Minnesota wines are getting better by the year, and are absolutely worth checking out — and the wineries are well worth visiting. But there’s another great way to “shop local”: buying fermented grape juice from West Coast (and beyond) wineries that have Minnesota owners, winemakers or other connections.
Ergo, here’s a mixed case of stellar “lighter” — white, pink and sparkling — wines emanating from such outfits. We’ll take a walk on the red side when the weather cools; hoping that’s many moons from now. (Vintages are not listed because these wines are worthy year in and year out.)
Argyle Willamette Valley Brut ($27): Minnesota native and U of M grad (in food science) Nate Klostermann advanced from harvest intern to winemaker in just eight years at this estimable Oregon winery, the state’s foremost producer of sparkling wines in quantity and, best I can tell, quality. Still in his early 30s and with a stint at Red Wing’s Falconer winery in his background as well, Klostermann also made the recently released debut vintages of pinot noir and chardonnay for Knudsen Vineyards. Here’s hoping that by the next vintages, these stupendous efforts also will be available in this market.
Shane “Ma Fille” Sonoma County Rosé ($18): Shane Finley, a Bloomington native, is one of Sonoma County’s busiest winemakers, plying his craft with no fewer than five wineries. His own Shane label is the only one available in Minnesota at present, alas, and well worth seeking out. His syrah-based rosé is one of California’s best, especially for red-wine lovers, with a range of dark fruit flavors and a finish that dances between delicate and hefty.
Robert Hall Rosé de Robles ($13): The late Mr. Hall grew up here and worked in several fields (construction, bowling alleys, travel agencies, restaurants and champion horse breeding) before embarking for California in the 1990s and starting a Paso Robles winery in 2001. His pink wine has been a fabulous value for years, with crisp, vivid red-berry flavors and surprising complexity. Hall passed away last October at age 85.
Airlie Oregon “7” ($15): Owner Mary Olson was born just across the border in Osceola, Wis., but got degrees from Augsburg and the U of M (an MBA) and worked in several places around our fair state before eventually embarking for Oregon and buying the Airlie winery in 1997. This blend of, yes, seven grapes (Müller-Thurgau, pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, pinot blanc and muscat ottonel) is a stony-cold delight, with spot-on minerality undergirding the wide array of fruit flavors. The winery’s Müller-Thurgau ($14) is another perennial winner, and a great introduction to that varietal.
Murphy-Goode Pinot Grigio ($12.50): Most recently seen hereabouts belting out “Mustang Sally” on the Harriet Brasserie patio a couple of weeks ago, Dave Ready Jr. brings this rock ’n’ roll bent to his winemaking efforts. The Edina native has nailed the art of making hedonistic wines that still have soul, starring beautiful, juicy fruit and piquant, persistent spices with long, hearty finishes. This bargain wine is no exception, an apt expression of California’s sun-baked fruit without going over the top.
Saracina “Atrea the Choir” ($20): White Rhone blends are a tough sell, but this gorgeous mashup of viognier (61 percent) and roussanne (39 percent) should sell itself. It showcases the best of both grapes, with viognier’s insanely intense florals and roussanne’s rich stone-fruit and pear flavors. This version provides plenty of acidity to keep the wine fresh and balanced. Winemaker John Fetzer’s mother, Kathleen, grew up in Pipestone, Minn.
Raptor Ridge Gruner Veltliner ($20): Proof positive that this Austrian grape can be seriously expressive on these shores. There’s utter harmony between the delicious green-apple and tropical-fruit flavors and the wet-stone texture and lush but nigh-onto-refined finish. Proprietor Annie Schull grew up in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood and still visits a host of friends and family frequently.
Gamling & McDuck Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc ($20): About a decade ago, Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary were working in the wine-wholesale and restaurant businesses, respectively, here in the Twin Cities. Now the couple have followed their dream of crafting wines of precision and focus from the Loire region’s signature grapes, cabernet franc and chenin blanc. This is clean, mean, good stuff.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc ($20): Almost a century ago, Cesare Mondavi moved his family from the Iron Range to sunny California, and the rest, as they say, is vinous history. Offspring Robert (born in Virginia, Minn.) became a great vintner and California Wine Country’s foremost ambassador. Among his signature achievements was deciding to give his sauvignon blanc a French-sounding name and using some toasty oak while making it back in the 1960s. This citrus/melon delight has plenty of backbone and a touch of richness on the finish. Still tasty after all these years.
Bevan Dry Stack Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($35): Russell Bevan, a larger-than-life presence on the Twin Cities’ fine-wine scene in the 1990s, has self-taught his way to becoming one of California’s most ballyhooed winemakers. This is one of his only wines that costs less than $100, and it’s actually a major bargain. As voluptuous and scrumptious as the spendier Merry Edwards sauv blanc, it’s culled from an amazing vineyard in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley and should delight any chardonnay lover, but has enough bony structure to make fans of this varietal swoon.
Frog’s Leap Napa Chardonnay ($30): John Williams is one of the great characters in the Napa Valley, and a brilliant, indefatigable winemaker to boot. His wines are restrained but still California sunshiny fresh, and this refined chardonnay is no exception. Twin Cities businessman Bob Greenberg and his wife, Sue, are part-owners of this redoubtable winery, all of whose wines are worth seeking.
Piattelli Cafayate Premium Torrontes ($15): OK, so we’re going a bit farther afield here, to Argentina, but the side trip is worthwhile. Consumers who find torrontes just a bit “too much” on the floral and fruit sides need to check out this wine, as should, well, most everyone. Every year, the winery owned by Twin Citians Jon and Arlene Malinski produces renditions that have more graceful but still lovely aromas and flavors.
Yum, times 12.
Bill Ward writes at www.decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.