If you’re feeing the need to add a little romance or respite to your holiday season, there’s a winery just down the road. Belle Vinez will give you an afternoon getaway from your ever-expanding to-do list, a go-to place to take relatives, or a shopping destination to keep you stocked up with party beverages and last-minute gifts for the 21-and-older folks.
Just a few minutes from downtown River Falls, Belle Vinez—French for “beautiful wines”—is a scenic winery and vineyard owned and operated by the Zimmerman family. Its lineup of house reds and whites are perfect for an afternoon tasting, complete with homey, wood-fired appetizers or pizza enjoyed in a comfy chair next to a roaring fire. The wines feature heartwarming names and vignettes based on Zimmerman family lore.
“Belle Vinez Winery specializes in creative wine blends that span the full sensory spectrum, and when paired appropriately, make for a wonderful complement to food,” says co-owner Angel Zimmerman. “Each wine blends northern-grown grapes sourced directly from our vineyard with imported grapes from well-known places like California, Oregon and Washington. The result is a wine flavor both familiar and new.”
Elementary ($20)—named for the day granddaughter Taylor got on her first school bus—is a “versatile wine that sits atop as the most-sold nearly every month of the year,” Zimmerman says. It’s a riesling-edelweiss blend with aromas of apple and pear. Pull out a bottle to surprise guests, because its mellower flavors will delight and not overwhelm.
“No holiday season would be complete without a bit of Mischief!” Zimmerman says. Try this signature white that’s not too sweet, but not too dry—an all-around easy-drinker ($22). Chardonnay and brianna grapes offer a crisp, fruit-filled flavor and medium acidity. Pair with shrimp cocktail or other seafood appetizers.
Sharing Sips ($16) is a 3-year-aged red blend of pinot noir and marquette. The light-bodied black cherry, currant and soft plum flavors—with some spice on the nose—will warm the heart on cold winter evenings. Try it with soft-flavored cheeses or meats, or match it with a decadent dessert. “The holidays bring an array of wintery treats that require a wine that can make each bite better,” Zimmerman says.
Need a wine that’ll stand up to hearty holiday main dishes? “Opening Day ($24) is an exceptional and durable wine, filled with a burst of black cherry and oak when enjoying the main course. Meats and rich sauces come alive,” Zimmerman says. “But when it is time to relax and unwind—or sip and enjoy holiday time with friends and family—the smooth blend of cherry, chocolate and spice flavors will have your guests leaving quite contented.”
The Wheel Deal
What’s wine without a little cheese? Stillwater’s The Wedge and Wheel sources artisan cheeses—from local producers and far-flung ones, too—for sale in cut-to-size wedges, expertly paired in on-site tastings. Here are a few of owner Chris Kohtz’s favorites to keep on hand for the holidays.
Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar
Bleu Mont Dairy, Blue Mounds, Wis.
Who doesn’t love cheddar? “This is a grassy, tangy and full-flavored hard cheese that pairs well with a wide range of red wines—or loves a full-bodied chardonnay or colder-weather beers, including chocolatey stouts and ales,” Kohtz says.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve—“Extra Aged”
Uplands Cheese Co., Dodgeville, Wis.
One of the most-awarded cheeses in our area, it’s inspired by classic alpine cheeses like Beaufort and Gruyère, says Kohtz. “The ‘extra aged’ version is deeply nutty and tending towards sharp,” he says. “Pairs very well with two wines common at winter feasts: riesling and pinot noir.”
Shepherd’s Ridge Creamery, St. Croix Falls, Wis.
A hard sheep’s-milk cheese crafted in the Spanish Basque tradition, “Oliver’s is buttery and tangy with ample crunchiness,” Kohtz says. As for pairing? “Look for bold reds, cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux blends or Spanish/Mediterranean white wines. For a beer, try a Belgian tripel,” he says.
Alemar Cheese, Mankato, Minn.
Good Thunder is a small, creamy square of soft, ripened cheese brined in Surly Bender, explains Kohtz. “It’s both buttery and meaty, even a little stinky when fully ripened,” Kohtz says. Of course, it’ll pair well with a glass of Bender, Surly’s American oatmeal brown ale. For the wine drinkers, Kohtz suggests a French roussanne or Austrian veltliner. Rhône reds, too.