which provides a softness.   There’s a nice acid to the finish which balances the wine.  It’s a good summer wine, crisp and clean, not too heavy; it would pair well with light foods such as salads and seafood.

2006 Cabernet Franc Both the 2006 and the 2007 Cabernet Franc were available on the Tasting Menu that afternoon, so I asked my host if he had to pick only one, which would it be – his answer was swift and sure – the 2006.  Garnet colored, the 2006 Cabernet Franc has a nice nose, with that flinty, salty tanginess I so often find in the Northeastern Reds.  Medium-bodied, the wine is fruity, but not overpowering, with notes of black cherry, some peppery heat, and a hint of chocolate on the finish.

Uva Secca After the Cab Franc, I opted for one of the two red blends, the Uva Secca.  The principal grape is Cabernet Franc, and tasting this back-to-back with the Cabernet Franc is an interesting contrast.  The Uva Secca is slightly sweeter than the Cab Franc, with a softer, less fruity nose.  In the mouth the wine is more subtle, with stronger fruit notes than I found in the previous selection.  It’s also slightly smoother than the Cab Franc, with fewer tannins, and a warm spice finish, cloves perhaps, rather than the sharper heat of pepper.  The wine opens up nicely in the mouth and layers with each sip.  Overall, I really liked this wine, definintely preferring it to the 100% Cab Franc.

Lemberger My third and final red selection was the Lemberger, not a grape I’ve encountered often.  When I first started my win(e)ding road adventures, I tended to stick with what I knew, figuring at least I’d have some frame of reference by which to evaluate the wine.  However, as I’ve spent more time on the road I’ve found myself being more adventurous, trying wines and grapes I don’t encounter as frequently.  Hence, the Lemberger.  Also a garnet color, the nose is dark and dusky, with tantalizing notes of bacon.

Now – that was a first.  Never encountered bacon in a wine before.  But, I agree with Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, bacon does improve just about anything, even wine.  In the mouth the wine is rich, dark and earthy with subtle notes of bacon on the palate as well.  There’s a light smokiness on the finish which complements the earthy bacon.   Medium-bodied with a smooth finish, this is a really interesting wine.  Not sure it will be everyone’s favorite, and I still preferred the Uva Secca, but if you’re ever at Palaia, it’s definitely worth a try.

I reserved the fifth and final spot on my tasting for the Mead.  I had first tried Mead on a trip to Ireland about 6 years ago.  Sweeter than I normally like, I did enjoy it, and usually pick up a bottle around St. Patrick’s Day to round out an irish-themed meal.  It’s not a wine you see often, anywhere, and I usually have to go to a larger wine store to find it.  So, I was truly surprised to see it on the menu here.

As it was being poured, I could already discern differences from the Irish Meads I am used to, beginning with the color which is a very pale straw, almost clear.  Next the nose is much softer and more subtle than the Bunratty Mead I usually drink, with faint notes of honey.  In the mouth, the wine has floral notes, light touches of honey, and a nice acid on the finish to balance the wine.  More delicate than the Irish Meads, it’s not bad.

Wild Blossom Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Bev ArtsMeadWineries in cities have become more popular over the last few years. But the Wild Blossom Winery has been in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood for years. The winery operates out of a storefront on the dry side of Western Avenue so you must go else where to purchase their products (There is a Foremost across the street, for instance) and they offer for sale beer and winemaking materials and offer classes as well.

The wineries most prominent product is mead. They offer traditional grape wines for those of you who want to complain that mead isn’t really wine, but the mead is their pride and joy. Greg Fischer, the wine maker keeps 80 hives loves to talk about how mead is the most sustainable of wine. Indeed, honey, water and yeast are your chief requirements, meaning that a well tended hive and winemaking skill is all that is need to produce the wine. The bees and wildflowers do all the rest.

The wineryRochelle is a home winemakerThe only wines that I tasted at Wild Blossom were the meads and I was surprised by the range of flavors. The first wine that I tasted was the Blanc de Fleur. This wine was floral and drier than I anticipated. It was more like a dry Riesling with a mellower, honeyed finish. The Prairie Passion is a more traditional mead with more distinct honey flavors and a finish of tropical fruits. The sweetest offering was the Sweet Desire which is fermented in Bourbon barrels. It is sold in bottles that seem to belong in a laboratory and seem to add to the sweet and mellow alchemy.

The use of fruit in the making of mead is a long established practice. The result is referred to generically as Melomel (with some cultures having more specific names depending on the fruit used). Wild Blossom produces a number of Melomels and I had an opportunity to taste some of them. I anticipated that the blueberry mead would be overwhelmingly fruity and was surprised to find that it was not. There was a good balance between the fruit and the honey. The raspberry peach variety was sweeter with the smooth finish of peach but the brighter nose of the raspberry. But, I have to admit that I was most surprised by the Wildberry Mead. It had a smokiness that surprised me.

In addition to the wine making, Wild Blossom is also a home brew center in Chicago. Operating as Bev Art, they sell materials for and teach the techniques for making beer, wine and mead in your own home. During the time, that I was at the winery, several customers came in to purchase materials. They were return customers to Bev Arts and were excited to talk about what their fermentation plans.

Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery
Bev Art Brewer and Winemaker Supplies
10033 S. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643