Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wine by State

I ran across a very helpful website yesterday: It is, among other things, a state by state directory of wineries with navigation points on a Google Map.

The mission of the site is to help you discover American wineries and vineyards and share your winery experiences by using the wine journal (available to registered users). I registered--it's free--and will update as I use the site. I expect I'll use the directory as we travel.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tasting #3 - Wollersheim Winery Port

Wisconsin's Wollersheim Winery, a favorite of my parents, makes a really interesting port. They describe it this way: Our Port is made from Foch grapes and fortified with grape brandy. The brandy is added to stop the fermentation, which leaves the natural sweetness of the grapes. Aged in American oak barrels for thirteen months. This is a smooth sipping wine to be enjoyed with loved ones and friends.

My dad joined us for this tasting as well. We all enjoyed it. It isn't as rich tasting as other ports I've tried. Clearly, more research is needed in this area so a side by side comparison can be made.

Overall this has more of a wine flavor than I expected but still served its role as a very nice after dinner drink. This port was less sweet than I expected. Other ports I recall have almost a raisiny sweetness. That ripeness is present, but not as strong. This is made with 100% Marechal Foch grapes from New York.

We drank this while eating some very decadent fudge brownies and had a very pleasant experience. I have a standing order with my parents to bring home more when they visit Wollersheim again.

Tasting #2 - Saint Croix Vineyards Frontenac

Saint Croix Vineyards describes their Frontenac as a dry, medium-bodied red wine aged in American oak barrels with cherry aromas and pleasant tannins in the finish, and recommends pairing it with beef, steak, flavorful cheeses, or a hearty pasta dish.

My dad joined my wife and me in this tasting. He's a guy who doesn't normally like red wine but found this to be very approachable. The three of us liked it immediately. I should have purchased two bottles! There was a surprising crispness to this, similar to dry whites, that made it stand out. It has just-ripe fruitiness up front balanced with a perfectly dry finish.

We drank this with a BBQ'd pork rib dinner. The fruit in it played well against the pork. Next time we drink this, we'll try it with steak as recommended.

Our bottle was an '07, no longer available on the SCV website. If anyone's tried the '08, let me know. We're definately going to drink more of this one.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Marquette - Introduced 2006

Exerpts from the University of Minnesota's Cold Hardy Grapes website.

The introduction of Marquette marks the dawn of a new era of cold-hardy red hybrid wine grapes; more often resembling traditional Vitis vinifera wines than those from existing hybrid cultivars. Marquette does exhibit cherry and black currant flavors and aromas typical of many hybrids, but can be much more complex. Marquette's high sugar and moderate acidity make it very manageable in the winery. Finished wines are complex, with attractive ruby color, pronounced tannins, and desirable notes of cherry, berry, black pepper, and spice on both nose and palate. As a red wine, Marquette represents a new standard in cold hardy viticulture and enology.

Wine style:

Marquette is best when utilized as a medium-bodied red table wine. Maceration (fermenting on grape skins and seeds) for 7-8 days is recommended for optimal extraction of tannins. Marquette color is typically moderate, and can endure longer maceration times without becoming dark and inky.

Studies on the interaction of oak aroma and flavor with Marquette have only recently begun, but early impressions are very positive. Both French and American oak chips have been found to increase overall wine complexity. Barrel aging additionally concentrates the wine aromas and flavors, increases body and structure, and prolongs the lifespan of a wine in the cellar.

Frontenac Gris - Introduced 2003

Exerpts from the University of Minnesota's Cold Hardy Grapes website.

Frontenac gris, the white wine version of Frontenac, started as a single bud mutation yielding gray fruit and amber-colored juice. Wines present aromas of peach and apricot with hints of enticing citrus and tropical fruit. A brilliant balance of fruit and acidity creates lively, refreshing wines.

Frontenac gris has shown the potential to be produced in a variety of styles. Its bronze skin lends color to the juice, resulting in a wines typically ranging from pale gold to rich amber. Wines are typically intensely fruity, exhibiting dominant peach and tropical fruit flavors, especially pineapple, and hints of honey. The fruity palate and high acidity make Frontenac gris an excellent candidate for semi-sweet to dessert wines. Frontenac gris has also shown well as a dry to off-dry table wine.

Wine styles:

"Faux" Ice Wine: Trials with faux ice wine have shown tremendous potential. This extremely sweet dessert wine can produced two ways: by freezing grapes after harvest and pressing them frozen (which requires a specialized press) or freezing juice after pressing and allowing slow thawing to control °Brix.

Off-dry table wine. Frontenac gris table wines are best finished with some residual sugar, to boost the perception of fruit and balance acidity.

La Crescent - Introduced 2002

Exerpts from the University of Minnesota's Cold Hardy Grapes website.

La Crescent's intense nose of apricot, peach, and citrus lends itself to superior quality off-dry or sweet white wines. Produced in a Germanic style, La Crescent wine is reminiscent of Vignoles or Riesling. The grape's high acidity provides good structure for excellent dessert or late-harvest style wines.

Wine style:

With its lush aromatics and crisp acidity, La Crescent shows best as a semi-sweet to dessert white wine. Typical varietal flavors of apricot, peach, citrus, and pineapple are enhanced and intensified in wines finished with residual sugar, resulting in a well-balanced, rich palate and a lingering finish.

Frontenac - Introduced 1996

Exerpts from the University of Minnesota's Cold Hardy Grapes website.

Frontenac's deep garnet color complements its distinctive cherry aroma and inviting palate of blackberry, black currant, and plum. This versatile grape can be made into a variety of wine styles, including rosé, red, and port.

Wine Styles:

Dry Red. Flavors and aromas of Frontenac table wines can range from simple to quite complex. Oak chips, staves, spirals, and barrels interact well with Frontenac wine. All can increase aromatic and flavor complexity, adding notes of vanilla, anise, clove, and other spices.

Port. A few creative producers have used Frontenac to produce port-style wines of outstanding quality.

Rosé and Sweet Red. Like the fruit of its V. riparia ancestors, Frontenac berries are small, have high skin-to-pulp ratios, and tend to have colored pulp. These traits result in intense juice color. For rosé production, this means that immediate crushing and pressing, without the few hours of skin time allowed in traditional rosé production, results in an intense and attractive rose-colored juice.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Midwest Winery Tours

Winery tours in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin with various events and multiple locations. Road trip! I call shotgun!

Three Rivers Wine Trail

From their site: "The Three Rivers Wine Trail is Minnesota's first wine trail and is comprised of five of Minnesota's oldest wineries all located within the Saint Croix, Mississippi, and Cannon River Valleys. Wine lovers can spend a day or a weekend on the trail visiting wineries amid lush valley scenery and sampling award-winning, locally produced wines."

Wineries on the trail:

WineHaven Winery & Vineyard - Chisago City, MN
Northern Vineyards Winery - Stillwater, MN
Saint Croix Vineyards - Stillwater, MN
Falconer Vineyards - Red Wing, MN
Cannon River Winery - Cannon Falls, MN

Great River Road Wine Trail

From their site: "The Great River Road Wine Trail was founded in 2009 when nine wineries located near the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa joined together to market their unique part of the world. The Great River Road is not a single highway but several routes following both sides of the river. Our region of the river is characterized by the river bluff-lands that were spared from the last glaciers that covered most of North America. All this together makes the Great River Road Wine Trail a special place for travel and adventure while enjoying the fruits of our wine making skills."

Wineries on the trail:

Cannon River Winery - Cannon Falls, MN
Falconer Vineyards - Red Wing, MN
Valley Vineyard - Prescott, WI
Vino in the Valley - Maiden Rock, WI
Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery - Stockholm, WI
Danzinger Vineyards - Alma, WI
Seven Hawks Vineyards - Fountain City, WI
Garvin Heights Vineyards - Winona, MN
Vernon Vineyards - Viroqua, WI
Eagles Landing Winery - Marquette, IA

You can also find vineyards in the mix on Green Routes Authentic Travel.

Drive safely (and responsibly!)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tasting #1 - Alexis Bailly - Voyageur

First in the cold climate wine tasting experiment is Voyageur from Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings. ABV describes it as "...a big, opulent and rich red wine that uses a blend of Alexis Bailly grapes -- old world French grapes and new varieties developed by the University of Minnesota."

The grapes used in Voyageur are Leon Millot and Marechal Foch (part of ABV's original plantings - the vines came from France), and Frontenac, one of the new world grapes developed at the University of Minnesota.

ABV says it is "deeply colored with rich flavor, bold and opulent fruit flavors of black berries, smoky vanilla aromas." True. The color is very pleasant, the flavor is driven by the fruit and finishes dry. I wasn't able to ID the aroma as smoky vanilla with our first tasting, but revisiting a taste after reading the notes, I can see how they arrive at that description.

There was something about this that was completely unfamiliar to me. Not that I'm an expert by any stretch, but certainly have had enough wine in my life to recognize a thing or two. This one was definately different, but it made me curious to try more. Of course there are million things that affect the taste. I've got to get more familiar with what those things are locally.

We drank this with spaghetti in a rich sauce and wild rice meatballs. ABV recommends "hearty pastas, grilled meats, wild game." It worked with our meal, but it made me want to try it with wild game. This one is a good candidate for more research.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Where to buy Minnesota wine

Here's a short list of local wineries that sell outside their own tasting rooms:

Cannon River Winery

Crofut Winery

Goose Lake Farm & Winery

St. Croix Vineyards

WineHaven Winery & Vineyard

Carlos Creek Winery

A more expansive list of local wineries can be found at the MN Dept. of Agriculture website. You can refine your search to find wineries near you, since we're talking about local wine. I made a quick call to my neighborhood liquor store Thomas Liquors and learned that they've got wine from "at least five" local wineries available year round.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meet the Enthusiast

I’m trying to be more open minded. This is a good approach to life in general, but I’m talking specifically about wine.

I read an interesting article recently about Riesling, a wine style I had dismissed completely as being too sweet and too simple, that made me think twice about that wine. Another experience, a wine and food pairing event I organized for work, opened my eyes further through the wonder that is ice wine—specifically King Estate’s Vin Glace. Dessert wines were never my thing, but the experience with that Vin Glace was so strong I wanted to run out and buy the right stemware to further enhance the experience. (I stayed home and had another glass instead.) As I thought about those two experiences I recalled years ago a parings party where a friend brought Chablis. I’m sure I rolled my eyes, but then she paired it with bleu cheese. I was surprised and amazed by the experience. It was the first pairing that really did something different for me.

I don’t live the kind of life that supports organizing food and wine pairings, chasing down very specific Rieslings, and spending a lot of time at the dinner table with dessert wines so I’ve been a little slow to explore these experiences further. The tipping point however, came with a recent tweet from @LisaKBurger who is eating local 3 meals a day for the month of May and is necessarily including local wine. She asked for recommendations. I suggested one I'd tried years ago and enjoyed, Marechal Foch from St. Croix Vineyards. And then I got to thinking, what else is out there locally? Turns out, quite a lot!

And so I’m taking the time to understand our wine region and the ongoing grape breeding work of the University of Minnesota, and (twist my arm) I intend to taste as many local wines as I can.

It may just be the wine talking, but I already feel like a cold climate wine enthusiast!