Bottle of Wine, Fruit of the Vine

12Aug09

P1010771Our son spent the weekend at my mother-in-law’s so my wife and I had some time to have fun on our own. The key things were for it to be not too expensive and something different than our usual time killer of card games. Saturday evening she was doing some web surfing to come up with ideas to spend our Sunday, and (I don’t know how) came up with the idea of visiting one of the local Minnesota wineries. I was almost immediately intrigued by the idea. She had done some poking about and came across information about the Three Rivers Wine Trail. We are definitely NOT oenophiles. We actually know embarrassingly little about wine.

We had been to the Minnesota Monthly Food and Wine Experience several years ago and it was interesting, but a little overwhelming (this past year they had over 200 different wines there). It did not help a lot with our wine exploration other than to reinforce the fact that we don’t know much. We were able to figure out that she has a strong preference for sweeter wines (especially Ice Wine) and that there were a couple other individual wines we each liked. A short time after that we picked up a bottle of Cream Sherry—we remembered that we had tried one at the show and had both liked it. That bottle showed us that just knowing a type isn’t necessarily enough. The bottle we bought was, to us, awful and undrinkable. Since then our entire experience with wine has largely been small bottles of Chardonnay purchased for making risotto. We’ve been given a couple bottles of Merlot as Christmas gifts and have finally opened one of them. And on one recent occasion we were out with a small group and someone bought a couple bottles of Reisling for the table to share. Those non-disastrous experiences have gotten us interested in starting some tentative steps into the world of wine and a trip to a winery sounded fun.

Deck at the Alexis Bailly winery.

Deck at the Alexis Bailly Winery.

After looking at the places on the wine trail we decided to make a visit to Alexis Bailly Vineyards in Hastings. Friday through Sunday they are open for people to visit, wander around the vineyard, sample their different wines, and purchase ones you like. (They are even allowed to sell bottles on Sundays thanks to Minnesota’s Farm Winery Statute.) The choices for tastings are $2 for three wines, $3 for five wines, or $5 for all 10. You can also buy single wines by the glass. They don’t have any formal tour, but staff is around and available to answer questions. The owner, Nan Bailly, was circulating around, chatting with anyone who wanted to. Otherwise you are fairly free to wander around and try out wines at your own pace. We spent around two hours or so. There were some people who arrived before us and were still there when we left. We also saw someone doing the full flight tasting who was really going rapid fire: standing at the bar pour, sip, dump, pour, sip, dump. It took them maybe 15 minutes to get through all 10 wines. Alexis Bailly has some very attractive spaces for having a picnic, and even encourage you to bring one. We had thought about a picnic, decided not to, and then wished we had. Next time we will.  They really seem to emphasize a very casual visit for their guests and want to let you relax and enjoy yourself.

We tried all ten wines and I didn’t find any that I flat out disliked. My least favorite was Ratafia. They call it “A red fortified sweet dessert wine infused with other fruits, herbs and spices.” I took a sniff and definitely noticed the spices combined with what my brain jumped up and called out “Tang” (the powdered breakfast drink not the general adjective). It may sound disparaging, but I actually have fond childhood memories of Tang so it is definitely not meant that way. Tasting it I found the orange flavors, and the spices combined to give me a distinct notion of cloves. I thought it was OK but was having trouble thinking of an occasion I would want to drink it. I personally don’t picture it as a dessert wine or in the French tradition of an aperitif. But a while later it came to me—I think it would make a good accompaniment to Sunday brunch instead of Mimosas. The orange and clove combination would go really well with nice thick cut French toast.

We were looking forward to their Isis Ice Wine at the end but got very distracted before then by a new wine in their arsenal: Bailly’s Reserve Chocolate Port. They start with a blend of their port-style Hastings Reserve (also quite good) and add natural chocolate essence. It’s like a liquid dark chocolate bar with a kick. I can definitely imagine pairing this with angel food cake as one of the staff suggested or using it on a good vanilla ice cream to make a sundae. I am also figuring out a way to use it in a version of Tiramisu. This is the bottle we felt compelled to buy.

Now to find my corkscrew.

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