Minnesota Nice – Carlos Creek

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

On my way back from Walla Walla and before I reached my stop at Bunbury Farm, I stopped at the one winery in the one viticulture area entirely within the state of Minnesota. Alexandria Lakes, as previously mentioned is tucked in between several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Currently there is only one winery located in this region, Carlos Creek.

I pulled into the winery’s driveway on a Wednesday morning in June to find the place packed. Maybe folks were taking 4th of July vacations early, but I got the feeling that the place was used to this kind of crowd. The tasting room was large with a rectangular bar in the center. One side of bar was stocked with the wines shelves and related tchotchkes. The other side of the bar had tables for groups to linger at including a cozy firepit.

I walked up to the bar for a tasting ($5.00 which includes a keepsake wine glass) and began to try the wines. I learned that the winery has twelve acres of vines of Frontenac, Foch, Valiant, Swenson Red, La Crescent, King of the North, Brianna, Marquette, Petite Pearl and Edelweiss and fifteen acres of apples including Honeycrisp, the Minnesota State apple. The winery also makes wine from contract grown fruit that is both local and out of state.

I began with the Chardonnay (grown in California as that is not a grape to survive the harsh Minnesota winters. The color was beautiful and tasted dry with a nice amount of fruit although the finish was a shade metallic.

The Woebegone White was pale and offsweet with the flavors of apples and pear and is produced from Frontenac Gris. This wine is part of the wineries “Minnesota Nice” line which are made entirely of locally grown fruit. It is a nice wine for a hot summer afternoon spritzer (my preferred way of drinking sweeter wines). The line also includes the Hot Dish Red, a blend of Frontenac and Valiant and the You Betcha Blush (a phrase, I sadly associate with Alaska instead of Minnesota these days) which is also Frontenac based.

Next I tried the reds. I started with the Marquette. The grape is a recent development from the University of Minnesota which has a strong viticulture program and is the Upper Midwest’s answer to Pinot Noir. It was certainly dry, with distinct tannins and smooth texture. In all fairness though, it was not my favorite as there was a distinct foxiness to the wine.

I then tried the house Chianti which is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and several estate grown grapes. I liked this wine. Like my favorite kinds of Chianti, it was flavorful and smooth to make it perfect to drink with dinner.

The last wine I tasted was the Trinity, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and ended up being my favorite wine of the afternoon. I have to admit to enjoy trying traditional varietals from local wineries. I feel that these wines provide a baseline about a winery. I know what California Cabernet is supposed to taste like. When I try the local options, I am better able to pick up the nuances of varietals that I am less familiar with and terroir. The Trinity was cherry and peppery on the nose with a taste spiced cherries and plums.

At this point in my visit a tour of the facility was beginning, led by the wineries’ owner Tami Bredeson. We learned that she and her husband Kim became interested in wine and winemaking after he was commissioned to produce a carved mantelpiece for a woman who worked for Robert Mondavi. As a thank you, she gave them a bottle of Opus One and the Bredesons decided to learn more about wine before opening that bottle.

I have been on several winery tours and this was about the most thorough that I have seen (particularly for a winery without an extensive history). We learned how they chose the cork for their bottles (Sardinian cork) and the cooperage that they buy barrels from (Kelvin Cooperage). A nice surprise was the cave built under the winery. The Bredeson’s attention to detail is impressive.

Like most wineries, the Carlos Creek hosts a wide assortment of events in addition to the tastings and tours, including weddings, craft shows, live music, surrey bike rides, mazes for the kids, cross country skiing and dog sled rides. This is not your average country winery.

Carlos Creek Winery
6693 County Road 34 NW
Alexandria, MN 56308
320-846-5443

It Came From Where?

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

If you have read this blog before you know that I appreciate wines from non traditional areas. These areas are usually in the United States, but not always. I love local wine, but believe that everywhere is local to someone.

So what do you do if you live in Russia and you want Champagne? Prior to Soviet control, French Champagne could be imported into Russia, but at great expense. It was Prince Leo Galitzine, who created the first factory for sparkling wines at his estates in the Crimea. These wines were called Soviet Champagne or Champagne for the people. After the revolution, these wines were still in production.

So when I saw this bottle? I knew that I had to try it.

Russian Champagne... I think they were in a hurry....This sparkling wine (not being from the Champagne Region of France, I won’t call it real Champagne) is not from the Crimea, but rather Kazan, which is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.

The taste was very apple. And the color very golden. I can fairly say that I have never had a sparkling wine like it before. The carbonation was very light, and while dry it was exceptionally fruity. If I hadn’t known better, I would have assumed it was cider rather than wine. It wasn’t what I was expecting, not by a long shot. But that doesn’t mean that it was bad. On the contrary. Just different. I also noted that this was the “dry” version. The store where I found this also carried the semi-dry and sweet varieties, which I am guessing can move into the cloying category. Luckily, I stuck with what I did. And we enjoyed the bottle, toasting my parents as they prepare to leave for a vacation to Egypt and Israel. Naturally, they have been asked to keep their eyes open for interesting wines and to report back to me!

Smell v. Taste v. My Crazy Brain

Kevin and I had a lovely conversation about how taste is influenced by smell. Now, I know this obvious from a basic understanding of gustation.

Why is this important?

Well first off, everyone here, at our house has a cold, except Kevin.

Second off, as the only person in the house with a full set of taste buds, Kevin has the ability to do something that the rest of us can only hope for…

Screw with our heads. Or as the only other adult person in the house… just my head.

Why?

When you have a limited palate due to physiology or illness, you are vulnerable to the whims of a goofball. They can make suggestions about what you are tasting. And that suggestion alone can inform your taste.

Case in point?

We are drinking the Gaetano D’Aquino Pinot Grigio in full flush out of the 42oF out of the Kevin-a-tor. Kevin turns to me and says, “Wow! Is it just me? Or does this wine taste like circus peanuts?” Oh and by circus peanuts he referred to the crappy spongy, marshmallowy candy, not salted, roasted peanuts.

The problem is… as much as I tried to resist thinking it? I couldn’t help tasting circus peanuts. At least for a moment.

And then I remembered. I have had this wine before. I have NEVER tasted circus peanuts in my prior tastings. As I recall, it is exceptionally acidic and crisp (which is probably the same thing) fully of the sourest of Granny Smith apples (an Australian varietal, I would like to add for no other reason than that I know it. Yes. I am a know it all)

When I thought about it. I could taste the things that I remembered.

Now I would like to say that my taste was influenced by cold (if this is what you can call this fresh hell that prevents me from breathing properly). But the reality is when I remembered what I had tasted before? I tasted those things…. in a muted fashion… but I DID taste them.

The reality is influence is important. Which means you should take a moment to consider who you are getting your opinion from. Do you trust their opinion? Do they have tastes similar to yours? If not. Ignore them. They might influence your opinion in a negative way.

Destination Sommelier

Some of us choose a restaurant based on the wine list. Quality of food, of course, is a factor, as is the friendliness and efficiency of service, but, if you are like me, it is the wine program, or the Sommelier responsible for it, which matters most.

Henry Bishop is a name I had heard more than a year ago from a trusted member of the Chicago wholesale community. The name Henry Bishop surfaced again last week, when a new colleague of mine mentioned that she had dined at a mexican restaurant called Salpicon. She spoke highly of Henry Bishop, specifically a sense of humor and a penchant for the esoteric. I looked at the restaurant’s website, www.salpicon.com, which has the wines organized by country, and in some cases by producer. At that moment I had decided that I was going to eat there. I was not phased by the quixotic combination between a serious wine program and a mexican concept, and didn’t even look at the dinner menu.

I met Kevin and Maman for dinner at Salpicon last Thursday. We started with guacamole and chips, and three ‘Salpicon Margaritas’ (when in Rome…). It felt like a typical mexican restaurant experience. We asked if Henry was in, he was. Henry Bishop approached, introductions were made, common acquaintances referenced. We asked him to pair wines with our ‘tasting menu’ (always order the tasting menu). What happened next turned our typical mexican restaurant experience into a stimulating and thoroughly unique adventure into the [other] world of wine.

Henry Bishop’s Wine Pairings
1.Pere Ventura Brut Nature NV Cava, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Spain
2.2005 Firelands Winery Gewurztraminer, Isle St. George, Sandusky, Ohio
3.1997 Villa Guntrum, Oppenheimer Schützenhütte, Kabinett Halbtrocken, Rheinhessen
4.2006 Dubaril Gamay Romand Rosé, Cave de La Côte-Uvavins, Morges, Switzerland
5.2005 Summers Winery Charbono, Villa Andriana Vineyard, Calistoga, Napa, California
6.2006 Emilio Bulfon Piculìt Neri, Valeriano, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
7.La Face Cachee de la Pomme, Neige, Apple Ice Wine, Quebec, Canada
8.Mount Pleasant Tawny Port, Augusta, Missouri

Each of the above wines delivered quality and balance and would have been acceptable under any circumstance. But what occurred that night was special, an adventure through six countries, two forgotten but important historical wine producing states, and french canadian apple orchards that employ cryoconcentration and cryoextraction to produce a unique and exotic ‘wine’. Henry had us in the palm of his hand. Each time he arrived at the table with a new wine meant a new surprise and new fork in the road of our conversation.

If you are like me, you choose a restaurant because of it’s wine list. And if you are like me, and enjoy to place yourself at the mercy of a talented and intuitive Sommelier, visit Salpicon and ask for Henry Bishop. Or, if you have a Sommelier that has earned your trust as Henry has mine, then please share your story and contact us at Destination Sommelier.