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Bottled up: Invite adventure into your shelter-at-home with Hamel Family Wines

Bottled up: Invite adventure into your shelter-at-home with Hamel Family Wines

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With many of us sheltered-in-place or working from home, it’s hard not to feel the tug of your passport and the urge to jet set. Opening a bottle of wine offers a brief adventure, a sensory travel experience to areas that you aspire to visit.

I have written about small production California wineries, which offer an interesting window into California wine making. Small productions allow for more versatility in the wine making process and allow for greater experimentation. The resulting wines are developed and crafted based on the individual harvests to maximize the flavor and potential from the grapes harvested.

Hamel Family Wines has generations tied to the Midwest and is creating inspiring wines with a commitment to quality. Each bottle is adorned with a sketch of a badger, an homage to the family’s link to the University of Wisconsin where several family members attended school, and to Sonoma, which has badgers in the wild.

While I may need to brace myself for public scorn for including a wine with ties to Bucky Badger here in Hawkeye country, the wines are warranted and should be an exciting adventure.

A family affair, the wine making efforts are led by John Hamel II, and the business is managed by John and George Hamell III. The Hamel family’s grapes are produced across four vineyards spread across Sonoma Valley and Moon Mountain District estate vineyards; Tres Palmas and Nuns Canyon to the north, and Armor Plate and Hamel Family Ranch to the south. All utilize both organic and biodynamic farming practices. Biodynamic farming harnesses our planet’s celestial ebbs and flows, with four key “days” most suitable for harvest, pruning, watering and laissez faire to maximize quality. While the notion of biodynamic farming seems a modern age phenomenon, it was present in farming practices in the United States in the 1920s and comes with roots even to ancient times. The practice also prohibits the addition of chemicals in production nd has been said to lend itself to a better showcase of true terroir. It is common in many old world wine regions and now becoming ever more popular in North and South American wine regions.

Hamel Family Wines produces an assortment of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Semillon and Grenache from which, it produces the nine currently released wines for enthusiasts to enjoy.

The 2016 Isthmus Estate wine (retail $85) is a red blend made of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (89%), followed by additions of Cabernet Franc (10%) and Merlot grapes (1%). Produced from grapes harvested in the family’s Nuns Canyon and Hamel Family Ranch vineyard sites, each grape cluster is picked by hand to ensure only the best quality reaches the just under 2,500 cases produced.

The wine is fermented in neutral stainless steel and concrete and aged for 26 months in two-thirds new French Oak barrels which imparts flavors of baking spice and silky tannins. With the dark skinned red grapes, this creates a very dry finished product.

As you open this wine you will immediately notice the deep purple color throughout with little rim variation indicating its youth.

Smelling the wine delivers a symphony of aromas with very robust smells of blackberry, plum, black cherry and fig. As you continue to smell the wine, additional vegetal aromas of bell pepper and eucalyptus and baking spice make their way into your nose.

On the palate, the flavors of plum and black cherry continue with the addition of black currant. The use of French Oak also delivers a silky tannin on the palate and subtle flavors of clove and vanilla.

High in acidity and high in tannin, this wine delivers a bone dry finish.

When pairing this wine, it’s important to take into account several factors; its high tannins, dark fruit qualities, and its medium bodied nature. Look to pair this wine with red meats, grilled options and anything creamy and buttery. Definitely avoid spicy foods with this wine, at 16% alcohol, it will make your spicy dish seem spicier and will have you reaching for the milk. Also, while it may seem that stinky cheese and Cab should go together, with this wine, opt for milder cheeses that allow it to be the star.

I recommend a pairing of fresh ground grilled lamb burgers, served with dressed mustard greens and radicchio whose bitterness will complement the tannins in the wine. Or consider short ribs braised for several hours topped with red wine plum sauce abed creamy Boursin potatoes, or prime rib roast with black pepper and garlic crust.

As we all continue to look for ways to accentuate the day-to-day with excitement and adventure, the Hamel Family Wines 2016 Isthmus Red Blend is a wine that is  silky and refined, yet bold and forceful. A wine that is perfect to interrupt the banal, and deliver an impressive performance.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or


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Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for h…

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