While researching this Florida wine project, I tasted wines from more than half the wineries dotting the map—all in the name of research I assure you. And the review was surprising. I am one of the many who does not enjoy sweet wines; like many, I tried a muscadine grape wine years back and swore them off. But for this piece, I wanted to be objective, so I let go of the bad experiences, and took a little advice from Island Grove Wine Company’s Winemaker, Chase Marden: “Keep your mind open because there are a lot of people making excellent wines that are out of the norm.”
What I found was myriad of flavors and subtleties. I’m still not the biggest proponent of the ultra sweet reds, but these wines still have their place, especially as a dessert wine or on a warm summer day with—heaven’s forbid—an ice cube or two dropped in the glass. But some of the hybrid varieties were quite nice, a variation of Chardonnay and Vino Verde, where citrusy flavors mingled with honey.
The biggest surprise came with the fruit wines. These were passed by for grape wines throughout the tasting until they were the last bottles standing. Island Grove’s Kinda Dry blueberry wine was by far my favorite wine of the entire experience. The flavor was complex, full-bodied and, as the name suggests, dry. There was a slight sweetness, but more in the line of a Pinot Noir or Merlot; this wine made me a convert of the blueberry guild.
And Schnebly Redland’s Winery’s wines were no less interesting. The AvoVino, made with avocadoes was probably the most curious wine out of the entire tasting. I was hesitant, thinking guacamole before opening; and it does take a bit getting used to, but once you get past that initial hurdle, its smooth sailing. The Lychee wine was actually quite good. Tasting like lychees, this is a great sip for those looking for a real Florida experience.
In the end, I grew an appreciation for this sub-sect of the wine industry, if for nothing else, because it is different. Florida wines, in general, don’t try to mimic their northern terrior cousins; the makeup of the grapes and fruit simply won’t allow it. But that doesn’t mean there is not a place for these bottles; it’s just a different, Florida kind of place. For those looking to experience some of these fresh from Florida sips, try the following bottles; it will certainly make for an interesting tasting at your next shindig.
Kinda Dry | Island Grove Wine Company
Made with Southern Highbush blueberries, Kinda Dry is the closest wine to those Old World varietals, and my personal favorite of all the Florida wines tasted.
A highly aromatic wine, when inhaling you’re met with a sweet, yet delicate blueberry aroma with slight traces of alcohol—this lets you know its wine right off the bat.
At first taste, its blueberry, but not overly powerful. There is plenty of flavor in this wine, with almost a woodsy, cedar taste that helps cut the sweetness of the berry.
Medium bodied with a dry, mild acidity, this wine is smooth and quaffable, easily the most drinkable of the bunch and highly recommended.
Conversely, Island Grove’s Sorta Sweet gives those looking for a sweeter sip just that. Taking on more of the blueberry profile then Kinda Dry, Sorta Sweet is a light, sweet sip best served chilled.
AvoVino | Schnebly Redland’s Winery
By far the more interesting bottle in the tasting, Schnebly’s AvoVino is actually made with avocados, the result of some experimentation at the Homestead winery.
AvoVino is highly aromatic, with avocado peel being the most notable smell. When you first taste it, you are immediately presented with something different: it’s off-dry, no real sweetness to it, with medium body. There is a slight mineral taste which is countered nicely the acidity, making for a pretty balanced wine.
Advice: For me, it was best to go into this bottle without thinking wine at all—there are lots of preconceived notions of what a pale yellow wine should taste like; if you are expecting Chardonnay, you will be disappointed. This wine is different; it even has a slightly oily mouth feel, but not overly. Try chilling the bottle in the refrigerator first, it will help knockoff some of its bite. It’s worth a try, even if just to say you have. Photo courtesy of Schnebly Redland’s Winery
Reserva | San Sebastian Winery
Another Florida hybrid wine, Reserva is San Sebastian’s blend, using Suwanee, Miss Blanc, and Blanc du Bois grapes—the very ones perfected on the Lakeridge/San Sebastian vineyards near Tallahassee.
Pale yellow in complexion, Reserve is a sweet white table wine that imbues strong citrus and melon aromas on the nose.
The Reserva has a powerful flavor, with citrus and melon flavors intermingling with drier, herbal flavors, adding a tinge of complexity. Sweet but not overly so, Reserve is a nice break from the über sweet muscadine varietals like Vinters White.
Try serving this white with an ice cube or two; the chill is always nice in a white wine while the slight dilution will help cut the sweetness. Photo courtesy San Sebastian Winery
Pink Crescedno | Lakeridge Winery & Vineyard
Slightly sweet, slightly pink/rose sparkling wine.
Made by the traditional Champagne method—individual fermentation within the bottle adding the fizz—is made mostly with Carlos varietal with an added dose of Noble to give it its hue.
On the nose, the sweet floral and light berry aromas give this wine a nice strong bouquet.
The sweetness of the grape is countered nicely with the crisp carbonation and tart acids—this is not overly sweet in the least, but a complex and refreshing sparking wine.
Notes of citrus (grapefruit) and nectary mango can be tasted, along with the honey-sweet muscadine fruitiness of the Carlos grape. Photo courtesy of Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
Lychee Wine | Schnebly Redland’s Winery
If you are looking for a dessert wine, Schnebly’s Lychee Wine is a winner. Resembling Gewürztraminer, often referred to as the lychee wine (the aroma chemistry of Gewurztraminer and lychee are quite similar), this sip is a sweet that is all lychee all the time.
A golden lemon color, the nose offers a preview of what’s in store: lychee, but in an inviting kind of way.
A full-bodied wine, there is plenty of flavor packed into each sip. A slight acidty gives this sweet wine a nice balance.
One of Schnebly’s most popular wines, the Lychee wine has spurred a full series of sips at the winery including the semi-dry Sparkling Lychee, and Lychee Dolce, a dessert-style wine with just a bit more lychee punch. Photo courtesy of Schnebly Redland’s Winery
Stover Reserve | Lakeridge Winery & Vineyard
Made with Lakeridge’s estate-grown Stover grapes, a hybrid bunch grape developed in the 1950s [PDF], Stover Reserve is a pleasant surprise for Florida grape wine.
Pale in color, the aromatic wines gives off a fragrant Southern bouquet of gardenia and magnolia mixed with citrus and banana.
When sipping, an array of flavors vie for your attention—grapefruit, banana, pear, and a slight buttery linger taste. Off-dry, the wine has a nice flavor without the bite: there is complexity to it with a semi-sweetness that does not overpower. When chilled, this is the perfect wine for hot and humid Florida days—a front porch afternoon sipper.
Advice: As one of Lakeridge’s hybrid varietals, Stover Reserve is in short demand: limited plantings of the grape makes for limited bottles each year. Best advice, when you see a bottle, pick it up, they won’t be there for long. Photo courtesy of Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
Castillo Red | San Sebastian Winery
Of all the red wines tasted, Castillo Red was my favorite (that was not made out of blueberries of course). A blended wine similar in profile to that of Merlot, it is made with Blanc Du Bois grapes and imported grapes from California, allowing it to take on drier notes than most Florida-made wines.
Pouring a deep garnet, the bouquet is floral and fruity. Dry with low acidity, this wines infuses red fruit like strawberry and raspberry, without being sweet—quite the feat. Well balanced with a lingering finish, Castillo Red is a drinkable wine that would pair well red meat.
I highly recommend this wine to anyone looking to try a premium Florida wine. Castillo Red is a surprisingly flavorful wine that lends to be light and crisp, a nice change of pace from some of Florida’s overly sweet muscadine wines. Photo courtesy San Sebastian Winery
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