Uncorking Minnesota Wine Country

If the term “wine region” conjures up images of quintessential French cottages dotting the hillsides of Burgundy, or expansive coastal vineyards of California — close your eyes and picture this: lush, rolling pastures of Midwest farmland, painted with vineyards. It’s not a dream, with 70+ operating wineries just in the state of Minnesota, you likely don’t need to travel far to visit one.

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One rule you need to know
Not sure about what kind of Minnesota wine you might like? (Or not sure what kind of wine you like in general?) With over a dozen varieties of grapes thriving in Minnesota’s vineyards (not to mention fruit wines and blends) there’s sure to be a wine to please every palette, and here’s the one rule you need to know before you step into a winery: if you like it, it’s the right wine.  
There is nothing else that people eat or drink that has the perception of being “wrong” in quite the same way as wine. Precedents for proper pairings, hard to pronounce names, and a wide range of price points can make the wine world difficult to navigate.  Beer aficionados don’t seem to anguish over the “right” beer, but drink what they like — so, why wine?

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Explore

When visiting a winery you can enjoy a “wine tasting” (small samples of several wines) for just a few dollars, which allows you to try and compare several wines.

Don’t like it? Dump it out! (Hint: that’s what the “dump” bucket on the wine bar is for). Contrary the “Minnesota Nice” mentality whereby we smile and tell the chef the hot-dish is delicious (when it’s not) — it is not impolite to dump out the wine, or even spit it out, if a sip isn’t to your liking. A wine tasting is all about discovering what you like.

Most locations also have bottle shops where you can purchase wine to take home — a fantastic opportunity to try before you buy!  (Pro-tip: Special legislation allows the sale of wine on Sundays, a day when liquor stores are otherwise closed in Minnesota).

Yes, Minnesota’s wine country is rife for exploration: in addition to navigating the many flavors of a wine tasting, many locations welcome — if not encourage — sightseeing in the vineyard grounds themselves, so take a hike and enjoy the vistas of Minnesota’s unique wine country!

Family friendly? Absolutely! Many wineries have events and activities for families and youngsters — not to mention, are live operating farms with plenty to see and do. Consider packing a picnic (not all serve food, and many in are in rural areas), and make a day of it!

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Where to start?

Minnesota Uncorked™ has a comprehensive map of area wineries, and we’ve included a chart below that may help you to understand cold-climate wine varieties (compared to more commonly recognized favorites).

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Minnesota’s Budding Grape Crops

Minnesota is yet a fledgling when it comes to its history as a wine region. Barely over a generation old, the first grapevines were planted in Minnesota soil in the 1970’s (compared to other American wine regions established in the mid-1800’s.) In that short time almost 70 wineries have opened regionally!

The University of Minnesota has one of the top programs developing “cold-climate” grapes, meaning grapevines that survive Minnesota’s extreme cold winters. To put it simply: the U of M has developed and continues to develop new varieties of grapes which thrive despite cold winters and produce excellent wine (an important fact, since not all grapes will make good wine!).

There are a total of more than 20 grape varieties native to the state of Minnesota, 9 of which have been developed by the U of M.

Lauren Voigt

Minnesota Uncorked™‘s mission is to encourage exploration of Minnesota through wine-related experiences. Founder Lauren Voigt launched the project after working on initiatives for clients in Minnesota’s wine industry, and developing a strong belief that there is little else that people eat or drink that is perceived to be “wrong” in quite the same way as wine.  So, why wine?  She believes, if you like it, its the right wine! 

 

The Restaurants We Crave When We Return Home To Minneapolis-St. Paul

Jeni of JeniEats is sharing some of her favorites restaurants in the Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota area. Thanks Jeni for sharing your passion with all of us!

Love it or hate it, your hometown will always be your hometown.

Jake and I love ours. We grew-up in Minneapolis-St. Paul and have since moved around the Midwest several times, in fact, for his job. The Twin Cities will always be our home base. On the surface, Jake and I don’t have a lot in common. He’s a die-hard Vikings fan and I consider Top Chef to be my Superbowl; He prefers talk radio and I like music. What we’ve always had in common is our passion for food.

Now that we live in St. Louis, we don’t visit the Twin Cities as often as we used to. Many restaurants have come and gone since we moved six years ago. When we’re craving a taste of home, we tend to return to our old favorites. Here’s where you might find us on our next trip back:

Broders’ Cucina Italiana
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When I was a new college grad, I used to work at Broders’ Cucina Italiana. Employees were encouraged to try everything and everything tasted good. We even got a meal credit during each shift and sometimes took home leftover pizza at the end of the night. Still, I never got sick of the food and crave it to this day. When we were dating, I took Jake to Broders’ to share some of my favorite dishes. He got hooked and we love treating our family to meals here.

You can buy pizza by the slice here, but we suggest ordering a whole pie. You’ll want leftovers. Our typical order includes the Eggplant Special Pizza topped with red bell peppers, sweet caramelized onions, goat cheese, herbs, and roasted eggplant, plus some punchy black olive spread (Olivata Nera), and a big green salad. My favorite is the Greek salad loaded with fresh vegetables, feta, and chickpeas and served with a homemade lemon vinaigrette, but the Emilia Salad which includes prociutto, pine nuts, and balsamic vinaigrette is also a favorite.

Before you pay at the counter, choose a dessert. You’ll find Italian cookies and scratch-made pastries like seasonal cheesecake slices, flourless chocolate cake, and fruit tarts. Dine-in, call ahead for carry-out or, if you’re not to far away, request delivery.

Bangkok Thai Deli

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Back when we first visited Bangkok Thai Deli, it was located in the back of a small Asian grocery store. Now, you’ll find the restaurant in its own building along the same stretch of University Avenue near the St. Paul Capitol.

Dine in or take-out, it’s your choice. Some foods are best enjoyed on the spot. For example, you’ll want to dig into whole deep-fried tilapia doused in a sweet and spicy tri-flavor sauce while the skin’s still crisp. Our typical order usually includes something new and our favorite chicken pad thai, grilled beef salad, and red or green curry. Another favorite dish is the Chinese eggplant with shrimp and ground pork.

Taqueria Los Ocampos
There are several locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul but we usually go the one in Seeger Square on Arcade because it’s near my in-laws’. Our standard order includes a variety of tacos including al pastor, tongue, cecina beef and spicy ground beef. In Mexican street-style tacos style, they’re served in double tortillas and garnished with cilantro, lime, shaved radish, and onion. Los Ocampos makes these delicious, spicy salsas that are almost creamy. Jake prefers the red and I prefer the green. If you like heat, you’ll want to ask for extra.

Also notable and delicious are homemade corn tortilla dishes like gorditas, huaraches, and sopes. If you order a quesadilla, you’ll see how they press the dough onto the griddle before adding your choice of fillings. Taqueria Los Ocampos is open late, making it the perfect place to go when you need a late night snack. It’s one of the best, affordable feasts and some of our favorite tacos we’ve enjoyed anywhere.

There’s a restaurant in the Twin Cities for every mood and food preference. For the best way to find your new favorite, don’t hesitate to ask a local. Twin Cities residents love to share their favorite spots. 

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