Wine connoisseurs and foodies alike sported their best wearable wine glass necklaces at Minnesota Monthly’s 23rd annual Food and Wine Experience at Target Field this past weekend. As a lover of boxed wine and cheese sticks, the world of tannins and tartaric acid was quite foreign to me. However, any event that involves navigating tables of plated cheese is, in my opinion, a must-go.
There was, as the event brochure claims, “more food and drink options at this event than you could ever safely consume at once,” the over 100 exhibitors bringing their most pungent cheese, their most aromatic wine and their most surprising flavors of beer. This event was unavoidably overwhelming: in order to showcase all the Experience (yes, “Experience”) had to offer, one table lead to the next, creating mini labyrinths at each turn. Because there was so much going on, rather than highlight each white, red and rosé I tasted, I’ll point out a few of the stops that truly made this event unique.
Wine. Wine winners for the afternoon were Carlos Creek Winery’s cheekily named “You betcha blush” and Rodney Strong’s award winning 2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay. “You betcha blush,” from a bit further up north in Alexandria, boasted a light, sweet taste made from the Frontenac grape. The experts presenting the cute labeled bottle seemed to acknowledge that this wine, though tasty and sophisticated, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The other winner of the afternoon was the much more serious, 2014 Chalk Hill Chardonnay from Rodney Strong. While many are familiar with the varietal of Chardonnay, what made this wine stick out was it’s story. As the pamphlet handed out at the event reads, Rod Strong first arrived at Chalk Hill in 1965, recognizing the unique “mineral” flavor that the “ocean fog and chalky-white volcanic soils” give the wine. Rod Strong’s Chardonnay did not go unrecognized at the event—he took home a Best of Show award for this wine as well as another for his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc.
Alternative alcohol. Remarkable in this category were Press, a sparkling, alcoholic beverage and 4 Bells’ alcoholic slushies. Press’ fresh and clean canned bubbly drinks come in four flavors: pomegranate ginger, blackberry hibiscus, grapefruit cardamom and lime lemongrass. Having tried the grapefruit cardamom, I can tell you that the 12 fl. oz. can must contain no alcohol (it does). Mix with harder alcohol or drink in the summer, and you’re in for a sweet, 100 calorie surprise. Based in Wisconsin, you can’t find this beverage easily in the Twin Cities, but it’s certainly worth the search.
4 Bells’ alcoholic slushies. I was left double fisting, with two flavors: the “Paloma,” a blanco tequila slushie with hints of grapefruit and lime and the “Bootleg,” vodka-based slushie with blueberry and lime. 4 Bells offered one of the few non-alcoholic options at the event: a Piña Colada slushie. Brea Bauer, General Manager of 4 Bells’ restaurant in Minneapolis explained over e-mail that they “make [the slushies] by batching the cocktails and feeding them through [an] ice cream machine. [They] then pipe them into the freeze pop pouches and put them in the freezer.” Take a trip to Loring Park and check-out 4 Bells’ rooftop slushie maker, currently churning out a negroni slushie.
Food. Best food options of the afternoon go to Nan’s Naughty and Nice and Sweet Me Creamery. Nan’s Naughty and Nice, primarily a Bloody Mary Mix company, used what they call their “recipe boost” to prepare a delicate, pillow of a tortellini sample. This little tortellini and thick, gloppy sauce were a testament to the original “Nan’s” ingenuity with tomatoes and spice when faced with, what their bottles claim was a “bumper crop.” Pick up Nan at the Cheese Shop affiliate France 44 or Lunds and Byerlys.
The last thing I ate was Sweet Me Creamery’s Sweet Cream Espresso Mocha. This dressed up vanilla ice cream, chunky with brownies, caramel and espresso was one of the most rich and thick ice creams I’ve ever eaten. The adorable bike-turned-ice-cream-truck that was serving up samples, couldn’t have offered up a better, more flavorful bite to cleanse the palate.
Though an event where sommeliers, grape-growers and artisanal cheesemakers alike are explaining their produce’s maturation process, and begging you to drink out of their hand is invariably going to leave a college student feeling out of place, what became clear as I snagged pork and nacho samples as I walked out the door was the shared passion and adoration not only for eating and drinking, but for discussing and learning. If you like to be wined and dined by eager and excited connoisseurs, you too might find yourself at next year’s Experience, having tried every single wine, walking out slightly warmer and still pretty confused about tannins.