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No I haven’t taken up reviewing Universities or Jesuit missionaries. Marquette is the name of a relatively new grape varietal developed by the University of Minnesota and released in 2006. It is the most widely planted of the cold-hardy grapes that are enabling regions with cold winters to make wine from indigenous varieties instead of importing fruit from the West Coast. Marquette is a hybrid with 8 different species in its lineage, one of which is v. vinifera, Pinot Noir to be precise. Many in fact compare the flavor of Marquette to cool-climate Pinot Noir.

A 2016 report suggested that adoption of the grape was slowing after an initial burst of excitement, perhaps because Marquette’s early bud break makes it susceptible to spring frost. That is too bad because this grape has substantial potential. My biggest complaint in tasting through Minnesota and Wisconsin was that many wineries were sold out of Marquette by late summer.  Happily, these two under review were available and were among the best we tasted. Growers and winemakers are still learning to work with this grape but when made well it deserves to be taken seriously by the wine world.

cedar creekCedar Creek Marquette Wisconsin 2015

Alc: 13%  Price: $16

Cedar Creek is the sister winery of Wollersheim, Wisconsin’s largest and oldest winery. Wollersheim specializes in Marachal Foch but makes a small quantity of Marquette to be sold out of their Cedar Creek tasting room in Cedarsburg, near Milwaukee. Winemaker Phillipe  Coquard is as adept with Marquette as he is with Foch. The aromatics on this wine are gorgeous. Voluptuous black cherry, candied fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, and some recessive earth notes make for a complex and very focused nose. The palate, showing cherry and cranberry, is a bit leaner than the aromas lead you to expect with high-toned acidity apparent early and gathering strength at mid-palate. The top layer of acidity feels inflexible, but underneath the wine is round, soft and supple, becoming peppery on the finish as the refined tannins make their presence felt. This is a vibrant wine, appealing and accessible, making up with charm what it lacks in depth. It spends 8 months in hybrid French and American oak barrels.

von stiehlVon Stiehl Winery Stony Creek Red Marquette  Wisconsin Ledge 2013

Alc: 13.4% Price: $19

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the best examples of Marquette come from the oldest wineries in Wisconsin. The Schmiling family, the current owners of Von Stiehl, have been making Wisconsin wine since the early 1980’s. This is a quite different expression of the Marquette grape. Earthy, with very dark fruit, raisin, and slight musky aromas lend a sense of mystery to this wine. In the mouth, it is soft and supple with a linear development that gives the wine a placid aspect until the finish when the acidity becomes more assertive, goaded into rhythmic alliance with the refined yet persistent tannins. Balanced and integrated it makes up for a lack of youthful exuberance by invoking the mysteries.  Aged in French/American hybrid barrels for 12 mos.

What do you prefer—dark and mysterious or vibrant and charming? An existential choice.

Von Stiehl’s Marquette gets the musical treatment this week. Cassandra Wilson’s Fragile captures the dark but calm and peaceful mien of this wine.

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