A martini for spring


2oz gin, Tanqueray for me
2/3oz Lillet Blanc
Dash grapefruit bitters, optional
Lemon peel

Stir in a pint glass with ice, strain and serve up, with a wide swath of lemon peel, skin the excess pith and express the oils over the rim and surface of the drink. The Lillet, our vermouth stand-in, is more citrusy and fragrant than your standard Martini and Rossi and especially the more herbal Noilly Prat. So go easy on the grapefruit bitters, just one healthy dash will do.

It's bright, fresh and simple. One imagines it Jordan Baker in her tennis whites drinking it on Tom and Daisy Buchanan's porch.

This pretty much sums up my beloved Hawkeyes’ football season.

I’ll get back to wine blogging in 2012, promise.  Big things are in the works, just you wait.

Salute! – To a happy and prosperous New Year!



2009 Lucien et Andre Brunel Les Cailloux Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  WS-92, big, assertive body, almonds and other woodsy, nutty flavors.  Not a bad fridge find on a Thursday.

I’ll get back to blogging regularly soon.  Rest assured I’ve been doing lots of researching during my absence.


I had an absolute blast on Friday night on WCCO Radio with John Hines.  We chatted about ballpark food, restaurants around town, and a little about wine pairing.  Give it a listen if you get a chance.

7-22-11 – HINESight – 9PM

Big post coming midweek about my favorite grape of them all.  Stay tuned.

On my never ending quest to find good Minnesota wine, I’m often faced with a haunting question.  When I taste a wine I like, I can’t help but think “Is this wine good for being Minnesota-made?  Or is it an objectively good wine?”  I like to think they are objectively good, but they are often so stylistically different from European-grape wines that I can’t help but wonder if go easy on them.  People have even read my articles here and on Heavy Table and asked me, “OK, are they actually good wines?  Or are you punching them up just because they’re local?”

So when Jason Johnson from MN Wine Club came to me with his newest shipment, I figured there would be no better time for a little experiment.  [MN Wine Club packages six MN wines, once a quarter, for $109.  Sign up before June 11th to get the following bottles.] I figured I’d get my wino friends together, brown-bag the wines, not say a thing about the bottles and ask for an honest, objective review of each.  In sum, we were pleasantly surprised.  Here are our thoughts:

Northern Vineyards “White” (Stillwater)

I mentioned this bottle in my article on the La Crescent grape at Heavy Table.  It’s a stainless steel fermented mix of MN and WI-grown La Crescent and other blending grapes. It is Northern’s most popular bottle, and as well it should be.  I found it to be a clean tasting, easy to appreciate, light and fun wine – and all of my tasters confirmed my original perception.  Consensus notes: Fruity, pineapple, medium sweetness, zesty, light body, summery, floral and refreshing.  It was the highest rated wine in the tasting.  Try this bottle immediately – it’s perfect in the blazing heat.

Indian Island Winery Brianna (Janesville)

Brianna is not a grape I’m much familiar with, and my panel of tasters didn’t quite know what to make of this one either.  A common response was that the sweetness tasted “thick”, especially compared to the “White”.  Some found it pleasant, akin to honey.  Some found it cloying and distracting.  But those perceptions seemed to line up with their individual tolerances for sweetness in wine.  Other notes: Riesling-like, funky, straightforward sweetness, medium body.  It was the lowest rated of the five.

St. Croix Vineyards Summer Red (Stillwater)

Served slightly chilled, this is a secret blend of red grapes made into a super light, ultra fruity sipping wine.  Gobs of raspberries, medium bodied, slightly sweet, very little noticeable tannin, with a slightly tart finish.  Other comments: certainly refreshing, ruby red, girly, summer brunch wine.  Fans of standard Beaujolais (and Beaujolais Nouveau) will be right at home with this one.  And this is definitely one for the heat!  I’m typing this article in my sweltering third-floor bedroom. Even left over and vac-packed, this wine is hitting the spot, big time.

Northern Vineyards “Red” (Stillwater)

This wine is made from Sabrevois grapes, vinified semi-dry in stainless steel.  The wine was considered by all to have a “Welch’s” flavor profile – though that was not meant to be entirely derisive.  Committed white wine drinkers on the panel said it was their favorite of the reds.  Notes:  Deep, sangria-like, jammy, violet, candied, grape Jolly Rancher.

This wine is a shining example of an awful tension I find in cold-climate wines.  On the one hand, these wines sell.  Many cold-climate wineries wouldn’t be able to stay in business without sweet reds to compete for the Boone’s Farm, Mogen David, and white blush drinkers (of which there is an incredible amount).  Unfortunately, staunch red wine drinkers and those “in the know” (read: critics with blinding pretention) will taste these wines, hate them, choose not to try any more, and deem them representative of all cold-climate wines.

Maybe overcoming negative perception should be a topic of discussion at the next MGGA meeting?  There’s not much of a middle ground with this type of wine.  You’ll either love it or hate it.

Indian Island Winery Marquette (Janesville)

Now here’s a wine that’ll knock those haters down a peg.  I’ve remained very skeptical about the quality of Minnesota red wines for quite some time. But I first tasted this Marquette at the Minnesota Grape Growers’ Association convention, and upon re-tasting I can confirm:  This is one of the best MN reds currently on the market.  It also recently won Best Red Wine at the 2010 International Cold Climate Wine Competition, so the industry seems to agree.

It’s a tawny-colored wine, with a dusty and soft nose of red berries.  The sip is velvety, with some backbone, restrained and (dare I say) elegant.  It bears shocking similarity to a young, Merlot-heavy Bordeaux.  The label says semi-dry, but there’s very little, if any, palpable sugar-like sweetness to this wine.  Notes: blueberries, luscious, spice component, complex, brandy-like, acidity on the finish, yum, a must-try.

It should be said that this wine had detractors.  They were, however, self-professed white wine drinkers, who clearly preferred the other two reds based on sweetness.


We did not taste the final wine in the shipment, the Alexis Bailly Rose Noir.  Though I have tasted that one before: it’s a fresh and light Rose, much in the vein of the Summer Red, that will nicely complement chicken on the grill.  I’ve got to give Jason some serious kudos (and not just because he gave me five bottles of wine, but yeah, kudos for that too.) He’s put together a set of summertime wines that are wildly different from one another.  So a bottle or two may not be 100% your speed.  But the point (not only in MN wines, but wines in general) is to taste enough to figure out what you like, and why you like it. Everyone on the panel found something to enjoy, and all for different reasons.  It’s hard to be fearless buying one bottle at a time, so MN Wine Club will help to ease you in. Taste them all with a group of people. Discuss, learn and enjoy.

[Above: Cornbread-stuffed Quail, Johnnycakes, Soft-poached eggs with Hollandaise at HUSK]

If you’re ever in Charleston, South Carolina and you’re looking for a bite to eat, head to the corner of King and Queen and take your pick from three highly-touted restaurants, two of which I can vouch for being terrific. [The other, 82 Queen, was raved about by others in our group].

They serve up classic southern fare at Poogan’s Porch, including the softest, most pillowy biscuits mankind has ever seen served with a delicious apple honey butter.  I had the Shrimp and Grits, they were absolutely spot-on.

Right next door to Poogan’s Porch is HUSK where Beard-award winning chef Sean Brock is doing some great things.  First:  The bar. It’s separate from the restaurant, in the alley between HUSK and Poogan’s Porch.  They serve up serious craft cocktails [a sip of their Monkey Gland was quite nice] and local brews.  Definitely worth a stop even if you’re not eating. Go up to the second floor and take a load off in the classy, red-leather decked, AC-blasted lounge area.

The restaurant itself is down-home but a little dressed up. The biscuits and gravy are a great starter, and my above pictured brunch was amazing.  And they serve house-made pork butter with their rolls.  It’s a little salty, but quite tasty.

After brunch, our wonderful waiter brought us each a small digestif of Txakoli (pronounced sha-co-LEE).  I can’t remember ever having it before, or even hearing of the grape.  Apparently it’s a specialty in the Spanish Basque country, and it’s exactly the kind of white wine I like – light, refreshing, citrusy, zippy, acidic.  It smelled like Cava and went down like Vinho Verde. I made a point to track some down when I got back.

On Monday, I stopped by Solo Vino on Cathedral Hill [easily the best shop in town if you’re looking to track down a Spanish wine].  Not only did they have 3 different Txakolis but 2 or 3 Txakoli Roses.

Make sure to hit up Solo Vino this week for their Spring Wine Sale – all bottles 20% off through Saturday.  I got the 2009 Amaztoi Txakolina [$15.99 on sale, $19.99 usually] and it’s a wonderful sip.  It’s a very pale shade of straw, slightly fizzy with a nose full of minerals and even a kind of wheat-like quality.  The sip has tingly acidity all over the place with some pears, more herbs and a dry, minerally finish.  It just screams summer wine – try it with seafood or, probably best, all by itself in the 90-degree heat.  Now if I could only track down some of that.

News/Notes for May

[Spiral wine cellar I want, pic from dornob.com] I’ve developed the terrible habit of forgetting I have this blog for weeks at a time.  I have a bunch of good bottles to tell you about in the next few weeks, so sit tight just a bit longer.  In the mean time, here are a few odds and ends:

Food thoughts as of late:

Jim Norton at Heavy Table recommended to me the Chilaquiles at Uptown Cafeteria a long time ago.  Just had them last weekend, and I’m now angry I waited so long.  They’re hearty and just the right amount of spicy.  They’re also not topped with gravy or hollandaise like everything else on their brunch menu, so that’s a plus.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I can’t get enough of the sandwiches at Clancey’s Meat & Fish.  Rustica bread topped with their amazing meats (the roast beef is my favorite, though you can’t go wrong with any of them).

Specials to Hit this month:

Cork Dork Wine Co‘s Thurdsay May 12th tasting will feature some good bottles, and all the Carbone’s Pizza you can eat for $5.  Not bad at all.

May 13th – 21st is Minnesota Craft Beer WeekCheck out an event or two, and check out these beer specials:

  • Lake Wine & Spirits has Brau Brothers 6-packs on special for $6.49 all month.  The Scotch Ale and the Pils are both terrific.
  • Surdyk’s has Microbrews on sale from May 19th – 28th, 10-15% off or more.

Booze News of Note:

Kudos to MN House Legislators for passing HF1326, better known as the “Surly Bill” by a 127-5 margin.  In other news, the 5 representatives in opposition to the bill plan to jointly introduce new legislation later this month proposing new restrictions on sunshine, puppies and ice cream.

Michel Chapoutier, famed Rhone Valley producer, claims the ‘petrol’ taste  in Rieslings that many people prize and enjoy is an undesirable winemaking-fault [via Decanter].  I say, who cares?  People say the same thing about the peppery aftertaste in Syrah/Shiraz.  If it’s not a toxic fault, and people like the taste (I loved it in this Riesling from Ontario), what’s wrong that?  The fault, he claims, is caused by an over-agressive pressing of the grapes.  Ok, fine, if he thinks it’s poor technique, then he shouldn’t do it.  But I think I speak for the 99% of wine drinkers that don’t care how the wine got in the bottle when I say, so what?  Saying that it’s unequivocally a fault and is “wrong”, is the kind of high-handed snobbery that turns people off to wine.  Get over it, Mike.

I’m a big Thomas Jefferson-ophile, so I loved this snippet [via Serious Eats] on reconstructing Colonial-era brewing recipes.