What’s white and red and drunk all over? Wine made by Minnesotans, of course.
And many of these wines, from the West Coast and beyond, are world-class efforts.
In a June column, I suggested a mixed case of white, pink and sparkling fermented grape juice from wineries with Minnesota connections. Now that the season’s changing, it’s time to cobble together a dozen reds.
While many of these wines, especially the pinot noirs and cabernet sauvignons, tend toward the spendy, all of them are worth the money, and are great wines no matter the vintage. We’ll cap the retail price at $50 and go from north to south, and then east:
While part-time Minnesotans Ken and Grace Evenstad have received well-deserved acclaim for their Domaine Serene wines, two other couples have forged formidable paths out Oregon way. A longtime familiar face for Surdyk’s shoppers, Steve Westby, and his wife, Sonja, a native of Spicer, Minn., are producing seriously tasty wines at Witness Tree. Their Witness Tree Willamette Valley Vintner’s Select Pinot Noir ($40) is elegant and evocative.
Tom and Deb Mortimer still lived in Minnetonka for much of Le Cadeau’s existence but now have moved to their Dundee Hills property. All along, they have used four winemakers to make four different but true-to-their-vineyards pinots. I have different favorites in different vintages, but the Le Cadeau Côte Est ($50) is always a stalwart, with gorgeous red fruit, a bit of cola and an endless finish.
Down the Sonoma way, while Dan Gustafson still resides in these parts to oversee his landscape-architecture business, he spends a lot of time at a stunning property high above the Dry Creek Valley. The Gustafson Family Vineyard Petite Sirah ($28) is an exemplary rendition of this rugged red varietal, with just the right amount of oak and tannins taming the massive, tooth-staining blue and purple fruit.
Not far away, Anoka native Andy Cutter has been crafting distinctive reds for more than three decades, seeking the best sources for unusual grapes such as gamay noir, dolcetto and charbono. I’m a big fan of those (and all of the wines he produces with his wife, Deb), but at our most recent tasting, I was especially taken with the soulful Duxoup Dry Creek Valley Teldeschi Home Ranch Sangiovese ($22.50). It boasts the bite of its Tuscan forebears but some just-ripe, hearty California cherry/berry flavors, deftly balancing lushness and acidity.
Another Sonoma-based winery, Spell, is owned by Edina denizens Bill and Tiki Spell, and winemaker Andrew Berge spent his teen and college years in the Twin Cities. My favorite of their many fine wines is actually from Mendocino, the supple Spell Estate Yorkville Highlands Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). It’s biggish, bold and a bit smoky, but the finish, while sturdy, is clean and elegant.
On the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains lies Napa Valley, where many erstwhile Minnesotans have matriculated. One of my favorite folks there is John Skupny, whose cabernet francs have been mainstays for decades. The generous Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc ($27) is a spot-on amalgam of juicy fruit, rustic herbs and earthiness, with a smooth, stylish finish.
Another Bordeaux grape that doesn’t get enough respect finds great favor at two wineries with Gopher State ties. Peter Mondavi Sr., born in 1914 on the Iron Range, remains the titular head of Charles Krug, founded in 1861 and purchased by Peter’s father, Cesare, in 1941. The wine program has been getting a major upgrade in recent years, best exemplified by the delicious Charles Krug Napa Merlot ($25), a sleek, almost cab-like bottling with nice notes of chocolate, black pepper and plum.
Relatively new to the market are some fabulous wines from former Rochester resident Mary Rocca. Her Napa cabs are distinctive and expressive, but I also love the edgy Rocca Family Vineyards Napa Valley “Vespera” ($50), an inventive blend (cab, petit verdot and petite sirah) with a sturdy depth, making it an ideal match for the foods of our all-too-lengthy winters.
It seems like at every wine competition that I judge, a wine made by Jeff Runquist is named best of class or even best overall red — and deservedly so. Working out of Plymouth, Calif., east of Sacramento, the Minnesota native concocts lusty but precise reds out of all manner of grapes. His come-hither Amador County Barbera ($25) is perennially a stone-cold delight, with super-pretty red-berry fruit and lots of oomph on the mid-palate and finish. Yum.
No living Minnesota native has been going at this longer than Kent Rosenblum. The former Gustavus Adolphus wrestler has handed over some of the winemaking reins to daughter Shauna at their urban winery at Alameda, Calif. One of their best efforts is the fleshy and flashy blend Rock Hound Red, a steal at $16. Each of the grapes — sangiovese, grenache and syrah — makes its presence known in this spicy, lip-smackin’ gem.
Down on the Central Coast, Mankato’s own Stephen Ross Dooley has for years been making lovely pinot noirs and chardonnays for his Stephen Ross label. More recently, he launched the Flying Cloud label (yes, it’s a tribute to his roots), and his voluptuous Flying Cloud Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) is a friendly but plenty hearty beauty.
Heading east — actually, heading about halfway around the globe, Faribault native Jill Johnson Boutros and her husband, Naji (they met at Notre Dame), are making simply stellar red blends, primarily from Bordeaux grapes, at their vineyard near Beirut, Lebanon. I can’t decide which I like better: the refined Chateau Belle-Vue “La Renaissance” ($40, merlot and cab sauv) or the firm, focused “Le Chateau” ($50 mostly merlot and syrah). Both are plummy and deftly walk that rich-rustic tightrope, with near-bottomless depth at the end.
That’s a winter’s worth of wines as pure and driven as the season’s predominant precipitation.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter:@billward4.