Missouri wine? Everyone knows it comes in three varieties, sweet, sweeter and diabetic. It’s cloying; it’s treacly. It will dissolve the enamel right off your teeth.
But don’t tell wine experts that. Wine experts say it is possible — even easy — to find good Missouri wines that are actually dry.
“The challenge is where do you begin, because there are so many. We have a tremendous number of (great) dry wines,” said Glenn Bardgett, wine director at Annie Gunn’s.
Missouri is particularly adept at turning out excellent dry white wines, said Andrey Ivanov, advanced sommelier and beverage director at Reeds American Table. Good red wines can be trickier in the state’s climate and soil, but there are fine dry reds to be found here too, he said.
So why does Missouri have a reputation for only producing sweet wines? Bardgett said it is a matter of supply and demand.
Customers looking for wine from Missouri tend to prefer it on the sweet side, he said. But that is not out of the ordinary; the biggest-selling American wines across the country are often sweet.
But that trend may be changing, at least in this region. According to Tom Kooyumjian, vice president of operations at Augusta and Montelle Wineries, regional wineries are producing more and more bottles of dry wine every year.
With so many superior dry Missouri wines available, you can find them at almost any local store that sells wine. But it is much more fun to go to the winery yourself, take a tour if they offer one and settle in to taste the fruit of their vines.
According to our wine experts, some of the best Missouri wines are produced an easy drive from St. Louis.
The area around Augusta, for instance, benefits from its unique geography. A crescent-shaped ring of hills to the north and the Missouri River to the south combine to make the region particularly suitable for creating good wines. The hills block the cooler night winds, while the river helps keep the temperature moderate.
This region, just 14 square miles in size, was the first in the country in 1980 to be designated an American Viticulture Area, a region officially recognized for its distinct characteristics that help create quality wines. The second such designation, which came 18 months later, was for Napa Valley in California. Now there are at least 230 such designated areas in the country.
Among the dry wines of particular note to come from the Augusta area is the seyval blanc by Augusta Winery. Both of our experts recommended this wine from a hybrid grape grown in this country primarily in the Midwest and along the East Coast.
The Augusta seyval blanc has notes of grapefruit, like a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, with hints of other fruits. It is a light and easy wine, good for the summertime.
Bardgett also recommended Augusta’s chardonel. Made by crossing the chardonnay and seyval grapes, this wine is heartier than the seyval blanc. But it is also crisper, with notes of apple and pear. And because it is aged in steel vats, it does not have any of the oak that is often associated with chardonnay.
These wines can be sampled at the small but functional tasting room at Augusta Winery. Tours are not available, but they are happy to open the door to the production facilities, so you can see at least some of the tanks and machinery used to make the wines.
Just up the road from the Augusta Winery is Montelle Winery, which is owned by the same family. Ivanov recommended its seyval blanc, which is notably tarter and drier than the version bottled by its sister winery. The grapefruit flavor in it is especially pronounced, and it has a big finish, lingering on your palate for a long time and carrying a hint of black pepper.
The tasting room at Montelle is welcoming and modern, with an organic, airy feel and a simply spectacular view from the deck that is often lightly shrouded in a romantic mist. A large selection of gifts, food and other items are also available along with the wines.
Another part of the state that is turning out exceptional dry wines is about 40 miles northwest from there, the area around Hermann. As with Augusta, the soil there is rich in minerals which help to give the wines their flavor. And the hills looming over the Missouri River also help to keep the vines warmer in the winter. But perhaps the region’s best attribute is its long history of making wine.
The town of Hermann was settled in 1836 by German immigrants living in Philadelphia. The hills overlooking the river reminded them of the Rhine Valley, so that is where they built their town.
Vineyards planted on the area’s steep slopes soon followed (hills keep the grapes from absorbing too much water). In 1847, the Stone Hill Winery was founded and it flourished throughout the rest of the century; at one point it was the second-largest winery in the United States.
Prohibition closed the winery, and it stayed closed until 1965. But it is back and thriving again, producing among its many wines two dry reds that our experts said were among the state’s best.
The Norton grape is the state grape of Missouri; it is hardy enough to stand up to the state’s extreme weather fluctuations. The wine made from it has a similar strength of purpose with a typically robust flavor. The version made at Stone Hill is easy to drink and not overpowering, with noticeable fruit (more than you usually get in a Norton) and a peppery bite.
More serene than the Norton is a chambourcin, another grape that stands up well to the Missouri climate. The chambourcin made by Stone Hill is medium-bodied and quite dry with a taste of berries and a long finish.
The tasting room at Stone Hill is small, but it is just off a large and attractive wine shop and gift store. Don’t miss the free tour while you’re there, which takes you through the largest wine cellars hand-carved out of limestone in the nation.
The Hermannhof Winery in the heart of town dates back almost as long as Stone Hill, but it began as a brewery. The wines came later, though some of the vineyards that it now owns have been growing grapes since 1837. Its well-aged Norton, which was recommended by Ivanov, is powerful, densely flavored and spicy, and it too has more fruit than is found in most Nortons.
The biggest draw for the Hermannhof tasting room is the wonderfully comfortable building it is in, built in 1852 as part of the original brewery. Cheese and sausage — it’s a very German town — are also available.
The Adam Puchta Winery has the advantage of being the oldest continually operating family-owned winery in the nation. Founded by Adam Puchta in 1855, it is still run by his descendants. That is a lot of institutional memory that goes into making its wines, including the dry vignoles recommended by Ivanov.
The dry vignoles — they also make a sweet vignoles — is light and refreshing, with flavors of citrus, strawberry and peach. It is perhaps a little less dry than the other dry wines, so people who are unaccustomed to dry wines may find it more balanced and a good introduction to the drier side.
The Adam Puchta tasting room is along one wall of a modest, two-room gift shop. As with many of the other wineries, the wines may be enjoyed at tables outdoors with a serene vista overlooking the property.
Augusta Winery, 5601 High Street, Augusta, 1-888-667-9463. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. augustawinery.com
Montelle Winery, 201 Montelle Drive, Augusta, 1-888-595-9463. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. montelle.com
Stone Hill Winery, 1110 Stone Hill Highway, Hermann, 1-573-486-2221. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. stonehillwinery.com
Hermannhof Winery, 330 East First Street, Hermann, 1-800-393-0100. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. hermannhof.com
Adam Puchta Winery, 1947 Frene Creek Road, Hermann, 1-573-486-5596. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. adampuchtawine.com