Monday, October 5, 2020

Michigan Wines Continue To Surprise With Quality Offerings

Are you wine-curious? Check out the exciting wines coming from Michigan.

That wines from Michigan continue to land top awards is surprising to many. In a domestic wine scene dominated by the Big Three of California, Oregon and Washington, Michigan isn’t top of mind when fine wine is discussed. As the quality and recognition continues to ascend, that will change.

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We’ve been tasting and enjoying wines from Michigan for decades. We spent more than 20 years in the Toledo, Ohio, area and enjoyed short drives into Michigan to take in the scenery and visit wineries. That drive is a lot longer now that we’ve relocated to the Raleigh area. We were, however, able to savor the greatness of Michigan wine during a recent webinar hosted by the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association that featured the Michigan Wine Collaborative.

Yes, There Is Life Beyond California

Michigan is the fourth largest grape-growing state in the country and its wineries attract more than 800,000 visitors annually (in non-pandemic years, that is!). While you can find delicious fruit wines and great bottles using hybrid grapes, 70% of grapes grown are Vitus Vinifera, these are the noble, well-known international varieties.

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Top Michigan grapes are Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. How does a state with temperatures that can freeze your toes manage to grow grapes for fine wine? Most of the vineyards are within 25 miles of a Great Lake, most notably Lake Michigan. On a smaller scale, the lake provides to Michigan what the Pacific Ocean does for California. The large body of water moderates the temperature – keeping it warmer during the cold winter months. Michigan’s wine region is between the 42nd and 48th parallel, sharing the zone with other great wine regions around the world like Burgundy and Willamette Valley.

St. Julian Braganini Reserve Riesling

Riesling To The Rescue

Wow. All these facts and figures can make a person thirsty.

We sampled a Michigan red and white in order to see what the excitement is all about. The wineries covered the spectrum, from St. Julian Winery, the oldest in the state, to Rove Estate, a relatively new winery in the Traverse City area.

St. Julian has been run by the same family for four generations and has been producing wines for almost 100 years. Their line encompasses spirits, cider, and wine that ranges from budget-friendly quaffers to reserve wines to please the aficionado. We opened the 2019 Braganini Reserve Mountain Road Vineyard Riesling with a meal of grilled teriyaki shrimp.

I love bone-dry Riesling, but have come to appreciate off-dry Riesling since it allows a fuller spectrum of flavors. The St. Julian Riesling has notes of peach and green apple with a puff of sweetness. The sweetness is balanced by crisp acidity. This is a single-vineyard wine.

The ABV is 12%, nice and low, which means food-friendly. The residual sugar is 0.5% – just enough to provide a round, balanced flavor. St. Julian has wines that will delight any taste, but we’ve always focused on the Braganini Reserve range. We also hope to sample the BLK line at some point in the future.

Grace And Beauty From A Michigan Pinot Noir

I must admit I missed this trend completely. I never really thought of Michigan as a producer of top-notch Pinot Noir. The next bottle caused me to do some recalibration.

Rove Estate Pinot NoirRove Estate is located on Leelanau Peninsula, up in one of the most beautiful areas of Michigan Traverse City. You can combine hiking, off-road adventures, jet skiing, and a climb up Sleeping Bear Dune with a visit to the Rove tasting room.

Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher established Rove Estate to preserve their family’s farming legacy. The Gallagher farm has been part of Traverse City history for nearly 130 years. The highest point in Leelanau County at 1,165 feet, the site has slopes with southern exposure and perfect conditions for premium estate-grown grapes.

We opened the Rove 2018 Pinot Noir, Leelanau Peninsula, to go with some scrumptious pork chops that I grilled to perfection. The wine gets 18 months of aging in French oak, that lends complexity you might not expect. There are flavors of candied cherries, vanilla and herbal notes.

It simply is the best Michigan Pinot Noir we’ve tasted and surpasses the lower-tier California Pinot by a mile. We were delighted with this wine.

Don’t be fenced in. We encourage you to explore beyond your wine boundaries by opening a bottle of Michigan wine. If you can’t find any at your local wine shop, it is readily available online.

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