Parallel 44 is a winery near Green Bay that makes wines from cold climate grapes grown in Wisconsin. Varieties include Frotenac, Vignoles, Marechal Foch, St. Croix, St. Pepin, Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Louise Swenson and La Crosse.
Recently, the winery offered to send me a few bottles for tasting. I was especially interested in their Vignoles because it is a grape that is finding success in New York’s Finger Lakes region. I was also interested in the St. Pepin Late Harvest as I was curious if it could be reminiscent of late harvest German and Austrian wines. The Glacier Red was alluring for its possible expression of ‘Wisconsin terroir.’
I had the opportunity to pop these three bottles at an Eat For Equity dinner held at Madison Sourdough. The dinner featured a five course menu foraged, hunted, and prepared by Chief Meskokonaye Youth Camp attendees hailing from the Red Lake Chippewa Nation in Minnesota. Locally (or regionally) foraged food and local wine– a perfect pairing.
For research purposes, ahem, we also sampled Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay ‘11, St. Innocent Chardonnay ‘10, Chateau Musar Jeune (Cinsault, Syrah and Cab), Lopez de Heredia Cubillo Crianza ‘05 (65% Tempranillo, 25% Grenache), and Arnot-Roberts Syrah ‘11.
The meal started strong with moose and morel palmeni as well as goose and duck confit empanadas with squash and rosemary. These beauties were served on a verdant bed of kale.
The next course was raspberry bread and onion soup. The warming soup was deliciously earthy. As for the wine, we were skipping strict course pairings and had all bottles open.
Although it has nice grapefruit notes, the Parallel 44 Vignoles was generally a bit too sweet to match with the food. Sadly, the Arnot-Roberts Chardonnay fared no better.
The first time I tried the AR Chardonnay, which tastes remarkably like Chablis, I was wowed. We decanted it, and the laser-like acidity with steely fruit was a delight. This is brilliant and fun wine, but it’s time to let it settle and see how it matures; right now it seems a touch overpowering.
The St. Innocent was the most food-friendly of the group. What a delicious, well-rounded, Chardonnay. We easily downed the wonderful Crianza, but it was rather flabby for this dinner; it wanted pasta. And while the Chateau Musar was nicely fruity, it would have been more at home with the likes of apricots, pine nuts, and hummus.
A plate of beef pemmican with sea salt also accompanied this second course. This can be described as a sort of dried meat brownie. It was a tough sell at tables, although I managed to eat most of mine. That’s partly thanks to the Parallel 44 Glacier Red. Nice, bright, wild berries and cranberry flavors were a great match for the rough and salty protein. This was my favorite of the three Parallel 44 bottles, and I was happy to have it.
The third course was a platter of buffalo sausage (redolent of juniper), venison meatballs, and elk steaks on white polenta. While the meatballs and sausages were dry, and the polenta tasted a bit like peanut butter, the elk was magnificent. Here, a sip of Arnot-Roberts Syrah delivered the great pairing of the evening.
I had sampled the AR Syrah once before at the Tornado Club with manager Bob Hemauer; it was a true pleasure to have it again with elk. Unforgettable, in fact. The pepperiness of the wine lengthened and deepened the flavor of the well-prepared meat.
Course four was cold smoked walleye with wild rice and spinach. The fish had stunning smoky flavor but was extremely salty (and by now we were out of Chardonnay).
The final course was a pear tart with cranberry, blackberry, and black walnuts. Here, the Parallel 44 St. Pepin Late Harvest made for a nice pairing. Although a bit thick-bodied, it lent nice acidity and sweetness to the delectable dessert.
The Eat For Equity dinner was a heartwarming fundraiser for a group that helps teach youths about the environment through hunting, fishing, and other activities. The sold-out dinner had a convivial and spirited feel to it, and the food was out of the ordinary; I’m looking forward to the next Eat For Equity event.
The Parallel 44 wines are proof that cold climate grapes can make some intriguing and tasty bottles. However, skewing sweet can make them a touch syrupy. They shine with the right food.
Disclosure, etc.: The Parallel 44 wines were gratis for review. The winery has a wine of the month club, which would make a great Christmas present for that person on your list who enjoys Wisconsin wines. The nicely appointed Italian-styled winery has an annual Frozen Tundra Wine Fest on Feb 23rd.