4 Favorite Cincinnati Ohio Wineries and Vineyards

Have you ever been to Cincinnati?  If so, hopefully this travelogue brings back a lot of fond memories and tempts you for a return visit.  If not, let's see if we can entice you!  Nestled along the Ohio River in the southwest corner of Ohio, Cincinnati is a diverse energetic city complete with unique geographical features and a burgeoning wine culture.

But before we help you discover all that's great about Cincinnati, let's take a higher level view.  Ohio, the Buckeye State, has long been part of America's wine culture.  In fact, we were interested to learn that Ohio has numerous micro climates, with grapes grown all over the state.

Ohio Wines

Ohio is much like many other north central states.  It's a cool climate state, and the positive effects on grape crops is notable.  There are five separate wine appelations in Ohio, producing a wide variety of interesting and award winning wines.

Known as a wine producing state since the mid 1800's, Ohio now boasts over 80 wineries. We've had the pleasure to sample wines from several Ohio wineries, and have noticed the wines tend to be crisp, fruity, and tangy.  While we lean toward Ohio white wines, it's merely a personal preference and not intended as a slight to Ohio winemakers many fine red offerings.

You'll find many grape and wine varieties in Ohio.  Some of the more commonly grown grapes are Riesling, Cabernet France, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Catawba.  No matter what part of the state you visit, you'll find dedicated winemakers producing wines in every style imaginable.

The Queen City

Ever since we discovered Cincinnati almost 30 years ago, we've  kept coming back for more. Maybe because it's a city of unique local specialties, like Cincinnati chili and charming, vibrant neighborhoods.  Maybe because it's a gateway city to the South, with Kentucky's rolling hills beckoning just across the Ohio River.  Or maybe it's because Cincinnati is a compact, friendly city that blends urban sophistication with an open, honest vibe that's prevalent among Cincinnatians.

If you drive into Cincinnati, the first thing you'll notice is the hilly terrain.  Cincinnati is actually built on seven hills, each with a distinct name, like Mt. Healthy and Mt. Adams. You'll descend from these hills off Interstates I-74 or I-71 as you make your way into the city's heart.

No matter your sightseeing preferences, there's plenty to do in Cincinnati.  Most of the attractions are unique to this city and give you a glimpse into why Cincinnati holds such an allure to visitors.  The weather was beautiful when we arrived, so we made our way to 5th and Vine downtown, the site of Cincinnati's tallest building, the Carew Tower.

An Art Deco treasure, the Carew Tower houses offices, shops, and an outdoor observation deck affording panoramic views.  This is the best way to get a handle on Cincinnati's unique topography.  To the south, you'll see the Ohio River and northern Kentucky.  To the north and east sit Cincinnati's seven hills.  To the west, you'll see the river valleys of western Ohio and southeastern Indiana, home to many vineyards and wineries.  More on that later.

After experiencing the fresh air and striking views atop the Carew Tower, it was time to reaquaint ourselves with a Cincinnati culinary tradition - 5 way chili. It was great! 

Southwest Ohio Wine

After a relaxing one hour river cruise on the Ohio River, it was time to visit the first of four wineries in this immediate area.  First stop was a long time favorite, Henke Winery on Harrison Avenue, in the midst of residential Cincinnati.

Every time we're in Cincinnati, Henke Winery is a must stop.  It's a unique destination, kind of an urban oasis and a combination winery/restaurant/live music venue.  We've been here for dinner before, and if you visit during the week, the winery is only open after 5 p.m.

We stopped here on a late afternoon Friday and enjoyed some wine tasting during happy hour.  Henke usually offers about 15 wines,  so we settled in for a few tastes.              

First was the Riesling, a good value at $12 a bottle.  As we mentioned before, we've always been partial to Ohio whites.  Henke's Riesling is just as we remembered - crisp and fruity, with a perfect balance between the two.  We tasted pear and maybe a bit of apricot in the middle and finish.

Next, we ventured into a few lighter red selections.  The Cellar Blush and Cin Zin (loved that name) were easy drinkers and an ideal companion for the patio or deck.  Particularly interesting was the Vendage A Trois, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc, and Merlot.  Bold and full flavored, it's a perfect example of Ohio winemakers creativity.

Meier's Wine Cellars and Vinoklet Winery

Just a few minutes north of downtown sits Ohio's oldest and largest winery, Meier's Wine Cellars.  Many years ago, Meier's was our introduction to Ohio wine.  Meier's produces a full range of wines, from dessert wine, champagne, sparkling wine, and everything in between.  We settled in at the large tasting bar to reacquaint ourselves.

Our first choice was the Walleye White, a pleasant, fruity blend of three white wines.  It works well with, what else, fish.  Also recommended is the Sauternes, slightly sweet and full of fruit.

When you're at Meier's Wine Cellars, be sure to taste and take home some of their juice.  These non-alcoholic selections are ideal for summer time, specifically to try your hand at creating a sangria. If you can't make it to the winery, you can find Meier's wine at most wine/liquor outlets in Ohio.

From here, it was off to Vinoklet Winery on the north edge of the city.  The winery is situated among rolling hills, and in addition to tasting Vinoklet's wines, you can stay for dinner in their restaurant.  We arrived late afternoon, ready to taste.

Vinoklet's wines have won awards at several prominent wine competitions, including the Indy International and the Finger Lakes International.  Try the spicy Traminette, and Dreamer, a pleasantly drinkable semi dry white.  It was a real joy to be here, with the beautiful grounds and tasting room offering views of the surrounding area.  And if you can make it for dinner, all the better ... the menu is tantalizing!

With dinner time looming, we headed back downtown for happy hour at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, a well known restaurant famous for ribs.  The bar overlooks the Ohio River and is a convivial spot to mingle with locals.

From there, it was time for dinner at the oldest restaurant/bar in Cincinnati, Arnold's Bar and Grill. Open since 1861, Arnold's has an old saloon feel, and you're comfortable just as soon as you enter the well worn front door.  If the weather is nice, have lunch or dinner in the courtyard, or stop by later in the evening for live music, never a cover charge.

Dinner is a real bargain at Arnold's.  Everything is homemade, and the daily specials are fresh and delicious.  We started with roasted garlic, a bulb sauteed in olive oil and served with olives and pita bread.  For our entrees, we chose a tasty eggplant marinara and a grilled Greek style chicken breast sandwich, dressed with bacon and feta cheese.  When you visit, make sure to see the bathtub in the upstairs seating area ... rumor has it the bathtub was used to make gin during Prohibition.

Cincinnati's Micro Distillery

The next morning started with a stop at the Findlay Market, Cincinnati's year around public market.  Operating since 1852, Findlay Market is where Cincinnati restaurateurs shop, as well as the general public.  Here you'll find meat markets, cheese shops, spice stores, bakeries, and all sorts of places to have a bite to eat for breakfast or lunch.  It's a quintessential urban shopping experience, with over two dozen indoor vendors and many more outdoor vendors in the warmer months.

After a visit to the spectacular Newport Aquarium just over the river in Kentucky, we visited Woodstone Creek Winery and Distillery, just outside downtown Cincinnati.  Woodstone Creek is Ohio's only micro distillery and produces numerous specialty wines and small batch spirits.

Woodstone Creek is a fascinating place to visit.  Not only will you enjoy the tasting room, but there's also an on premise art gallery.  You can shop here for handmade jewelry either before or after sampling at the classic mahogany bar.

Starting with wines, we enjoyed the Vidal Blanc, an Indy International Wine Fest medal winner.  It's a semi dry, nicely balanced offering that pairs well with snacks or finger food.  We loved the Laureate, a rich red port, and the fun Eden, an apple dessert wine.

Although we didn't sample, Woodstone Creek also produces an interesting array of small batch liqours like vodka, rum, and  bourbon.  We bought a bottle of the rum and bourbon and our only regret is we didn't buy more!  This is a place that's enjoyable for everyone, whether you imbibe or not.  Only open on Saturdays at this writing, Woodstone Creek is a lot of fun, and you're sure to strike up a friendly conversation or even develop a new friendship.  Don't miss Woodstone Creek on your next visit to Cincinnati.

Final Thoughts

Ohio is a terrific, underrated state for wine.  Cincinnati and the southwestern part of the state are just one of many wine trails to explore for wine travel lovers.  I'll be back to Ohio in the near future for sure!

Pairing a Craft Beer with Great Food - A Culinary Compliment to Both

There isn't anything much better  than a great meal paired with a delicious, full-flavored craft beer. Most people think of pairing food with wine, but often fine beers offer much more versatility than a wine does. There are so many styles and such a wide range of flavors, craft beer compliments a whole spectrum of food flavors. Seasonal beers go wonderfully with seasonal meals as well.

In order to make it easier to think of which beer goes with what food, a good rule of thumb is to think of ale like red wine, and lager as if it were white wine. Strong hoppy ales, like IPAs, can overwhelm the cuisine so be sure to pair them with strong and spicy food. One option is to pair like flavors; tart goes with tart, and sweet, with sweet. The beer ought to be slightly more sweet or tart as the food being served. Taste is subjective, though, so it is important to be experimental and adventurous. Try new and unusual beers, and discover how they taste paired with your favorite meals.

The most widespread lager style beer is Pilsner, and the most common ale is a Pale Ale. Both, of course, are terrific with an excellent meal. A classic pairing for any number of the outstanding American Pale Ales would be with a juicy hamburger and cheddar cheese. If you can muster dessert, Pale Ale also goes greet with a maple bread pudding. A classic Pilsner is ideal in the summer because it is so crisp and refreshing. Pair a nice German Pilsner with barbecued chicken breast and a fresh mixed greens salad.

For more extreme barbecues you might want to bring a strong, hoppy IPA. I've found that a very peppery bone-in ribeye tastes amazing with a well hopped IPA. The piney and citrus notes of the hop bomb perfectly compliment the tender, spicy, slightly fatty meat. Recently there is a craze for double or Imperial IPAs that are extremely hoppy and high in alcohol content, but normally balanced with a thick almost sweet maltiness. These double IPAs are delicious with a grilled leg of lamb seasoned with much garlic and rosemary, or a tender smoked beef brisket. Furthermore, cheese lovers swear by the flavor combination of blue cheese and Gorgonzola with IPA.

Strong, hoppy IPAs are also classic with curry, whether Thai or Indian, green or red. The strong hoppy overtones balance spicy meals very well. I also believe that the exotic flavor undertones and citrus elements found in the extremely hopped IPAs match the over the top shock of some Thai or Indian food.

Years ago I went to Belgium and could not get enough of the the classic Belgian meal, moulle e frites, mussels and fresh-cut French fries. Of course, the Belgian beers are world renowned. Every small town has a pub that makes remarkable beer, and in the cities you can sit outside in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a big steaming pot of mussels and drink some amazing beers. Witbier is a classic with steamed mussels, but when I was in Belgium I preferred to try as many different Abbey Dubels and Tripels as I could, and they paired perfectly with the succulent North Sea Belgian mussels.

Belgian Abbey Ales are getting quite popular in the U.S. and it is now easier to find Abbey Dubels and Tripels in the more well stocked liquor stores. Expert American craft breweries are also adapting the traditional recipes to create concoctions that dazzle. They carry quite a flavor punch because of their unique natural yeasts, as well as the tradition and craft that goes into producing them. Because it can be quite strong, an Abbey Tripel compliments spicy cajun food and the marriage of extreme flavors is a high in and of itself. An Abbey Dubel is slightly more subdued, and tastes terrific with a hearty meat stew. For dessert, try a Tripel with dark chocolate bread pudding, and pair an Abbey Dubel with baklava and other non-chocolate desserts.

I prefer dark beers in the winter time, and these hearty brews need a meal that is equally warming and substantial. Porters, though very dark, are not high in alcohol content, and are slightly sweet with a nice toasty malt flavor. Pair a porter with smoked and roasted meats or fish. Porter is perfect with chocolate, and desserts with peanut butter and coconut too.

Stouts are already pretty filling, so be prepared. I tried an oatmeal stout with Oaxcan Mole chicken once and it was amazing. The sweet and thick stout was the perfect match for the spicy, earthy mole. Imperial Stouts are very strong and high in alcohol content. They overpower most foods, but are fabulous with dessert, like a chocolate raspberry torte.

There are so many remarkable beers to try. The recent boom of American craft brewers and breweries is producing a fantastic amount of outstanding beers of various styles to discover and enjoy. I recommend that get out to some of the local breweries in your area and give some of them a try!  Make it a point to experiment with beers you have never tried and pair them with foods to discover sumptuous flavor combinations.

Joe Gatto

I am a freelance writer and operate Beach Marketing, an interactive marketing service for small businesses in Miami Beach, Florida.

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