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.

“The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ It made me feel better.”

You know what makes me feel better? [hint, it’s in the picture above, and it’s not citrus fruit]. A co-worker of mine pounded the pavement in Iowa to track me down a bottle of Templeton Rye.  I would normally call out a whiskey whose trademark phrase is “The Good Stuff”, except Templeton is categorically the best Rye Whiskey I’ve ever tasted.  I even had to go buy a sweet vermouth that’s worthy of mingling with it in a Manhattan [Noilly Prat, just cause I didn’t want to splurge on Punt e Mes, I’m not a millionaire].  All I can say is, wow. Can’t wait for production to ramp up so we can get it in Minnesota. 

My favorite whiskey cocktail is the Old Fashioned.  There’s something elegant about them – based on the simplest of cocktail formulae, and producing a result far greater than the sum of its parts. [Read Nick Kosevich’s history of the Old-Fashioned at the Heavy Table]. 

My Old Fashioned must have Rye Whiskey – the cheaper, the better [Old Overholt is my go-to.] Though Bourbon is perfectly acceptable, I love that spicier edge that most Ryes give the drink. The sugar is the other consideration. Many Bourbons already have a sweeter, oaky, vanilla-like hint to the aftertaste. Ryes make the drink a bit more distinctive.  Either way, I don’t think there’s a reason to use good whiskey in a drink that contains sugar.  I won’t use Templeton in one, just like I wouldn’t mix a Presbyterian with Macallan 15.

I’ve been previously content to fix Old Fashioneds thusly: in a lowball, mixing together a good bar-spoon of simple syrup with a few dashes of Angostura bitters and a small squeeze of citrus (lemon or orange).  Then add ice to the top, then 2 oz. of Rye, stir and drop in a citrus rind.  It’s a fine recipe, but it’s nothing special.

Then, the other night, my conception of a successful Old Fashioned was reborn at Rinata [Italophonic pun intended].  Munching on their late-night happy hour duck confit crostini [which are criminally delicious], I asked for an Old Fashioned and was upsold to their classy version.  The key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – which is a terrific replacement for the maraschino cherry.*

[*Side Gripe: I can’t stand those little gelatinous red orbs. They’re a dinosaur of the cocktail scene – something that should have been phased out of taste along with half-gin, half-vermouth Martinis and electric blue frozen “Daiquiris.”  They have the texture of and old tire and don’t taste much better.  What’s worse is bars that muddle maraschino cherries into the drink Wisconsin-style (I’m looking at you, Nye’s Polonaise). At least if it’s on a toothpick I can get rid of it.]

But a good cherry taste is quite successful in the drink – the Luxardo creates a perfect bridge between the sweet syrup and the more bitter rye.  It’s an expensive bottle, but you’ll probably only need to buy one for the rest of your cocktail drinking life. I’ve had one for two years and haven’t made much more than a couple ounces worth of a dent.  Not many drinks use it, and the ones that do, use it quite sparingly (no more than 1/2 oz at a time.) In fact, other than the Papa Doble and the Aviation, I can’t think of another I use it for until now.

GOOD bitters in this drink are key – I splurged on Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel-Aged, and they’re terrific.  And you’ll definitely need to have a small mesh strainer on hand for this one to catch the pulp and seeds of the citrus.

The Rinata Old-Fashioned: Muddle a wedge of orange and lemon in a pint glass, add to it 2 oz cheap Rye Whiskey, 1/3 oz Luxardo, 1/2 oz simple syrup, and two good dashes Bitters. Fill with ice and shake vigorously. Double strain (both a Hawthorne and mesh strainer, to catch the seeds and larger pieces of pulp) into a lowball with fresh ice. Garnish with a wide swath of citrus zest.

It was a busy February for G. Sheaves. It was full of great events and opportunities, concerts, and a couple of fun stories for the Heavy Table. But hardly any wine blogging! Rest assured I wasn’t not drinking, and looking back through my notes I have a bunch of good recommendations for you all. And, thanks for all the great feedback on my ID rant.  A lot of people commented that they’ve had some similar experiences, which is unfortunate.  The moral of the story is to find a store in the metro where you feel welcomed and appreciated.  Shoot me an email, gsheaves [at] yahoo.com, and I’d be more than happy to let you know of one in your area.

On to some recommendations:

1 through 3) Wines from the current shipment of the Minnesota Wine Club.  I mentioned Jason Johnson in my recap article from the MN Grape Growers Conference.  He has generously supplied me with three wines from his current shipment (sign up before March 12th to get it), and I’m happy to report back that they’re all very good examples of what’s coming out of our state right now. The Carlos Creek American Chianti is a soft, accommodating red wine. It has gobs of strawberries and baking spice in a lighter body. The sip starts out with a tinge of sweetness (berry sweet, not sugary sweet), and continues to a soft, slightly acidic finish. The tannin is very much muted – this is a fruit driven wine. Staunch white wine drinkers should try this. I sort of knocked the quality of MN reds in the previously mentioned article – I’m glad to say this is one of the good ones.  The Falconer Vineyards Frontenac Rose is, in the words of The Runaways, a ch ch ch ch ch CHERRY BOMB!  I think this is a wine better suited for the summer – I can imagine it going down perfectly with some grilled chicken.  This is not like those dry, French, austere rosés, like Tavel or Lirac.  It’s fruity and light, as is the MN red wine style. There may be a fair amount of wine drinkers that will find this wine as too great a departure from the rosés they’re used to. If you like it though, there are a lot of good Frontenac Rosés being made in MN right now, and this is a good starting point. Finally, the 2009 St. Croix Vineyards Delaware is about as easy to drink as wines come. It’s light and floral, with well incorporated sweetness and some herbal notes on the body. Riesling fans take note of this one – it has a fair amount of sweetness, but it isn’t so sweet that it masks the flavor of the grape.  I get some honeydew melon and pear, and the finish is even a little on the dry side – it’s like a slightly drier Moscato. A great MN white, all around. Great picks, Jason!  I look forward to your next shipment!

4 and 5) 2005 Overgaauw Cabernet Sauvignon. From the portfolio of Z Wines, this Stellenbosch beauty is one of the best Cabs under $20 I’ve had in quite some time.  It’s full of blackberries, dirt, some bell pepper, even a little black olive.  It’s smooth, powerful and luscious. Get it at France 44. Also, that Jean Daneel Signature Chenin Blanc I mentioned in the article was a Best In Show winner at the MN Monthly Food & Wine Experience this year. It’ll be in the mid $20s, but definitely worth it.

6 and 7) Is is still too cold out for Sauvignon Blanc?  I think it may be, but here are two real good ones anyway. The 2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny has an intensely herbal nose with green-fruit flavors and some prickly acidity in a light-medium body. It goes from tart to dry and is ultra refreshing. Fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc will enjoy this one, as will fans of its Loire Valley neighbor, Sancerre. I got it at Zipp’s for $15. Also, eating at Sea Change for restaurant week a couple of days ago, I had the 2009 Mapema Sauvignon Blanc from Mendoza, Argentina. It was herbal and citrusy (I could have just smelled it for days), wonderfully bright and perfect with some briny Hama Hama oysters. Can someone let me know what stores around here carry it? It should probably be around $13.

8 and 9) How about a fun Greek wine?  The 2008 Greek Wine Cellars Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini should be on your table next time you have seafood. It has a floral nose with some light citrus, which continues to the body, a little herbal twang with more bright citrus and a distinct minerality shows on the finish. It’s an expressive wine for being so light bodied. Get it at Cork Dork Wine Co. for $12. And while you’re there, do yourself a favor and pick up the non-vintage Patrick Lesec Petite Crau. An everyday value red wine if there was ever one, It’ll be one of the better $8 investments you’ve made lately.

Are there any wines/regions/grapes you’d like to hear more about?  I’m more than happy to go investigate for my readers.  Leave a note in the comments or write me and I’ll get right on it.  Thanks for reading!


Here’s my ID.  My name is John Garland, I was born January 5th 1985, which at present makes me 26 years old.  Because I look well under the age of 30, I will be asked for my ID every time I go into a wine store.  I am glad about this – I want to be ID’d.  I pray that none of the stores where I love purchasing wine ever loses their liquor license because a cashier has a momentary lapse of judgement or, worse, just assumes people look older than 21.

But there’s a way to ask for an ID.  A way that still ensures I am of legal age, while still respecting and valuing my presence as a customer.  Let me explain, because this has been festering for a while.

When I was in high school, I worked retail at Schmitt Music in Minnetonka. Based on price alone, we couldn’t match Guitar Center on almost every item we both sold. To compensate, what Schmitt did (and still does) well was the instrument rental program for elementary school bands. Writing up rental contracts for the hundreds of kids every August was painstakingly laborious. But we were trained to treat it like the most important aspect of our business. The idea was if the kid had a great experience getting their school band gear from us, then when they got into middle and high school and wanted to start out on guitar or drums, then they (or more likely their parents) would remember how good our service was and wouldn’t think to shop around.  We were planting the seeds for future business.

That principle rushes back to me almost every time I’m in a wine store. Based solely on my own observation, I feel like the level of customer service I receive at certain wine stores in the metro is sub-par and sometimes even mildly insulting.

Because of the training I’ve received, I hardly ever need help finding the right bottle in a wine store. Except for asking if there’s more of a wine in the stock room, 99.5% of the time I don’t need direction. But, I am hardly ever asked if I need any! There are a couple large wine stores in the metro that I find I have to chase down employees to get help. I can only imagine what other people my age think when they don’t know what wine they want and can’t find help.  This is why I recommend shopping at smaller stores like Cork Dork Wine Co and The Little Wine Shoppe where the inventory and service is more personal.

This is a side note to my gripe, though.  I appreciate stores where the sales staff doesn’t smother you. Working at Schmitt made me very keen to the line between helpful and annoying.  It’s once you’re at the register, bottle in hand, that my real problem begins.

When you begin a conversation, say when you meet someone for the first time, how often is your first sentence a declarative about what they should do for you?  Never. It’s rude. You don’t go to a job interview and start with demands about salary and benefits. So when I walk up to register and the very first thing out of a cashier’s mouth is ‘Can I see some ID?’, it feels pretty much the same as being asked ‘What are you doing here?’  I get that they unequivocally need the information from me.  But when I go to the bank, the teller doesn’t begin by asking for my ID.  My favorite tobacconist always jovially asks if I found everything I was looking for and recommends other cigars before asking for my ID.  Even bartenders ask you how you are and what you’re drinking before ID’ing. A little small talk before ID’ing me makes me feel as if I’m a valued customer instead of a potential legal issue. I am shocked at how many times wine store cashiers will say but two things to me – give me your ID and give me your money.

I have never worked in a place where I’ve had to ID customers. I don’t know how this exchange is taught, or if it is at all. I would even understand asking for my ID straight away if my 21 year-old self walked into Lowry Hill to buy a 1.75 of UV Blue and a couple Four-Lokos. I simply ask that as a reasonably well-dressed young adult buying an ’05 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I could be given, if for only a few seconds, a slightly higher benefit of the doubt.  It’s a small thing, but just like every other kind of store, I remember where I’m treated well and where I’m made to feel like a chore.  And yes, I look young, and yes I’m only buying one bottle.  But just like little Billy and his trumpet in 5th grade, I have years of larger purchases ahead of me.  If you’d like those thousands of dollars of business, don’t make my purchases today seem like an inconvenience.