Sparkling Wine From... Illinois?

The newest wine region in America is redefining bubbly

The state of Illinois is known for many things — it's famous for housing the Windy City and for being the home of the Fighting Illini and our President, Barack H. Obama.

The Land of Lincoln may soon earn a new claim to fame as the source of some of the best méthode champenoise sparkling wine made anywhere in the United States — seriously. We were skeptical when we heard about the Illinois Sparkling Co. based in Peru, Ill., but in this case, tasting was believing.

The ILLINOIS SPARKLING CO Brut non-vintage (Peru, Ill.) $32 is bright, clean and complex, with a great balance between the crisp flavors of citrus and apple and just a hint of minerality and toastiness. It was the kind of magical bubbly discovery that made us want to blurt out something like "come quickly, I’m tasting stars."

Now we can’t wait to try the ILLINOIS SPARKLING CO. Heirloom Brut Rosé non-vintage (Peru, Ill.) $32 and the ILLINOIS SPARKLING CO. "Franken" Blanc de Noirs Brut non-vintage (Peru, Ill.) $32, which has hints of raspberry that make it appealing to people who like Framboise Lambic beers.

Owner Mark Wenzel says that while they do use the champagne method for making their wines, they’ve had to choose cold-climate, hardy hybrid grapes like st. pepin, seyval blanc, chambourcin, and marechal foch.

"In the Midwest our grapes are high in acid and low in tannin," says Wenzel, who has a degree in enology from University of California at Fresno. "Those are the main components that can make a sparkling wine."

We also appreciated the sly wit behind Illinois Sparkling, from the slogan "less Champagne, more Champaign," to the unassuming vintage-inspired packaging. But don’t let the looks fool you, the bottle’s back label is packed with information like the disgorgement date and food pairing suggestions — something we wouldn’t mind seeing more of from other bubbly producers.

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