The month of May means late winter frosts are behind us, and we can now fully embrace our region’s spring growing season, as locally harvested morel mushrooms, ramps, strawberries, asparagus and much more begin to appear at area farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Missouri wines pair splendidly with fresh, locally grown foods, and at Cleveland-Heath in Edwardsville, Ill., chefs and owners Ed Heath and Jenny Cleveland focus their kitchen around serving what’s local and in season.
We asked Cleveland to develop a four-course dinner celebrating vibrant spring ingredients to complement four distinct varietals of Missouri wines: Traminette, Chardonel, Norton and Vignoles. The varietals in this story are quite food friendly in their balanced flavor profiles, inviting the fresh nuances of locally sourced ingredients to mingle on the palate. We’ve chosen three bottles of Missouri wines made with each grape varietal to pair with each course.
Menu by Jenny Cleveland
- Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad
- Soft Shell Crab Panzanella
- Rack of Spring Lamb with Morels and Madeira
- Polenta Cake with Olive Oil Ice Cream
First Course: Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad
Much like its parent grape, Gewurztraminer, the hybrid grape Traminette is defined by its aromatic profile and lighter-bodied weight and is most often off-dry to semi-dry in style. Traminette is a terrific apertif for sipping, with a distinctive melange of spice, floral and stone fruit characteristics with ample acidity. Semi-dry styles can contrast beautifully with savory fare that exhibits spice, heat or pungency, and Traminette serves the sweet, earthy characteristics of the beets and radishes in this dish well with its fragrant sandalwood notes. This varietal also complements assertive cheeses, such as blue cheese crumbles in this salad, lifting the cheese's creaminess while brightening the sweet pungency of the mold. Each bottle of Traminette mentioned below has its own distinctive aromatic profile, another defining characteristic of this varietal.
Chaumette Winery 2013 Traminette
Honeyed notes and acidity lead Chaumette Winery’s 2013 Traminette to the richness of the blue cheese in this salad, trailed like the tail of a shooting star by grapefruit, spice and hints of just-cut flowers that accent the herbal qualities of the fresh parsley, mint and chives blended with the beets, radishes and asparagus in the salad.
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., chaumette.com
Strussione Cave Rock Off Dry, N.V.
Strussione Cave Rock Off Dry, N.V. is a Traminette that offers a gorgeous nose of gooseberry, honeyed peaches, spice and roses, with citrus accents and creaminess on the palate. A glass of this floral, aromatically distinct wine adds another layer of depth and complexity to the simple citrus flavor of the lemon-olive oil dressing that coats the salad’s crunchy shaved vegetables.
Cave Vineyard, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., cavevineyard.com
Stone Hill Winery 2012 Traminette
The Stone Hill Winery 2012 Traminette quickly seeks and finds the salad’s toasted Marcona almonds, with its own ever-so-slight nut-skin sharpness on the finish. The wine seems to dance on the palate with hints of juniper berry. Delightfully, this off-dry lighter-bodied Traminette offers a subtle earth-driven flintiness that tugs at the wine’s aromas of pear and peaches and effectively draws the many flavors of the light dish together.
Stone Hill Winery, multiple locations, stonehillwinery.com
Second Course: Soft Shell Crab Panzanella
Chardonel is a full-bodied white varietal often produced dry, exhibiting great acidity and a ripe fruit profile due to our region’s warm, sunny climate. Chardonel complements a diverse range of foods from tapas to fish and shellfish, pork, chicken and even grilled vegetables. Like its parent grape Chardonnay, this hybrid is all about winemaking style, but it can withstand the Midwest climate because of its other parent, Seyval Blanc, which has North American lineage. French oak aging, secondary fermentation and extended aging are a few of the winemaking techniques in play here that yield toasty vanilla notes, softened acidity, creamy mouthfeel and rich, nutty characteristics.
Charleville Vineyard 2012 Chardonel
This Chardonel could be mistaken for a West Coast Chardonnay, with lush tropical fruit, pineapple and hints of grapefruit. Its buttery, full-bodied texture seamlessly aligns with the nuttiness of the sherry-brown butter vinaigrette featured in the dish, and texturally complements the crab’s crisp outer shell, pan-seared in rich butter sauce.
Charleville Vineyard & Winery, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., charlevillevineyard.com
St. James 2013 Pioneer White
Chardonel pairs very well with ramps, a spring delicacy in the onion and garlic family, and the Pioneer White enhances the brightness of ramps with aromatics, likely from Vignoles, which is blended here with Chardonel. Chalky earth and floral aromas prevail in this wine, with a sophisticated, crisp edge on the palate followed by juicy, ripe pear and a long, slightly smoky finish.
St. James Winery, St. James, Mo., stjameswinery.com
Bethlehem Valley Vineyards Chardonel 2010
Bethlehem Valley’s Chardonel exhibits a softened acidity and toasty notes from a bit of age in French oak barrels. This flavor profile mirrors the vinaigrette’s own nuanced, nutty aromatics and restrained acidity, while conceding to the buttery, subtly bitter nuttiness of the fava beans and complementing the shellfish.
Bethlehem Valley Vineyards, Marthasville, Mo., bethlehemvalley.com
Third Course: Rack of Spring Lamb with Morels and Madeira
Norton is a Native American grape that is most often produced dry, presenting a fruit profile of red and black cherries, currants, plums and occasional baked earth notes and can display a broad range of spices. Norton is also produced as a fortified wine in a Port style, and you will also find more and more dry Norton rosés being produced today. With its high acidity and generous tannins from oak aging, Norton begs for red meat and game to tame its sharpness, and spring lamb is a spot-on seasonal pair. Norton, Missouri’s state grape, can be fairly diverse in body, and medium-full bodied styles will enhance – not overpower – the delicate flavors of the spring peas and morels in the dish.
Les Bourgeois Vineyards 2010 Norton
Modest, early May florals just beginning to express themselves are on the nose of the Les Bourgeois Vineyards 2010 Norton, and this wine’s charming acidity and ripe cherry and plum flavors deliver just enough baking spice and vanilla notes to attract the tender juiciness of the lamb, seasoning it beyond the simple salt and pepper preparation.
Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Rocheport, Mo., missouriwine.com
St. James Winery 2012 Cynthiana
The St. James Winery 2012 Cynthiana is, in fact, a Norton, as Norton and Cynthiana are one and the same. The wine’s ample but not overpowering weight on the palate completes this dish, with fresh red and dark berry fruit and baked earth. Tobacco notes predominate, underscoring the earthy richness of the morel mushrooms and the Madeira butter.
St. James Winery, St. James, Mo., stjameswinery.com
Adam Puchta Norton Vintner’s Reserve 2011
Cleveland offers smashed and re-roasted fingerling potatoes with the lamb and morel mushrooms. The Norton Vintner’s Reserve 2011, with hearty, meaty tannins, characterized by cigar box and tobacco, provides an earth-driven component while balancing cherry and plum flavors, adding textural significance to the potatoes and flavor intensity to the mushrooms.
Adam Puchta Winery, Hermann, Mo., adampuchtawine.com
Fourth Course: Polenta Cake with Olive Oil Ice Cream
One of the biggest misconceptions people tend to make about sweet wine is that it cannot be paired with food. On the contrary, non-dry wine is produced and highly regarded as an excellent food pairing option all over the world. Missouri wineries offer tremendous examples that serve as excellent companions to dessert, cheese and spicy foods. Vignoles is a French-American hybrid that is characterized by its floral, honeyed, stone fruit aromatics and diverse winemaking styles. Our region offers excellent examples from dry and off-dry wines to sweet late harvest dessert wines and icewines. You’ll find aromas of honeysuckle, orange blossom and even violets on occasion, and our sunny, warm climate can yield fruit qualities ranging from citrus to peaches and pears and even tropical fruit. The key to pairing wine with dessert is that the wine should be equally as sweet, if not sweeter. Cleveland’s dense, almost pound cake-like polenta cake with macerated strawberries pairs quite well with Missouri Vignoles.
Noboleis Vineyards Noblevescent, N.V.
A glass of Noboleis Vineyards Noblevescent, N.V., a semi-sweet sparkling Vignoles with aromas of tropical fruit, D’Anjou pear and honeysuckle, delivers ripe peaches and crisp citrus undertones, heightening the dessert’s fruit complexity while texturally contrasting the cake and richness of the olive oil ice cream with its own generous bubbles.
Noboleis Vineyards, Augusta, Mo., noboleisvineyards.com
Ladoga Ridge Winery Ladoga Vignoles, N.V.
The Ladoga Ridge Winery Ladoga Vignoles, N.V. is also a semi-sweet yet fuller-bodied example of Vignoles, with lovely baked Jonathan apple aromas and a well-rounded mouthfeel finishing with juicy peaches and a burst of citrus that generously contributes fruit intensity to the macerated strawberries in this dish.
Ladoga Ridge Winery, Smithville, Mo., ladogaridgewinery.com
Augusta Winery’s 2012 Vignoles
This pairing offers a complexity of flavors, inviting the palate to consider something new with each sip. The crunch and caramelization of the brittle illuminates the ice cream, while the Vignoles’ fragrant, orange blossom aromatics and precise acidity underscore these nuances. The result is a palate-cleansing finish that highlights the ice cream’s richness.
Augusta Winery, Augusta, Mo., augustawinery.com