Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fireside Winery "Hearthside" Red Wine

Terry post:

My brother brought out two bottles of Fireside Winery "Hearthside" red wine when he visited here in December. Hearthside is a blend of Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes and grown in Iowa.

The Fireside Winery web page describes "Hearthside" as, "Our dry red wine, a blend of Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes, is a medium-bodied wine that shows off the deep purple color for which Chancellor is known. Aromas of roasted nuts, licorice, and green peppers make Hearthstone the ideal choice for curling up by the fireplace on a cold winter night, or for serving with rack of lamb or beef tenderloin."

Chambourcin (hybrid) is not a widely known grape and hasn't gotten much market penetration. The essential issue with Chambourcin is acceptance with the buying public and the confidence of patrons at my restaurant.

I tried one of the bottles yesterday with a rare prime rib. Here are my thoughts about the wine.

1. Fruit leads the way. There is a nice fruit nose on the wine. I am not some sort of super-taster and could not dissern the roasted nuts, licorice or green peppers that the winery noted. What I did note was a significant fruit which is fine with me.

2. It seemed a little "hot" to me. The bottle says 13.3% alcohol by volume - seems hotter than that to me.

3. Tannins were thin. I am somewhat experienced Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes as they are widely grown in Northern Virginia (Leesburg) and realize that I shouldn't expect Cabernet Sauvignon like tannic structure. I expect Chambourcin to be soft - but not this soft. I don't think the wine is cellar-worthy. The wine is as good now as it will ever be and should be consumed young.

So, the $100 question: Would I put this wine on my wine list? Maybe.

At $12 per bottle at the winery, I assume that the bottle would wholesale between $4.50 and $5.00 per bottle. This would make the wine (on a price basis) a good candidate for my "by the glass" selection where I would price it at $7.00 or $8.00 per serving allowing me to cover the cost of the bottle with the first pour and to gross $28 to $32 per bottle.

I guess the answer is, "yes" that I'd put it on my wine list starting with "by the glass" to gauge if there is demand for the product. If there were support then I'd move it to the main list.

~ Terry


  1. I haven't had the Fireside product, and can't offer an opinion on it, but found a Chambourcin/Chancellor blend from Wallace Winery (West Branch, IA) to be quite good. Not great, but good. It's called "Iowa Barn" Red. Hate the name, like the wine.

  2. I've found Chambourcin to be a very good wine to cook with. I've made beef stew and tomato sauces with it, and the Chambourcins I've used have imparted better flavors than the Cabs I've used for the same purposes. Not sure why this would be, but I've had some great dinners because of it!

  3. Here is what Saveur Magazine said about Fireside Winery's "Hearthstone" in their Tasting Notes:

    And about Midwestern Wine in an article by David Wondrich, titled: American Originals:

    Hearthstone is a tasty, easy-to-drink, and very approachable wine. And made 35 miles from where I live.


  4. I enjoyed my second bottle last evening and WOW. What a difference!

    This bottle had a huge fruit nose and was very easy to drink. Not nearly as "hot" as the first bottle. The tannins were still absent, but the fruit made up nicely.

    One issue with smaller producers is quality control and reduction of variability. I sort of liked the first bottle, but I LOVED the second bottle. There was a night-and-day difference between the two bottles.

    This wine I'd put on my wine list!

  5. How interesting there was such a difference between the two bottles. I suppose they could have come from two separate batches...but didn't think so.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to being a small producer. Fireside bottles about 5,000 cases per year - certainly small by California standards, but on the high-average side for Iowa.

    Some might say the reduction of variability is a good thing - mostly. Formulaic, masssed-produced wines have to potential to be uninteresting; whereas, the small-scale (micro-producer) can produce wines with interesting varietals - yielding spectactular wines sometimes...and other times purely bad wines.

    One serious problem, in my mind, with some of our smaller producers is the "I know all I need to know" phemomenon. This is where our local producer has attained a sufficient amount of winemaking knowledge to make decent wine, but not a consistenly decent wine. Frequently the troubles are related to post fermentation decisions: additions and evaluation (SO2 levels, in particular).

    One more thing...about the tannin levels of the Chambourcin and Chancelor grapes. This is a common problem with hybrid grapes - lack of tannins. This is easily remedied with an appropriate addition of tannin at pre-fermentation.

    Glad you liked bottle #2!