August 25, 2023
Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, IWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator, Sommelier 1
It was a pleasure to judge alongside fellow Vine Lab instructor Allison Sheardy, and long-time Vine Lab tasting group buddies, Chris Thomas and Alex Gapinski, at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
In this blog and in our classes, we focus on Vitis Vinifera grapes and wines, so this judging experience was branching out into hybrid grapes. Here's a little vocabulary lesson:
Crossing: two grape varieties of the same species are "crossed" to create a new variety (Cabernet Franc crossed with Sauvignon Blanc = Cabernet Sauvignon). This example is of two Vitis Vinifera varieties.
Hybrid: this happens when two different species are crossed. For example, Vidal Blanc is a cross of Vitis Vinifera Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano with Rayon d'Or, which itself is a cross of a Vitis Rupestris and a Vitis Lincecumii grape.
The ancestry of grapes can be as complicated as a human's!
At the ICCWC, our focus was on Frontenac Noir, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, Itasca, La Crescent, and Brianna. There were 21 judges and we tasted 361 wines. Prior to the event, my experience with these wines was limited. I'd had a couple of off-dry Frontenac Gris examples and a Marquette or two, but the competition was a deep-dive. Each person tasted 70-80 wines that day.
I was absolutely delighted with the sparkling wines that were presented that day! Just as we teach in any wine class, cooler climates result in quality, high-acid white grapes, which are perfect for bubbles - think Chardonnay in Champagne, Pinot Blanc in Franciacorta, and Glera in the Prosecco regions of Italy. In North America, we have La Crescent and Itasca, both of which can give lovely aromatics (peach, citrus, melon, and gooseberry). In fact, the Best in Show Sparkling was made from La Crescent from the Mousse Winery in Jordan, MN.
Frontenac Noir is a red wine that pairs well with any meat and tomatoes dish (especially lamb), baked chicken and vegetables, and mushroom-heavy meals. Marquette is also a red wine and is a cousin of Frontenac and a grandchild of Pinot Noir. Pair this with BBQ, sausage, and chili. It's medium-bodied with cherry, blackcurrant, and blackberry flavors.
Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc mutated from Frontenac Noir, just like Pinot Gris/Grigio mutated from Pinot Noir. Frontenac Gris can be made in dry to sweet styles. I like it off-dry with slightly spicy foods or with turkey and all the fixin's!
Both Brianna and La Crescent have Muscat/Moscato in their ancestries, so you'll get those peachy, floral aromatics. Both of these can range from dry to sweet, so try them all!
Itasca has been compared with Chenin Blanc. Both of these are very versatile, ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet.
In the classes I teach, I always encourage wine students to branch out and learn about local varieties and not just focus on the "international" grapes. I'm happy to practice what I preach! Keep these varieties on your radar. As climate change continues to affect Vitis Vinifera, these cold-hearty hybrids may just be the wave of the future.
Some northern wineries to check out: