It’s a good time to be a Minnesotan, amid one of the most sublime summers of recent vintage. It’s an even better time to be a Minnesotan who loves wine, with swell news on several fronts. To wit:
Minnesota wines are still movin’ on up: It will be a while before we know how the University of Minnesota’s new Itasca grape will fare, but we do know this: Two varietals the U released a decade ago, Marquette and Frontenac gris, are successes in the right hands, from Vermont and Nebraska to Washington and, of course, here. The Marquettes from Chankaska Creek and Saint Croix and the Frontenac gris from Winehaven, Three Oaks and Four Daughters are among those worth seeking out.
But wait, as the K-Tel ads would say, there’s more. Two newer varieties are showing great promise. Petite Pearl, a red developed by the estimable Minnesota viticulturist Tom Plocher, is all the rage in Wisconsin and does well as far north as Alexandria (Carlos Creek’s rendition is a gem). And Parley Lake’s Frontenac blanc, a mutation of Frontenac gris, is a stunner, crisp but lush, a lot like a good pinot blanc.
Time of the season: This sublime summer has brought an early arrival of our favorite fresh veggies, foremost among them tomatoes and sweet corn. While the latter makes for easy food pairing — buttery chardonnay to match the corn’s richness and its favorite topping, or a crisp sauvignon blanc from the Loire to cut through the fat — tomatoes can be a challenge.
First off, that Parley Lake Frontenac blanc would rock with tomatoes. Otherwise, my favorite choices emanate from southern France, especially picpoul de pinet: Look for Le Jade, Foncalieu, Domaine Reine Juliette or Hugues Beaulieu. Or the bracing white blends from Gascogne, such as Domaine Menard, Domaine D’Arton, Domaine de Pouy and Maison Legrand.
If you’re going the caprese route, look for a dry Provençal rosé: Commanderie de la Bargemone, Le Font du Broc, Bieler “Sabine,” Les Hautes Plateaux or the always-sublime Whispering Angel.
Hey, they deliver, too: There has been a lot of news recently about new wine-delivery options, such as Surdyk’s alliance with Amazon and Total Wines and Liquor Boy’s hookup with Instacart. But countless local retailers already were offering delivery for a nominal fee, often aligned with couriers such as DrinkFly, Minibar and Drizly.
Haskell’s, for example, has delivered wine and spirits since it opened in 1934, and nowadays includes the entire state in its conveyance area. Other stores such as South Lyndale, Thomas and France 44 have localized delivery areas.
Recent arrival Henry & Son has gone the thoroughly 21st-century (or is it early 20th-century?) route, working with Rock-It Bicycle Delivery to get wine to denizens of Bryn Mawr, Kenwood, Lake of the Isles, Lowry Hill, Uptown, Downtown and the North Loop. “Customers can place orders on our website or through the Banquet by Delectable app, or just call us if they’re old-school,” said co-owner Gretchen Skedsvold.
At least one other outlet is a little more flexible. Ryan Sadowski, owner of the Wine Shop, delivers smaller orders in his general vicinity but said he recently schlepped a case of wine all the way from Minnetonka to Lino Lakes. “I’ll go anywhere for the right order,” he quipped.
Pour it on: When the Coravin was introduced a few years back, it seemed like the province of collectors and seriously high-end restaurants. The device extracts wine from the bottle with a super-thin needle that doesn’t affect the cork and replaces the wine with argon gas, which keeps the rest of the juice from deteriorating. It’s targeted toward small pours of old wines.
Oh, and it costs $300, give or take, plus continuing outlays for new cartridges. Not something for most of us, or seemingly for restaurants in Flyover Land.
Except … Coravin pours are starting to pop up at some Twin Cities eateries. Monello, Parma 8200, Heyday, W.A. Frost & Co., Butcher & the Boar, Pazzaluna and Cravings are among those dispensing small quantities of select wines.
And by the way, in these settings it is not the province of cork dorks. These (usually) 2-ounce pours allow for ample sampling of great wines for the price of a 6-ounce glass of Rombauer chardonnay or Meiomi pinot noir, so casual enthusiasts can see for themselves what the fuss is all about.
The venue most fully embracing this vinous treat is Cedar + Stone at the JW Marriott in Bloomington, where Peter Plaehn is running a fabulous wine program. Plaehn, who recently became the first Minnesotan to earn the advanced certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers (a very big deal) is starting by providing many guests a small taste of a spendy wine that intrigues them.
He also has five great wines at a time, such as Mayacamas chardonnay and the stupendous Bouchard “Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus,” on a Coravin list.
“It lets me offer things to guests that just weren’t possible from a business sense before,” he said.
Only one problem.
“Some of my favorite wines right now that I’d love to sample to guests are impossible to use with the Coravin because they’re screw cap,” he said.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com.
Find him on Twitter: @billward4.