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A Rustic Vacation Shouldn’t Mean Rustic Wine
by kelly jo mcdonnell
My family’s annual trek in early summer is north. Until the road ends…literally. Voyageurs National Park, specifically Voyageire Lodge and Houseboats on Crane Lake, is the desti- nation. It’s located between Minnesota’s beautiful boundary water canoe area and Superior National Forest. And as one might guess, it’s a tad on the rustic side. There’s a sign right when you drive in that says “End of the Road.” I’ve learned from this subtle reminder–don’t wait until you’ve come to the end of your road to start purchasing your wine.
While the liquor stores are plentiful in the city, they are far and fewer between on the way up to Voyageurs National Park. The towns get tinier and while you see more bait shops on the side of the road, it’s tough to find a liquor store that’s going to have the selection one may be looking for.
“My advice on this,” said Elizabeth Schneider, certified Sommelier and writer of Wine for Normal People, “is before you leave civilization and head for your rustic paradise, buy the wine in a major city or bring it with you. Wine selection varies widely from state to state and place to place. Normally, when you head to a lake house or a more rustic, rural area, the wine selection caters to the LCD…lowest common denomina- tor. If you want good stuff, you’ve got to bring it with you or you’ll be drinking swill! These places usually have a great beer selection, but if you want to drink well, don’t leave it to chance…bring all the wine you’re going to drink with you.”
Our crew finds that pre-planning and pre-packing meals help make the wine selection much easier. Before we hook up the canoe, we verify which family “section” is in charge of cooking what night. The first evening could be a hearty chili and a Cabernet Sauvignon for those cold Voyageurs’ nights. Second night, if the fishing is cooperating, fresh fish
can be on the menu along with Pinot Noir. We buy the wine from our favorite liquor store in the cities before we head north.
The fishing usually cooperates in this area of the country. Voya- geurs National Park is a mosaic of land and water, a place of intercon- nected waterways. Every year our family catches walleye, northern pike and pan fish. And as Jim Janssen, owner of Voyagaire Lodge reminded us, “My family likes to pair our fish with a white wine; Pinot Grigio with walleye is perfect!” It’s well-known that fish is usually best with white wine. Some wines can overpower the delicate flavors to be found in the fish group, so try to aim for anything light and fresh that will let the flavor of the fish shine through. Schneider agrees that white is best, but pairing is always best done by the sauce, topping and preparations. “Spices, citrus, cream, butter, wine, oil, salsa–each will go with differ- ent things even on top of the same exact fish,” she explained. “For in- stance, halibut with lemon butter will be a hit with Sauvignon Blanc, but if you put mango salsa on the top, you may want a Chardonnay that has more tropical flavors as a complement. If you blacken the fish, a red like Merlot may be best.”
Summer vacations are about getting in touch with family, and in our case, nature as well. Keeping things simple is a good rule of thumb. Schneider shares some classic wine “tips” that are easy to remember when fish is on the menu:
26 HERLIFEMAGAZINE.COM“If you want good stuff, you’ve got to bring it with you or you’ll be drinking swill! These places usually have a great beer selection, but if you want to drink well, don’t leave it to chance…bring all the wine you’re going to drink with you.”
With simple grilled fish with lemon, a Sauvignon Blanc is ideal. The citrus flavors of the wine are complementary to the fish. For a cream- ier sauce, think about Sancerre, which is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, but is chalky, minerally, grassy and lemony. A lightly oaked Chardonnay is awesome with fish, but warning–too oaky and it kills the fish dish!
Fishing for something a bit different? How about cooking with fruit or doing a fruit salsa to go on the fish. Viognier is amazing with fish. It’s floral, fruity and still has some great acid to keep everything light.
When eating blackened fish–you can go with a red here, but be careful about the iron levels of the wine. The ones that have higher iron pair horribly with fish. Terra Rosa or red soil is a fish disaster! Pinot Noir or Merlot goes well with a white fish that’s blackened.
Fishing not cooperating? Italian wines define rustic, so if you’re doing some Italian-inspired pasta salads or simple salads with bread, look
no further than reds like Barbera from the Piedmont region or Chianti Classico. And don’t forget the Rosé, so sippable, so dry and refreshing. Go French on this and you won’t be sorry.
The old-fashioned bonfire grill is a staple of the Voyagaire experi- ence. (Although we do cheat and bring a fish fryer that sits out in the three-season porch.) And the fish that’s usually on the menu is walleye. For grilling out, it’s best to stick with old standbys: Zinfandel and Merlot. Schneider reminds to keep the Zin anywhere in California (the primary stomping grounds of Zin), but that Merlot from France; St-Emilion in Bordeaux is a favorite area. It’s great with charred flavor from the grill, as is Shiraz from Australia. “For the grill, hands down, Zinfandel from Mendocino County,” she exclaimed. “It’s fruity but not over-the-top and has a smoky, earthy character that I don’t find in other Zins.”
And let’s not forget the dessert of choice in our rustic pine setting–S’mores. While the young boys in our family love to pair it with milk, what else could the adults pair with it?
“S’mores are tough!” said Schneider. “The rule is that the wine has be to sweeter than food for a dessert pairing to sing. I’ve got to go with a ruby Port or a Zinfandel Port-type wine for that. Amazing with chocolate! If you want to get really crazy…and it’s not available every- where, Banyuls from the south of France is a red dessert wine made from Grenache and is INSANE with chocolate and wouldn’t overpower the other goodies in the mix, either.”
Roughing it has never tasted so good. Cheers to the end of this road! ␣