February is here, and the countdown to amore is on—but we all know planning for Valentine’s Day can bring stress that’s anything but romance-inducing. Lucky for us, the St. Croix River area is blossoming with high-quality wineries, all within an easy drive. We spoke with three whose tasting rooms and bevy of events and food offerings have made them go-to romantic destinations year-round—and also local experts on all things wine. They share their favorite varieties—listed in the order in which they are intended to be consumed—for elevating a romantic night in.
St. Croix Vineyards // Stillwater
Sales director Ken Amdahl has a specific definition of keeping things local at St. Croix Vineyards: “Almost all of the wines are made with grapes developed by the University of Minnesota,” he says. “The grapes are developed to grow in a colder climate such as ours and are largely responsible for the growing vineyard and winery industry in Minnesota.” Cold hardiness aside, they’re also delicious—and any of these suggestions of Amdahl’s would make for a nice flight anywhere. They’re open again for the season midmonth, offering two Valentine’s Day tastings and a small bottle of Raspberry Infusion for $20.
This wine has floral aromas, which are followed by rich tangerine and apricot. La Crescent will pair with most foods, but does especially well with traditional white wine pairings, like seafood. Because of its slight sweetness, it will even pair with Chinese food and salty snacks. $16.95
This wine has a vibrant, deep coral color with enticing aromas of lingonberry, pomegranate and raspberry followed by a crisp acidity and a hint of sweetness. Marquette Rosé will do well with hors d’oeuvres, pasta with white sauce or seafood. $16.95
This is a complex wine combining aromas of spice, cherry and blackberry—with subtle hints of vanilla and smoke from aging in oak barrels. Marquette will pair with hearty pastas (think spaghetti or ravioli), hearty meat dishes and stuffed or grilled portabella mushrooms. $22.95
This is a decadent dessert experience capturing the essence of fresh raspberries so well one can't even call it just a wine. Raspberry Infusion pairs with chocolate: tortes, brownies, mousse or even a hunk of good, dark chocolate will do the trick. Hint: “Also, cheesecake and ice cream,” Amdahl says. $25.95
Chateau St. Croix Winery // St. Croix Falls, Wis.
Perched on a gorgeous hill, Chateau St. Croix offers great wines and ambience aplenty, with cheese and wine platters allowing visitors to linger. This is the first year Chateau St. Croix, owned by Kay Shimek, has stayed open year-round, and there’s a whole lineup of events on the calendar for every holiday and occasion. Valentine’s weekend, for instance, is planned for February 10–11 and will include live music and a bonus pour of port and chocolate pairings added on to each wine tasting. Whether you’re headed up Highway 87 to enjoy a flight at the tasting room or are stocking up on bottles to bring home, general manager and winemaker Matthew Scott suggests the following can’t-miss sips.
This La Crescent–based white blend opens with citrus and sweet honey aromas, evolving into layers of tangerine and apricot on the palate. It’s a refreshing and versatile wine, great on its own or with a meal of poultry or seafood. $17.95
This Frontenac gris is a medium-bodied white with a beautiful golden color. It’s on the sweeter side, opening with citrus and spice aromas and evolving into layers of grapefruit and pear. $17.95
Wild River Rosé
This Frontenac has a wonderful ruby color, and exhibits tastes of cherry, strawberry and citrus. $16.95
A robust, medium-bodied wine, Thoroughbred Red has a deep burgundy color and is made from locally grown Marquette and Frontenac grapes. This wine exhibits hints of berries and vanilla with a complex finish. $19.95
Alexis Bailly Vineyard // Hastings, Minn.
Family-owned Alexis Bailly Vineyard—with its sweeping views and gorgeous outdoor spaces—has run a tasting room since 1978, long before the hipsters were doing it. Owner Nan Bailly does so while cheekily proclaiming its location in a tough climate, “Where the grapes can suffer,” she says. The vineyard closes for the winter, but never fear: Its award-winning wines are available in stores and restaurants across the Twin Cities. Bailly shares her favorite pairings from recent events at the vineyard, though she’s partial to one. “Our Golden Gris with Marieke Foenegreek. It’s fantastic,” she says. (Plus, the tasting room opens again March 30).
Fruity, soft and slightly off dry, this is a wine that’s easy to drink young. Bailly often pairs it with a gouda from Eichten’s. “The longer the aging period, the stronger the flavor, the better the wine pairing,” Bailly says. $14.99
It’s the coup de gris, a richer, full-bodied white with La Crescent and Frontenac gris grapes. Somewhere between a German auslese and a sherry, it’ll stand up well to ham, olives, nuts or—as Bailly would prefer—Foenegreek gouda. $24.99
This lighter-bodied red incorporates several grape varieties, blending attributes to achieve a great balance of flavors. Aged in oak, it does well with sheep’s-milk cheese, like Shepherd’s Way Farms Friesago. $14.99
Chocolate Reserve Port
This dessert wine is port done up with a touch of chocolate essence. It’s sexy and delicious in all the best ways, and at 19 percent ABV, it’s best left for the end of the night. $19.99