If I had a dime for all the times I’m asked about Minnesota Wine, I’d be a very wealthy lady. Or, if I had a FAQ List of the things I’m asked about coming from a wine basis every nite – What do you think about Minnesota Wine? – would be at the top of the list as #1. So what do I think?
I’ve put together a couple of blog posts along the way along with a video or two reviewing some Minnesota Wines – yet, I find myself getting deeper behind some of Minnesota’s Wine Growing History.
Did you know that much of the Minnesota’s Grape Growing History dates back to the mid 70s with Winery, Alexis Bailly, acting as the first to open its doors in 1978? Or, how bout the fact that much of what is grown here, in the way of grapes, was agriculturally composed at the University of Minnesota? And what about the fact that a U of M constructed grape by the name of Frontenac, is one of THE most popular red grapes to date in the Midwest? And finally, that we have over 1500 acres now under vine in the state of Minnesota? Pretty cool, huh?
Often times, I end up in these conversations with folks – as they so snootily have their noses turned up – stating that the grapes we have here should not be compared to the hierarchy of grape scale that we are used to consuming - deriving many of their roots from European countries. Recently, I accepted a comment from a MN Grape Grower, applauding my ‘open mindedness’ when it came to the grapes of MN. Happy that I had not compared them to the Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noirs of the world. Stating that he too felt that the world should not, just in the same sentence, compare Burgundy to Bordeaux as regions. Different profiles, styles, climates, soils and lastly…grapes!
I suppose that is my purpose as a sommelier, to keep YOUR world of wine – OPEN. I didn’t stick to working only restaurants, or selling wine, or really any one facet of my industry. I’ve made sure to work every angle of my industry – from the field, table-side, distribution and all the way through to an educative role. My idea of ‘great’ wine is a rare find – and as great winemaker friend once told me – there aren’t many on this planet. Yet, there are a zillion good and even really good wines out there. So I say – Try them all and really, check them all out. Eat them with everything and THEN and only then, can you begin to really figure out for yourself what you think is good, really good and great.
My most recent saying ‘Don’t kick a grape out of your life, until you’ve tried it around the globe’
Although you may feel like you’re a Chardonnay drinker, have you tried it from every corner of the world? Or, the same for Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot? Remember, the U.S. is NOT where many of your favorite wine grapes began. However, the opposite can be said for many of these Minnesota grapes grown right here in our own backyards. Just because it reads a little funny and comes away with a different grape name than you’re used to – doesn’t mean you can or should discount it – until you’ve really tried it and perhaps tried it with just the right foods.
Case in point…I was asked a few weeks back to host a Minnesota Wine Tasting alongside a Minnesota Beer Tasting with my pal, Cicerone Michael Agnew, of A Perfect Pint. Of course Michael’s job, a piece of cake. Think of ALL the options he had to choose from? With an audience ranging in every age group and state location – I had to certainly choose wines – just as had to with beer – that were fitting as a style for many different palates. While the range went deep, here were a couple of my favorites and incidentally, great wines for your summer table.
Alexis Bailly Vineyards VOYAGEUR
STYLE: A bold red wine of blended old world french grapes and new varieties developed to survive Minnesota winters
ALCOHOL: 13%, no residual sweetness
The Voyageur wine was named for the French/Canadian pioneers who paddled the waterways in their birch bark canoes from the St. Lawrence seaway through the Mississippi, finding their way to Hastings led by the winery owner’s 4th great grandfather, Alexis Bailly.
The wine reflects that pioneering spirit in taking our old world grape varieties from France (the Leon Millot and Marechal Foch grapes) that were the original plantings in our vineyard in 1973 and blending them with the new world grapes developed at the University of Minnesota (the Frontenac grape).
The wine is deeply colored with rich flavor, bold and opulent fruit flavors of black berries, smoky vanilla aromas from extensive aging in new mid-western oak barrels, a wonderfully balanced wine that drinks deliciously when young yet rewards you with greater complexity as it ages from 3 8 years in the bottle. Pair with similarly robust foods, hearty pastas, grilled meats, wild game, but know that it drinks soft and supple all on its own.
Cannon River Winery ST PEPIN
Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Crisp flavors with a hint of pineapple, apple, and pear aromas, off-dry with a medium body; similar to Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes Used: St. Pepin – a Minnesota grape grown in our vineyard.
The winery has created a family of wines that has something for wine lovers… and wine likers. They are proud to say that their wines are based on Minnesota hybrid varieties, such as St. Pepin, LaCrosse and Frontenac, to name a few. Like most Minnesotans, these grapes survive our tough winters in good spirits, and show plenty of character as a result.
To be honest, both of these wines were delicious! While most expected the wines to end up sweet or even a little fat, comparing them to a variety of fruit wine – my audience was ALL very pleasantly surprised.
The white, a fabulous summer sipper with hints of lemongrass and white peach – dry and the Voyageur, a delightful pairing to any holiday BBQ gathering. Also, a very nice accoutrement to any hearty winter supper. Both, really some of THE best wines I’ve had now in the Midwest. Proud and of course, very happy, to always represent my community when I can and also, excited to share my two new favorites with you all. Run out and get ’em for your 4th of July table this weekend and really, celebrate those who work hard in our community to bring them to you from their farms!
Salut to these American Made Wines!