What Do Minnesota Grapes Taste Like?

Saint Croix Vineyards’ Frontenac // Photo by Tj Turner

You’ve probably noticed our local wineries don’t grow chardonnay and cabernet grapes like their California cousins. Our wicked continental climate is only suitable for wine grapes engineered to withstand the biting cold. But in the absence of those recognizable grapes, how do you know what flavors to expect from our wines? 

Here are the four most popular grapes in Minnesota and what they should taste like at their best (and who makes some of the best examples in the state).

La Crescent

In our opinion, this is currently the finest wine grape in Minnesota. La Crescent can evoke German riesling in the way its natural grape sweetness is matched with a flinty acidity. Look for flavors of lime, pear, beeswax, and honeysuckle in a prickly, mouthwatering sip. La Crescent should have a patient sweetness on the mid-palate, but it shouldn’t be a one-note treacle. It should be expressive and floral on the nose, with a balance to the body and a snappy finish.

Northern Hollow Winery (Grasston, MN)

St. Croix Vineyards (Stillwater, MN)

Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery (Kewaunee, WI)

Marquette

The physiological makeup of cold-climate red grapes is different than that of European grapes, and our reds often impart a basic, Welch’s-like flavor that makes them a tough sell to oenophiles. But if one red grape could convince them otherwise, it would be Marquette. A genetic granddaughter of pinot noir, Marquette is at its best when it takes on the flavor of young, Old World merlot or a rustic Portuguese red—a leaner sip of dusty, dried fruit; plums and cassis; graphite, brambles, and earth. Look for a softness to the tannin and a pleasing length of finish.

Indian Island Winery (Janesville, MN)

Chateau St. Croix Winery (St. Croix Falls, WI)

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery “M Series” (Spring Valley, MN)

Next Chapter Winery (New Prague, MN)

Frontenac Gris

A versatile and exciting grape. A gray and bronze-colored mutation of the red Frontenac grape, Frontenac Gris can be pressed and vinified without its skin to make a soft and perfumed white wine full of stone fruit and citrus flavors, or with its skin to make a beautiful rosé, with satiny flavors of cranberry and watermelon. 

Parley Lake Winery, both white and rosé (Waconia, MN) 

Carlos Creek Winery (Alexandria, MN)

Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery “Petite Colline,” a blend with Frontenac Blanc (Kasota, MN) 

Frontenac

We’re split on this grape. So many times it makes for an unbalanced red wine, but when it’s used for other applications, it can be really spectacular. Look for the Frontenac grape to be at its best when its astringent dark-fruit flavors—cherry, blackberries, rhubarb—are lightened up in a dry and easy-going rosé, or when they’re intensified by a grape spirit in a sweet, Port-style dessert wine.

Sovereign Estates Frontenac Rosé (Waconia, MN)

Falconer Vineyards Frontenac Rosé (Red Wing, MN)

Cold Country Vines & Wines Frontenac Sweet Red Dessert Wine (Keewaunee, WI) 

John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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