Bubbly: Raspberry Wine and Beer from WNY and Belgium

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Lindemans Framboise Lambic
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"While in the middle of this pack on sweetness, the Framboise Lambic tasted the best to our palates - just sweet and tart enough to make the wines above seem imbalanced."

Over the last few weeks, we've used a little space on Buffalo Chow to look at interesting wines from Western New York and nearby areas, starting with Blueberry Wines, continuing with Cherry Wines, and this week, possibly nearing the end of our run with Raspberry Wines. Additionally, we've included a Belgian Raspberry Beer just for the fun of it, and generally found this week's selections to be amongst our favorites in the Bubbly series. Notably, the alcohol content of these bottles is unusually mysterious; only one of the items below offers clues as to its strength.

Our top wine pick this week is from Ovid, New York's Hosmer Winery: the 750ml, $12 bottle called Raspberry Rhapsody. Unlike many of the other fruit wines we've covered, Raspberry Rhapsody isn't made purely from raspberries; rather, it starts with what tastes like a white Zinfandel and adds what Hosmer describes as "locally grown sun-ripened red raspberries." Somehow, this combination does a better job of evoking the taste of raspberry than the other options; we felt that it was the best wine representation of a raspberry drink, with a controlled, comparatively subtle dose of the berries on top of the neutral grape wine; there is similarly a clean, pleasant raspberry aftertaste after every sip. No specific alcohol content is listed, but it's good enough to be a standard table wine, and just sweet enough to serve as a nice dessert wine. It merits 3 stars.

Produced in Romulus, New York, Radical Raspberry from Swedish Hill is similarly a $12, 750ml bottled table wine with natural raspberry flavor added - it is about as different from Rhapsody as one could imagine. The first thing that strikes you in the flavor is the sweetness - it has almost twice the sugar content (14%) of the 7.5% sugar Rhapsody, and an even more prominent if slightly artificial-tasting fruit flavor. While you would never confuse it with a raspberry port, which Swedish Hill incidentally offers for almost four times the price per milliliter in a bottle called Raspberry Infusion, Radical Raspberry is the easiest of this group to describe as a dessert wine; its raspberry taste is anything but subtle. We consider it to be fun, not sophisticated; it's worthy of 2.5 stars, and again, no alcohol content information is available.

The last wine option is Vizcarra Vineyards' Red Creek Raspberry, produced in Gasport, New York and served in $15, 500ml bottles that are cosmetically more exciting than either of the others above. And they're described as being made from "100% hand picked raspberries." But looks and words shouldn't fool you; like last week's Vizcarra selection, "Emperor Cherry," the Red Creek Raspberry was the worst of the drinks we tested. It has the same tendency to separate in your mouth into constituent elements of water, alcohol, and fruit flavoring, coming across as a watery, bitter raspberry drink that's light enough to see right through. Initial sips range from unpleasant to modestly fatiguing, forcing you to acclimate to a flavor that you may not want to bother getting to like. Yet once you drink enough, some of the bitter taste fades away, and you can enjoy - somewhat, at least - the flavor of raspberry, which transitions on the tongue to bitterness, and then nothing. While not a fantastic wine, the Red Creek Raspberry's not awful, either; it rates 1.5 stars.

Our favorite overall raspberry pick this week is a beer, but not just any beer: Lindemans Farm Winery's Framboise is a Belgian Lambic. Without going into the history of Lambics or our love for a good Gueuze, it suffices to say that Lindemans makes a series of popular drinks that are similar to hard ciders in flavor; they have the carbonation and alcohol content of beers, but thanks to their strong fruit flavors and comparative sweetness, no one would confuse them with a Guinness or a Corona. The Framboise is Lindemans' raspberry version, served in 355ml bottles (shown, $6.50) or 750ml bottles for around $11; apple, cherry, peach, and black currant versions are also available. Imported by Merchant du Vin, our bottle came from the Consumer's Beverage Center on Transit in Williamsville.

Wonderfully strong in raspberry flavor, the Framboise Lambic is made from fresh raspberries and a special malted barley and unmalted wheat beer that has been aged for several years. While in the middle of this pack on sweetness, it tasted the best to our palates - just sweet and tart enough to make the wines above seem imbalanced: the Hosmer comes across as comparatively too dry, the Swedish Hill too sugary, and the Vizcarra watery and bitter. Though we concede that it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, we'd pick it for raspberry accompaniment over any of the wines above, as its combination of punchy flavors, a little carbonation, and light alcohol content make it a fun drink. Notably, third-party claims as to the alcohol level peg it at either 2.5% or 4%, which is most likely lower than any of the wines above; Lindemans' lambics don't need to get you buzzed to make a strong, positive impression. This one's worthy of 3.5 stars.

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