Wake up and taste the wine

Floral. Fruity. Woody. And… herbaceous?

All these words can describe the flavors found in wine. And wine is a growing trend in Minnesota.

Wine is becoming more popular, says Cassie McLemore, manager at the Northern Vineyards Winery in Stillwater. "(Wine) is more 'out there,' and more people are trying it," she explains. "People are realizing there's a lot more than Chardonnays or Merlots."

Jayne Selton, an employee at St. Croix Vineyard and Winery, also of Stillwater, agrees that wine is catching on. "Minnesota vineyards in Minnesota are more popular," she says. "This fall was our busiest season in 14 years."

But if wine is unfamiliar territory, have no fear.

Here are the basics: Wine is red or white (and there are in-betweens, such as blush or rose'). According to the book, "Wineries and Breweries of Minnesota," the wine is red if the grape's juice, seeds and skins are fermented together. The juice itself is clear, so when the seeds and skins are withheld prior to fermenting, the wine is white.

Wine is either sweet or dry (or somewhere in between). Sweet wine means exactly that: there is residual sugar in the wine. If a bottle of wine is "dry," that means that the wine holds a degree of tannin- the acid present in the skin, seeds and stems of the grape.

If you really want a dry wine, try those marked "sauvage" or "naturale," says Mary Blaylock of the World Market Wine Shop in Woodbury. "Those words mean sugar didn't even pass by the bottle," she explains. "And it's permanent pucker time."

"Extra dry is sweeter than 'brut,'" she adds.

"People don't know what 'dry' means," McLemore notes.

"People have come in and asked for a wet dry wine," she adds, snickering. "All wine is wet. Should I give those people an empty bottle?"

All wine may be wet, but is all sparking wine "champagne?" Technically, "champagne" only comes from Champagne, France. Everything else is simply sparkling wine, according to cnn.com.

What about all those flavors you are supposed to taste in wine? You may find them if you know how to properly sample a glass.

According to the "Wine IQ Training and Reference Guide," you should first swirl your glass of wine to release the wine's aromas. Then you should smell the wine, inhaling deeply. After this you can actually drink the wine, savoring it throughout your mouth. Then you may be able to identify the various flavors in the wine.

The list of flavors in wine is extensive. Among other flavors, you may taste mint, currants, orange blossom, vanilla, chocolate…

Or… soy sauce?

McLemore says she has tasted a wine that tasted like soy sauce… because the wine had gone bad. "Don't hold on to your bottles of wine, unless they're very expensive and you plan to follow wine trends and learn when the wine is "peaking,'" she says. Most wine is meant to be consumed at the time it is purchased. "It's at its peak," she says. "It's probably not going to get any better."

And don't ever save champagne, McLemore adds. "I've heard of people who saved a bottle of champagne from their wedding," she says, "and twenty years later they open it and it's thick."

There is aged champagne on the market, however. "Some say it's better," shrugs Josh Jacks, a manager at Sarrack's International Wine in St. Paul. "Some say you're wasting your money."

Even if you know what kind of wine you personally prefer, what should you serve when friends stop by and you don't know what they like?

"With wine, it's hit or miss," says Travis Niemi of Big Top Wine and Spirits in Oakdale. "Buy what you like, because you don't know what your guests are going to like."

For guests, McLemore suggests a "middle of the road" wine, such as Northern Vineyard's semi-dry Columbine. "It's right in the middle," she says. "It serves as a meter for your guests to determine if they like a sweeter wine, or a dryer wine, or if that one is just right for them."

If you're at St. Croix Vineyard and Winery, try the Seyval, a fruity white wine that is a leading seller east of the Rocky Mountains.

If you don't want to make a trip to a winery, there are good "middle" wines at local liquor stores. Jacks suggests sticking with consistent, good brands, such as Columbia Winery, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, or Beringer Vineyards.

Niemi recommends wines from Robert Mondavi Winery, Ballatore Cellars, Martini and Rossi, and Gionelli. And of course, a popular "middle" wine is the blush White Zinfandel. "You can't go wrong with White Zin," he says.

Another big factor in what you serve is what you might be eating. For example, Blaylock says that sushi pairs well with extra dry champagne, while a light or medium wine is better suited for a dish such as salmon. For chicken or cold pasta salads, she recommends chardonnays. If you are just serving cookies, chocolate and/or strong cheeses, she suggests a port wine. For milder cheese, try the very sweet ice wine.

If you are serving New York-style cheesecake, Blaylock recommends Asti Spumante.

According to the "Wine IQ Training and Reference Guide," when you're pairing food with wine, the rule of thumb is to drink flavor-intense wine when eating flavor-intense food. In addition, the guide suggests that the heavier the food is, the more full-bodied the wine should be.

But Howard Krosch, who has been with the Northern Vineyards Winery since it opened in 1983 "on a broken shoestring budget," says that the rules of wine-drinking have changed. "The old rule was, 'drink red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat,'" he says. "The new rule is, 'Have what you like.'"

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