Minnesota vintners have had a tough row to hoe over the years, especially if the row contained red grapes.
Some of the hybrids crafted decades ago by Elmer Swenson made some passable wine. But the same U of M outfit that created the Honeycrisp apple has not had as much success with red grapes. Frontenac, whose introduction 15 years ago fostered high hopes, has disappointed most of the winemakers and consumers I’ve encountered. There have been some decent Ports and roses, but as a varietal it hasn’t done much to reduce the “wolfy” reputation of Minnesota reds.
Marquette just might change all that, if the version I tasted last week from Chisago City’s Winehaven is any indication. A hearty, dark-berry-flavored red with soft tannins and no sharp edges, it had just enough oomph and a pleasant finish (one of Frontenac’s bugaboos).
Now it should be noted that Winehaven’s Kevin and Kyle Peterson are among the state’s most skilled winemakers. But a more important factor might be that the vines are now five years old, the age where most grapes start to show their true colors, er, flavors.
In the summer of 2009, I helped judge a cold-climate competition where a Marquette from Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven, Vt., was voted best red But the Marquettes were all over the map, as I wrote at the time: “One had zinfandel-like spice and chunky layers of flavor, while another had a rustic, leathery profile more commonly found in French wines.”
Now that the vines are coming of age, we get to learn what this grape, which has some Pinot Noir in its woodpile, can really do. Should be serious fun.
James Beard Award winner Bill Ward has been covering wine for the better part of a century (the 21st). His “Liquid Assets” column runs in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and his personal wine blog, decant-this.com, will keep you up on his wine reviews and articles.