The state of the state's wines: Way better

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2009 - 2:26 PM
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Wines from the 2002 La Crescent grape ages on the shelves in the cooler at UM's enology center.

Photo: Steve Rice, Star Tribune file

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Not so long ago, a tasting event featuring scores of wines from Minnesota and other Upper Midwest states would be cause for trepidation, if not a call to stock some extra Tums.

No more.

Last Friday's Minnesota Grape Growers Association-sponsored event was delightful, with plenty of noteworthy offerings in several areas. The oft-maligned (at least by cork dorks) fruit wines are getting better and better; Forestedge's Early Harvested White Cranberry and Glacial Ridge's Apple wines proved eminently quaffable.

But it's in the fermented-grape-juice department where the most progress is being made. Growers and winemakers have learned a lot in recent years about getting good results from the grapes that actually grow in Tundraland.

The results are particularly impressive with white grapes.

I'm a real fan of both the University of Minnesota's La Crescent grape and the Edelweiss concocted years ago by grape-meister Elmer Swenson. Falconer and Morgan Creek were among the wineries pouring seriously swell La Crescents, while Cannon River's Sogn Blanc and Breezy Hill's Iowa Edelweiss were great exemplars of what this peachy, Riesling-like grape can do. Cannon River also does good work with the Sauvignon Blanc-like St. Pepin grape.

On the red side, the Marquette grape launched by the U of M three years ago is just coming to bottle. Vintners at the event seemed cautiously optimistic about the new hybrid. Many of them have not been overly enamored of Marquette's U of M predecessor, Frontenac, as a varietal.

There's widespread agreement that Frontenac's acidity and backbone make it a good blending grape and well-suited on its own for making rosés and ports. Fieldstone and Garvin Heights were pouring tasty Frontenac Rosés, while Carlos Creek's and Chateau St. Croix's Frontenac Ports also showed well.

The biggest gains on the red side are being made with blends. A new winery in Delano, Woodland Hill, was pouring a spicy, hearty, full-flavored "Up North Red" blend. That vied with Alexis Bailly's Voyageur blend and Wollersheim's Domaine Reserve for my Wine of the Night honors. All three had layers of flavor, great balance and long, robust finishes.

Wollersheim, located near Prairie du Sac, Wis., not far from Madison, also makes a fabulous white called Prairie Fumé. Wollersheim wines are not sold in Minnesota, but its estimable winemaker, Philippe Coquard, told me that major progess is being made in efforts to change that.

In the meantime, we'll just have to "settle" for more well-made Minnesota wines to choose from than ever before.

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com Read Ward on Wine at www.startribune.com/blogs/wine.

  • WINE OF THE WEEK

    WEINART MENDOZA "CARRASCAL" 2004

    The experience: This hearty, spicy red blend could pass for a Rioja, but it's from the heart of winemaking country in Argentina. Robust but clean, soft on the palate and dry but full-flavored on the finish, this wine is a blend of 55 percent malbec, 35 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent merlot. Call it a "Super Malbec" after the Tuscan practice of mixing indigenous and Bordeaux grapes, but this baby retails for only $13.

    The setting: A regional pairing with some beef with chimichurri sauce should rock. Braises and stews, too. But this is also the kind of "everyday wine that I like enough to have with most anything, in the "wine you like with food you like" vein.

    The back story: In the 19th century, large clay amphoras were manufactured in the Carrascal neighborhood of the city of Mendoza, epicenter of Argentina's fledgling wine industry.

    BILL WARD
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