From engineer, to farmer and horse breeder/trainer, to viticulturist, to winemaker, David Ponce and his wife Beth, of Monte Alegre Vineyards & Cellars, have made their mark in the Southern Illinois wine scene. The property originally had three old vines of Fredonia grapes, which eventually became used for cloning, but the small vineyard started growing commercially in 1996 the with planting of Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc and then quickly added Chardonel, Norton-Cynthiana, Frontenac, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Seyval Blanc.
The tasting room and Ponce Cellars, where the winemaking occurs are attached to the home. Don’t let the small operation fool you though as you drive up the rock driveway. What you find in the tasting room is a true wine lover’s experience.
I was fortunate to visit on a Friday afternoon, during a time in which I and a friend were the only customers. David was actually there to conduct what I can call an unforgettable tasting. Not only was he more than willing to share his own story and that of the vineyards and winery, but he orchestrated the tasting in a way that enhanced the experience in many ways. From describing the best temperature and food pairings for the wines, or just conveying how he likes to enjoy them himself, you could tell he really is passionate about what he does.
All of the wines are estate grown at Monte Alegre Vineyard and fermented and aged on location at Ponce Cellars. The following is a list of the wines we tasted that day, along with the cellar’s tasting notes, along with a few of my own:
Dawg Daze Rosé – A light and pleasant sweet rosé. Goes perfect with munchies, burgers, Mexican food, gulping by the pool side, a picnic or tailgating with friends. (serve at 50˚F)
Sangria Calata (Naked Sangria) – A proprietary blend of white, red and table grapes that is fruity and sweet, designed to cool you down during the long summer days. Serve “naked”, chilled or on ice, or dress her lightly with fruits of your choice (best served at 45 to 55˚F).
David insisted that this sangria is much better with fruit, so a sip was taken without and then he added some chopped apple to our glasses. This truly enhanced the wine and I could not imagine having it without some type of fruit.
el Mellicero (the Twin Maker) – A sweet red table wine from Frontenac grapes with a sassy vigorous taste and full body, aromas reminiscent of chocolate and coffee. Pairs well with abundance of food and laughter (serve 60 to 65˚F)
Along with the nice aromas described, I detected similar flavors with the subtle addition of raisin.
Vidal Blanc – A semi-dry white variétal that is smooth and fruity. Best paired with summer favorites such as Pork, chicken and corn-on-the-cob. Excellent for cook outs, light cheeses, olives, and nuts. (store refrigerated, serve at 50˚F)
In order to demonstrate how bold red wines can be paired with certain foods to enhance the flavors of both, David provided us with a small piece of cheese to have before tasting each of the following four red wines. One more step in making this a remarkable experience.
Fond de Cave – (Bottom-of-the-cave) A full body red table blend of Chambourcin and Norton that is smooth and elegantly dry. Great pairing with red meats, wild game and wild people. (60 to 65˚F)
This wine is not blended at pressing.
Tinto Lindo (Awesome Red) – A young blend of Chambourcin and Norton fermented together and finished dry to emphasize fruit character and heartiness. Great for chilling with your favorite people. (60 to 65˚F)
This wine is blended at pressing, and is a 2018 vintage.
Norton/Cynthiana 2010 – Premium full bodied smooth table red varietal finished dry in a blend of French and American oak. Also know as Cynthiana, this grape is native to North America and Carbondale is within its natural habitat. Great for pairing with pasta, quesadillas and red meats. It is to be enjoyed for its wholesome quality as well as its American heritage (best served at 60 to 65˚F)
Chambourcin 2013 – A local favorite dry red table wine, gently aged in American oak barrels, the long finish and full body manifest themselves in a silky wine with vanilla and berry nuances. A carnivore’s delight, this wine pairs naturally with grilled juicy red meats. (serve at 60 to 65˚F)
Liquid Poetry 2006 – A port finished on the style that our grandparents enjoyed with long after dinner chats. It is made for the PORT lover and the discriminating sweet tooth. This 10 year old port has 50% more alcohol than our table reds and is a great companion to chocolate, brownies and cheese cake. (65˚F)
As he did with a few other wines, David made it a point to demonstrate how this port can be enhanced with the addition of a bit of dark chocolate. We did not argue 🙂
You can see the wine list on their website but if you are in the area, be sure to stop in.
I take no greater pleasure in winery visits that having the chance to interact with the owners and winemakers. Sometimes when they are the same person the experience is even more enjoyable. This is one I will remember.