Napa Valley, Provence, Tuscany? Sure, those are some wine-producing powerhouse regions. But let’s go ahead and add Minnesota and Wisconsin to that list. As little as 45 years ago, our beloved northland was relegated to just traditional crop farming. But with a little ingenuity and perseverance, some clever wine lovers started planting vineyards, and fermenting the sweet fruits of their labor—and wineries have started popping up across the region ever since.
We chatted with Edina Liquor wine buyer Dave Tomko to get the scoop on the best local wines for the season. To complete the picture (and your menu), we came up with some positively perfect pairings, courtesy of the wineries themselves and the food experts at Jerry’s, to. Now all that’s left to do is indulge!
Winehaven La Crescent
In Chisago County, just north of the metro area, the Peterson family established Winehaven in 1995, on 50-acres of soft rolling hills nestled between three lakes. Their very palatable, award-winning La Crescent wine is a perfect sipping wine, notes Edina Liquor’s Dave Tomko, similar to a Riesling or gewürztraminer.
“The LaCrescent grape was introduced by the University of Minnesota in 2002. We like it because it is winter hardy to –34 degrees F,” explains Winehaven winemaker Kyle Peterson, who has been making this since 2007. This winter-hardy grape produces a wine with an intense nose of apricot, peach and citrus, and a crisp, delicious finish. $20.99. winehaven.com
“Visitors to the winery really enjoy La Crescent with fried calamari, grilled halibut, salmon, walleye or trout,” Peterson explains, adding that it also pairs perfectly with mild and semi-hard cheeses. Jerry’s Foods home economist Barb Larson recommends adding a little sweetness to that wine and cheese pairing. Start with some Salemville Amish gorgonzola ($5.39/4 oz.) and the nutty-yet-fruity Sartori Raspberry Bellavitano cheese ($16.99/lb.), and serve with Marquette Farms Minnesota-made honey ($6.39) and
Thomson Berry Farms’ preserves ($5.59), alongside plenty of Minnesota Flats gourmet all-natural flatbread ($3.59) or fresh baguette.
Cannon River GoGo Red
Grandma “GoGo” was a good woman and a good cook, and the wine that carries her name (nicknamed as such when her granddaughter couldn’t pronounce “grandma”) lives up to her legacy. First created in 2006 by Cannon River winery owners Maureen and John Maloney, GoGo Red is the everyman’s red wine, appreciated by those who adore a dry red, but also loved by those who didn’t think they even liked reds. “It has a very loyal following in the metro area,” explains Maureen. Composed of 100-percent estate-grown Minnesota grapes Sabrevois and Frontenac, this soft and fruity wine carries aromas of blackberry jam and wild berries.
The winery itself is situated on a high south-facing slope in the Sogn Valley, which happens to be the same longitude as many French vineyards. “We’ve got a great grape growing region,” says Maureen. “…just with winter to contend with.” $14.
Because of its sweet hints, this wine goes great with spicy foods like Thai, Chinese and Mexican. It also makes a perfect sangria in the summer, and in the fall and winter, Jerry’s corporate manager of home economics/consumer services Carol Jackson recommends mulling it with a few fruits and spices for a perfect cold weather warmer.
Overall, though, the folks at Cannon River call it their “pizza wine.” Try a take-and-bake homemade pizza ($9.99) from Jerry’s Café and enjoy a cozy night in with a glass of vino. As Cannon River Winery co-owner John says, “Pizza is great, but I think this wine is better enjoyed with friendly conversation next to a warm fire. Some wines go beyond food pairings."
Alexis Bailly Voyageur
There’s a trendsetter in every bunch, and as Minnesota winemakers go, Alexis Bailly is a true pioneer. “We are the first Minnesota winery,” explains Alexis Bailly master winemaker Nan Bailly, whose father David bought a 20-acre field of winter rye in 1973, planted it with French grapes, and adopted the mantra, “Where grapes can suffer.”
Their Voyageur wine is a bold blend of old world French grapes that were the vineyard’s original plantings, crossed with hardy new world grapes like Frontenac, ideal for the Minnesota climate. (“For a winemaker, varietal wine is like chef’s work,” says Nan. “I know I can make better wine by blending.”) The result—named after Nan’s pioneering great-grandfather Alexis who immigrated from to Hastings, Minn.—is a rich, opulent dry red, with blackberry flavors and smoky vanilla aromas, that can be enjoyed young or with added complexity when aged three to eight years. $21.99.
“From what I’ve had of drier-style, local wines, this one seems to be the best,” explains Tomko. “It’s the most ‘California’ in style, full-bodied and elegant and worthy of pairing with roast beef and grilled steaks.” Hearty pastas also fit well, according to Bailly vineyards, so try it with one of Jerry’s signature pasta salads like lemon, spinach, basil ($6.99/lb.), penne feta pasta salad with tomato ($6.99/lb.) or tri-color rotini pasta salad ($5.99).
Saint Croix Vineyards Raspberry Infusion
This season, think decadence in the form of “liquid raspberries in a glass,” which is how Tomko describes Saint Croix Vineyards’ port-style wine. Made of 75-percent red raspberries and 25-percent Marechal Foch grapes, this wine is left un-oaked and fresh (differentiating it from other ports). “We ferment the raspberries on the skin, just as you would with a grape,” explains Saint Croix Vineyards’ general manager Matthew Scott. “This extracts more raspberry character and color from the fruit. Towards the end of the fermentation, we fortify the wine with grape neutral spirits, which is like an un-oaked brandy.” The end product from this Stillwater, Minn.-based winery is an intense dessert experience, and the no. 1 best selling Minnesota wine in local liquor stores. $15.99.
You can’t go wrong when serving this with nearly anything in the dessert category. “The wine pairs well with anything from chocolate to cheesecake, or drizzles on a fruit tort,” advises Saint Croix Vineyards' co-owner Paul Quast. Try it, for instance, as a sipper next to a Jerry’s French silk pie ($11.99) or black forest cake ($12.99). Another decadent idea? This is a true hit generously drizzled over ice cream, like locally made Sonny’s razzle raspberry sorbet, mint truffle or pure vanilla bean ice creams (all $5.98).
Door Peninsula Sweet Cherry Wine
If there’s one thing Wisconsin’s Door County is known for, it’s fresh, perfect cherries. It only follows suit that the area’s first (and namesake) winery would produce one of the finest sweet cherry wines on the national market. This was one of the first wines Door Peninsula Winery produced back in 1974, thanks to an orchard owner who took an interest in the winemaking neighbors that had moved into the former school house next door, and thus offered up his excess of cherries. The winery has kept its interest in local fruits ever since.
Just like a grape wine, their cherry wine is made by picking cherries (Mount Montmorency cherry, the region’s most popular variety) pitting and crushing them, then adding yeast (which eats the sugar) and allowing it to ferment, which for this wine traditionally happens in a matter of weeks, explains Door County Winery’s director of marketing Jaime Forest. This true country-style wine is very light and fruit-forward, perfect for a myriad of casual occasions. $10.99.
“Pair fruit wines by imagining what you would enjoy that fruit with,” says Forest. It’s a fantastic dessert wine, but don’t overlook cooking with it. “It’s a phenomenal marinade, and can add great light character to a pork tenderloin,” she adds.
Our local experts at Jerry’s love the idea of serving it at dessert, and setting up a sweets bar with any and all forms of locally made chocolate. Try selections like: Groveland Confections dark chocolate coffee bark with sea salt ($4.99), goey pretzels ($4.99); Minneapolis-made B.T McElrath prairie dog or passion fruit & tangerine chocolate bars (all $3.79); Abdallah peanut butter chocolate bites ($6.25), dark chocolate croquettes ($6.50), and sea salt caramels ($4.95).
All wines available at the Grandview, York and 50th Street Edina Liquor stores.
All food items listed available at Jerry’s Foods, 5125 Vernon Ave. S.; 952.929.2685. For additional pairings, entertaining suggestions and menu planning, Jerry’s home economist and food expert Barb Larson will be happy to share her expertise.