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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Wine’

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.

Conclusions:

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.

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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!

G.

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