Story and Photos by Melanie Votaw
MISSOURI WINES – A NICE SURPRISE IN THE MIDWEST
When you think wine, your first thought is Missouri, right? No? Well, it doesn’t have to be your first thought, but it should certainly be on your radar. I’ve visited a lot of local vineyards around the U.S., and admittedly, I’m rarely impressed. The one I visited in Rocheport, Missouri – Les Bourgeois Vineyards – was a real treat.
I was in nearby Columbia, Missouri for the True/False Film Festival, an annual documentary festival that brings Oscar-winning directors to the city. Just a 15-minute drive from Columbia, Rocheport has several wineries you can visit. It’s on the Katy Trail, the longest trail in the U.S., which follows an abandoned railroad system along the Missouri River.
Les Bourgeois, the second largest winery in Missouri, is located right on the river in a beautiful setting. Its rustic Blufftop Bistro has high ceilings and plenty of glass so that you can overlook the river and the surrounding forest while you dine. I was there in early spring, but I’m sure it’s especially colorful in autumn.
Missouri varietals include Chardonel, Seyval, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, and Vignoles among the white grapes. Reds are Catawba, Cambourcin, Concord, and the state grape, Norton.
My party and I were provided a special tasting menu that was indeed special. We started with a Brie flatbread on naan with poached cranberries, walnuts, and rustic honey syrup. It was paired with the vineyard’s Vignoles, which is an award-winning citrusy white that’s fresh and light. It was one of my favorites.
Our salad course consisted of micro greens, apples, red onions, dried figs, golden raisins, apricots, goat cheese, and rosemary balsamic reduction. This was paired with a bottle of red – the Norton that is Missouri’s official state grape.
I’d love to go back and have our entrée again. I’m generally not a fan of catfish, but this was a particularly delicious dish – a Tempura po’ boy catfish sandwich with micro greens, pickled red onion, Sriracha remoulade, house-made focaccia, lemon pepper fries, and country slaw. It was paired with a fresh sparkling LBV Brut made primarily from Vidal Blanc grapes.
Even though you can’t order that great catfish from the menu, the Bistro regularly serves inventive appetizers like sweet pea flan with local micro greens, carrot ginger coulis, and sesame crackers. For a main course, you can order anything from a grass-fed burger to prosciutto-wrapped trout with garlic, Thai chilis, sweet cucumber salad, roasted Thai peanut sauce, and wild rice. Wine pairings are suggested on the menu for each dish.
As a special treat after our lunch, we had wine and chocolate pairings with artisanal chocolates from Columbia’s nearby Candy Factory. My favorite wine of the day was a particularly sweet one – a collector’s edition Vignoles and Traminette blend, also an award-winning bottle for the vineyard. Light and acidic, this white is both floral and fruity.
Les Bourgeois’ tasting room is open daily from 11-6, and the website has an online store. Part of the Missouri River Wine Trail, Les Bourgeois is hardly the only game in town. Wines in Missouri are a 150-year-old tradition that has been growing with leaps and bounds. There were only 52 wineries ten years ago. Now, there are 128 wineries, 393 vineyards, and 10 wine trails throughout the state. The Missouri Wines website has a wealth of information for you if you’re in the region.
When you’ve finished visiting the wineries, check out the foodie scene in Columbia, which is quite impressive. The city even has a craft donut shop called Harold’s that has interesting flavors like maple bacon and cherry streusel.
I especially enjoyed my meal at the Wine Cellar and Bistro, an upscale but relaxed seed-to-table restaurant with a six-page wine list of Missouri bottles and international wines. For my appetizer, I had flash-fried goat cheese truffles, lavender-infused honey, elderberry, and balsamic reduction with caramelized onion confit and figs. My entrée was black walnut and sage-crusted, roasted duck breast with a blend of organic wild rice, beet root-elderberry sauce, grilled red onion, and braised local greens. Both dishes contained a lovely blend of flavors.
Columbia and Rocheport are located only a couple of hours east of Kansas City and just over two hours west of St. Louis. The region can easily be added to a trip to either of the more well-known cities in the state, or visit during one of Columbia’s festivals like True/False in March or Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ in September.
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