Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NEO Napa

In June, the region took a big step in branding itself as a distinctive grape growing and wine making district with the opening of Pairings in Ashtabula County. The lovely new center, years in the making and meant to showcase Ohio vintners doing high quality, medal-winning Euro-style wines, features a tasting room for their products — most from the Grand River and Lake Erie viticulture appellations — as well as an outdoor patio where visitors can enjoy wines by the glass or the bottle, and a kitchen and dining room for culinary demos, hands-on classes and special dinners. The center, off Geneva's main drag at the end of a dirt driveway, is also a starting point and stop along the way for local winery tours.

A few grape vines edge an empty field in front of the building now. One day, there will be a complete winemaking operation there that will serve as an incubator for start-ups and a visitor education center. For now, farmers set up shop there on Saturdays. The place is open seven days a week. A chef grills food to go with selected wines every Thursday night from 5:30 to 7:30. A tapas dinner is scheduled for Aug. 30, with advance reservations required.

My inaugural visit to Pairings was all discovery and delight. The facility, a converted barn, is done up in weathered wood with garage doors that are opened in good weather. A copper-topped, U-shaped bar has stools on the two long sides for those who want to spend some serious time sampling flights of reds and whites. And I must say I was pleasantly surprised to find some good, nuanced dry wines being poured. I really enjoyed the 2012 Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon from Valley Vineyards, located in the Ohio River Valley near Cincinnati. Cask 1013, a blend from Madison's Grand River Cellars, had an intriguing complexity that comes as much from the blending of both red vinifera and vintage years. The number on label meant that it was started in 2010, wine from the 2011 and 2012 harvests added and bottled in 2013. The result was impressive. I learned about how it was made from staff member Nancy Evans. Her presence really enriched the experience. A recent graduate of Kent State's fledgling enology program and winemaker herself, she talked us through our tasting, providing knowledgeable commentary, thoughtful insights, and insider tips. If you end up buying a bottle after a tasting, the retail price is discounted by $5.

Nancy also hooked me up with a really interesting local winemaker that I went to meet the following day. More on him and the amazing wines he's creating next week.

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