Yes, we make wine in Ohio. But usually I think of the better-quality wineries as the ones in the northeast, on the shores of Lake Erie, where the soils and climate are excellent for Riesling and Pinot Noir. As one moves south, the wineries and grapes begin to differ from the traditional European models. These American “folk” wines are often made from jelly grapes rather than wine grapes, or from other types of fruit that grow well locally, and they tend to be too sweet for the palate of an oenophile. Breitenbach Wine Cellars, for example, is in Amish country and produces “grape, fresh fruit, and berry wines” as well as dandelion wine.
Therefore I did not have high hopes for Gervasi Vineyard in the city of Canton, which is otherwise best known for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Visiting the latter website, I was bemused to see a link called “Enshrinement Headquarters.” But with football we are heading into the territory of quite a different beverage.)
Gervasi is a lovely place to visit, an inn with beautiful grounds, a conference center and several restaurants. Obviously the wine does not create the main revenue stream, but the owners have taken special care with the offerings, which provide the central Tuscan theme. Some of the wines are made in Italy for Gervasi, then bottled and cellared here. Others are made from grapes grown elsewhere and selected by the winemaker. Finally, some are estate grown. The winery, however, possesses only six acres of vines. Wisely, they grow “sweet wine” grapes that can flourish in the Canton climate, which is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than the Erie shores. The varietals include Marquette, Frontanac Gris, Aromella, Vignoles, Arandell and Petite Pearl.
The white wine menu is cleverly organized on a spectrum from sweet to dry. The whites go from Sognata, the ice wine, to Moscato and Tesoro (Vidal Blanc) up through Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and (the driest) two Chardonnays. The reds are all considered “dry” (by the standards of the NE Ohio palate) and are arranged from Dolcetto and Velluto (Pinot Noir) up through Nebbiolo, Barbera, Zin, Barolo, Abbraccio (Cab) and Amarone.
We each tasted three whites and three reds. The verdict? They’re impressive–tasty wines by anyone’s standard, and not irritatingly expensive, as so many of the Ohio wines are. The Barbera and Zin were especially good, rich and deep with luscious fruit and a hint of spice. We disliked the Amarone with its raisiny flavors, but that is how it’s supposed to taste. Unfortunately they didn’t have the Barolo on hand. I’d like to go back for that, as it’s not that easy to find a place here where you can taste a well-aged Barolo.
The whites were equally good. I tried the Fioretto (Sauv Blanc, light and refreshing) and the two Chardonnays (Ciao Bella and Bellina), then settled on a glass of the Ciao Bella, which is described as “alluring with aromas of ripe tropical fruit and gentle toasted oak.” I didn’t taste much oak in it, but it was delicious.
The food was excellent. I don’t think it’s a wood-fired oven, but the pizzas still tasted great and had plenty of blistery charred spots. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend this place.