Lots of Illinois wineries make sweet wines from fruits other than grapes, but Brian Neighbors of White Owl Winery/Purgatory Cellars in Flat Rock wanted something really unusual, so he turned to the persimmon trees he climbed as a boy 40 years ago in the woods on the family farm. Like a Spanish sherry except for the main ingredient, his Persimmon Solera (developed with his father, Ken) starts with persimmon wine fermented from a combo of fruit grown on the property and more gathered wild by Illinois and Indiana locals in the fall. The wine is fortified with persimmon brandy distilled from a portion of it, then sweetened with persimmon honey extracted from part of the original harvest. It’s aged in French oak barrels by the solera method, which involves bottling half the oldest wine from the bottom cask, then replenishing it from the next tier up and so forth. Persimmon Solera has racked up 16 awards at competitions, and no wonder: currently a blend of seven different years, the deep amber liquid has butterscotch undertones with a slightly nutty finish, and sipping it is sheer pleasure. Winery co-owner Joy Neighbors recommends pairing it with beef teriyaki or brie and mild blue cheeses, as well as desserts such as dried fruit compote and vanilla or butter pecan ice cream. A bottle goes for $39.95.
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