Authentic American Sparkling Wine from Illinois

ART Illinois LogoMark and Teri Wenzel make America’s most authentic sparkling wine at their Illinois Sparkling Co. They source American hybrid grapes from vineyards on the banks of the Illinois River and with the advice of French sparkling wine expert Didier Jacquet craft well-made, balanced sparklers with unique chararacter, aromas, and flavors. We review their sparking wines in our forthcoming report America’s Sparkling Wines, the most comprehensive look ever at the sparkling wines of North America in such disparate locations as New York’s Finger Lakes, Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, New Mexico’s 4300’ high mountain plateau, Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma’s Green Valley, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Virginia’s Monticello, and Canada’s Nova Scotia. See our notes on Mark and Teri’s sparklers below.

Winemaker Mark Wenzel

Winemaker Mark Wenzel

Located just north of Champaign, Illinois, the home of the University of Illinois, the winery’s slogan is “Less Champagne, More Champaign.” For more on Illinois wine, see the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association.  And if you’re in Chicago, go to the Pops for Champagne bar on North State St.

Mark Wenzel  started making sparkling wine under his August Hill brand in 2008 before creating the Illinois Sparkling Wine Co. in 2010. Since the growing conditions in central Illinois are not conducive to vitis vinifera, his focus has been on hybrids like St. Pepin, Marechal Foch, Chardonel and Frontenac Gris grown on well-drained vineyards with clay loam soils overlooking the Illinois River. With Didier, he’s researching which hybrids do best in the Illinois terroir.and is especially high on Frontenac Gris. He uses a gentle bladder press and is experimenting with partial malo, oak aging, and blending with reserve wines. He’s the only sparkling winemaker we know who is seriously exploring the potential of hybrid varieties to make high quality American sparkling wine. This is one of the most interesting new sparkling wine ventures in America today, and the wines are unique and well made. We provide a list of his wines below; full tasting notes will be forthcoming in our Report #52 American Sparkling Wine.  For those who are interested, we list the residual sugar (RS) in grams per liter for each wine.  In general, Mark’s sparklers are dry; only the Dollface Rosé is targeted to drinkers who like their sparklers on the sweet side. As noted below, the  XTRA Brut is bone dry.

ART Illinois Michelle

Michelle Obama with an Illinois Sparkler in Hand

Thanks to Mark Ganchiff of Midwest Wine Press for introducing us to Mark and Teri’s sparkling wines. As seen here, their wines are not just good drinking. They can also be used to christen ships, in this case Michele Obama christening the USS Illinois last month using a bottle of bubbly from Illinois Sparkling Co.

Illinois Sparkling Co. NV XTRA Brut Illinois This is a bone dry wine made of the Illinois St. Pepin grape with just 1 g/L RS. Disgorged March 18, 2015.

Illinois Sparkling Co. 2012 Franken’s French Hybrid Brut This pale pink wine is especially lively and mineral-like. Disgorged Sept 15, 2015. Chambourcin grape. 11.8 g/L

Illinois Sparkling Co. 2011 ISC Brut Illinois This is a very good, very dry Brut made from St. Pepin and Frontenac Gris. Disgorged Sept. 9, 2015. 7 g/L RS St.

Illinois Sparkling Co. NV Dollface Rosé Demi-Sec Illinois Made from the Marechal Foch grape, this is an off-dry sparkling rosé. 10 g/L RS

Illinois Sparkling Co. 2012 Heirloom Sparkling Rosé This is Mark’s most original and complex sparkler. It would be perfect for Thanksgiving dinner. Disgorged August 15, 2015. Marechal Foch grape. 10 g/L RS.
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