On the Road with Illinois Rosé

6.27 Massbach Ridge Sunrise with Nick and Rachel from Cristaudo’s


Cristaudo’s Café and Bakery is a Carbondale institution. Initially started in the 70’s, it was reopened about 7 years ago by Rachel Cristaudo (the founder’s daughter) and Nick Stewart at a new downtown Carbondale location with the intention of expanding well beyond the bakery concept. They’re now serving breakfast and lunch daily and hosting special events in the evenings. Nick and Rachel have been longtime friends and supporters of the Shawnee Hills wine industry, participating in regular sensory sessions with winemakers and catering Shawnee Hills Wine Trail events.

Rachel Cristaudo and Nick Stewart

Like most small business owners, they work practically around the clock to make this happen.  However, I was delighted to see that a college-town café in the summer can maintain such a devoted customer base. The place was packed on a Wednesday afternoon, which sends the message that there’s more to this place than just food. I asked them about it.  Nick replied, “There’s a strong community of artists, musicians, chefs, and winemakers in southern Illinois. We work hard to support each other. For example, we have a gift shop that promotes works by local artists, and we try to make sure we have an evening of music at least once a month. We got our liquor license last year, and now have some local wines on the menu.”


Peggy Harmston

massbach bottle

I thought it would be fun to give them something they hadn’t had before, I so brought a wine all the way down from Elizabeth, IL. Massbach Ridge Winery is the brainchild of Peggy Harmston, who was raised on a dairy farm, and returned to Illinois to open the winery in 2003. Her agricultural past speaks to her determination and work ethic, and Peggy now manages a sizeable estate vineyard in Jo Daviess County. She’s a past recipient of the IGGVA “Grape Grower of the Year” award, and it shows. Their site is gorgeous! They have eight acres of vines planted at high elevation in the middle of the rolling hills of NW Illinois. The site is several miles away from any town, so this is a great place to escape to!

I opened the bottle in the early afternoon, and began the tasting with Rachel and Nick.  The color is beautiful – “Sunrise” is the perfect name for this wine. sunriseIt has several different shades of pink, red, and orange that work together very well. The first sip revealed a surprising streak of acid.  This isn’t unusual on the first taste of the day, but this wine had something more to offer. The wine, on its own, cleared away the my mid-afternoon haze and prepared me for the task ahead.

Marechal Foch

Many of the grape varieties grown in northern Illinois are known for their high acidity. For a long time, this was seen by the industry as a negative. However, over the last decade it’s been shown that it can be managed effectively and make outstanding wines that are at their very best when paired with food.

Luckily, I’m in the right place. Earlier in our conversation, Nick, Rachel, and I were discussing the challenges of getting folks in the Midwest to open up a little more to the concept of a glass of wine with Breakfast or Lunch. This wine is begging for Brunch!

Rachel said “I’d love to see this wine with avocado. Those flavors and that acidity would really work well and cut through the oils and fats.” Nick agreed, and immediately disappeared into the back. He returned after a few moments with a plate of avocado and a few cheeses from a nearby creamery.  Easy Homemade Guacamole Recipe-2The avocado on its own almost worked, but you’d like the combination to finish with wine flavors, and the avocado on its own wouldn’t relinquish its grip on the palate.  My take was that if you added some salt, lemon juice, and garlic to the avocado, you’d have a winning pairing.  Guacamole it is!

Additionally, Nick started rattling off ideas for breakfast dishes.  “Anything with Hollandaise” would work perfectly, and the wine had enough fruit and floral notes, along with that strong acidity, to contrast beautifully.

Brunch is a great idea for great rosé pairing ideas: quiche, fruit salads, bacon and anything, eggs, Hollandaise sauce, tacos, salmon, shrimp, root veggies, and especially guac, would all work great.  Essentially, as long as you stay on the savory side of the menu, you should find something that will make a great pairing, and add something more to your experience than bloody mary’s or mimosas can (not to besmirch the pillars of brunch-time libations).

So, dear reader, your assignment is to start experimenting with Illinois rosé at your next brunch experience, and let me know how it works out! I hope it will open some eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

Thanks to Cristaudo’s, Massbach Ridge Winery, and our project sponsors:

ilda logo                    illinois-wine-logo

See you at brunch next time! Please subscribe here to receive notifications of future posts.!  Cheers!