Marquette: The Next Big American Varietal?

marquette_2009_lgIf you are from anywhere other than Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or Vermont, chances are you have not yet run across a wine made from the Marquette grape. This new varietal is a hybrid created by the University of Minnesota for cold weather climates. With parentage from Pinot Noir and Frontenac, there is a buzz beginning to emerge about Marquette, especially as wineries in more established locations, like Washington and New York, are beginning to harvest this grape.

If you live in Texas (or most other states), it’s impossible to find this wine at retail. When I approached a local retailer about getting some bottles, the retailer couldn’t find a single distributor who carried a Marquette label. So, in order to try it for myself, I ordered a couple of bottles of from one of the longest standing and most reputable producer of the Varietal: St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Although the Napa Valley Register had listed the 2009 St. Croix Marquette as a panel favorite, the current release being sold and shipped is the 2011. Out of the bottle, I immediately noticed the dark ruby color that was more like the Pinot Noirs of central California (think Belle Glos) than the Northwest. On the nose, the Pinot influence was most evident, with aromas of cherry cola and espresso most prominent.

I was surprised by how soft the feel was in the mouth. The front palate presented a pleasant muted fruit of plum, cherry and blackberry. There was also a prominence of smoke and oak evident, with light spice, but the hybrid lacked the traditional Pinot Noir bite. The wine did fall apart a bit in the back palate and was absent much of a finish.

Overall, I found the St. Croix Marquette to be very pleasant. It would be a nice choice with a wide variety of everyday foods and would be pleasing to those with a wide variety of tastes. I didn’t find this wine to be quite ready yet to take on the higher quality Merlots, Cabernets or Pinot Noirs for varietal superiority, but also recognize how young this grape is and how the increasing number of plantings of it in different appellations will speed its continued development. Based on my limited trial, I wouldn’t doubt that within 5 – 10 years most American wine lovers will be familiar with the Marquette varietal and able to buy good bottles of it at retail.

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