Sunday, September 20, 2009

Report from ... The Taste Ontario – Lunch - September 17, 2009

Now, I could cover the entire Taste Ontario event with the best from all 42 wineries in attendance, but then I would have little left for my newsletter, so I think instead I’ll cover the launch lunch at Frank, located inside the Art Gallery of Ontario. Frank’s motto is “Art. Food. Talk.” And they are positioning themselves as a hub of Ontario food and wine. Their first test to prove they’ve got game in this department is with this Taste Ontario lunch.

Lunch Menu …

Roasted Buttercup Squash and Thunder Oak Gouda Soufflé, paired alongside three Rieslings, the best of which was the Cave Spring 2006 CSV Estate.
Potted Berkshire Pork Hocks and Trotters en Gelee, paired with a couple of Pinot Noirs, not surprisingly the Le Clos Jordanne 2006 Grand Clos shone in this category.
Duck Leg Confit, was then paired with two other region’s wines, one from the Lake Erie North Shore, the other from Prince Edward County – two very different wines – one a Cabernet Franc from the 2007 vintage, the other a Meritage from 2002. I leaned ever so slightly toward the Colio 2002 Signature Meritage, I just wanted that weightiness after the previous two light wines.
Dessert was a myriad of Chardonnays paired with Chardonnay grape tartlet and Chardonnay poached pears. Each table was different depending on which winemaker(s) were sitting with you; the wines poured at my table were from Lailey, Mike Weir and Pillitteri.

It’s interesting to note
... of the 5 wines from the Niagara region featured with lunch none were from Niagara-on-the-Lake. I am sure they could have spread the love around a little, I know that parts of NOTL make good Rieslings and wonderful Pinot Noir … if the organizers need help next year I am sure I could point them in the right direction.

Favourite quote of the day came from keynote speaker Thomas Bachelder, from Le Clos Jordanne, who had to broaden his talk to be about Ontario and not just his passion for Pinto Noir and Chardonnay. It was hinted that if he mentioned them he’d owe everyone at his table a beer. When talking about Ontario Chardonnay in general, with its great acidity and food friendliness Thomas thinks of one thing, “Where’s the salmon?”

As for the Taste Ontario wine tasting, it reinforce to me what many of us here in Ontario already know – we’re making some pretty fantastic wines right here at home.

Report from ... A tasting of the Wines of Catena (Laura & Ernesto) - September 14, 2009

It’s not often you go to a tasting of 11 wines and walk away with a favourable impression of 10 of them – and the only reason the 11th didn’t make the grade is that the packaging promised more than the wine delivered (meaning I just expected more from this wine because of it’s awesome label).

Let’s take a few seconds to discuss that. Sometimes you see a real unique, inspired label, you buy the wine, take it home, pop the cork and the product inside just doesn’t live up to the expectations you had for the wine. It’s not to say the wine is bad, off or poorly made; it just underwhelms with respect to the ‘wow’ packaging. Of course, sometimes the reverse is true, lackluster packaging can wow you with the wine inside. We all come to the table with our own prejudices and preconceived notions.

Today I came to a table full of Laura Catena and Ernesto Catena wines. Our host for this tasting, Celeste Pesce, Assistant Winemaker and Export Manager, told us that the two make completely different wines based and the styles run along their personality line. Laura is exact and precise, because of her medical background; while her brother Ernesto, is all about the free spirit, the creativity and the artistry. At first glance you can see these traits come out on their labels – Laura’s classic and clean, Ernesto’s creative with a touch of mystery and whimsy. Both are making exceptional wines.

And now without much further ado I’ll list my top six wines with notes – 4½ stars and above:

The three lines are Luca and La Posta, which are part of Laura’s portfolio, and Tikal, part of Ernesto’s … there was a 5-star wine within each but we’ll start with the ones that are bubbling under at 4½.
Four and a half star wines (4½) – Excellent …

Luca 2004 Nico Malbec ($145.00)
A handmade, low yield, barrel fermented Malbec with floral and spicy notes on the nose, black fruit, fine tannins and a lovely finish in the mouth.

La Posta 2008 Cocina Blend ($16.90)
60% Malbec, 20% Syrah and 20% Bonarda; lots of pepper and spice here. Juicy red and black fruits play on the palate along with hints of chocolate – this is an easy to drink crowd pleaser that shows complexity if you are willing to look for it. Otherwise drink and enjoy. Great price.

Tikal 2007 ‘Patriota’ ($29.95)
The make up is 60% Bonarda and 40% Malbec. Red fruit, vanilla and cinnamon on the nose, this wine has some real sweet fruit. Palate is smooth black fruit, vanilla, mocha, licorice and coffee … sweet and juicy.

Five star wines (5) – Outstanding …

Tikal 2006 ‘Jublio’ ($53.95)
Another blend, this time it’s split 50/50 between Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, aged 26 months in 100% French oak; only 500 cases produced of this limited edition wine. The nose is cedary, cinnamony, spicy, with lots of black fruit interwoven within. Palate is loaded with dark chocolate, dark berries, and chalky tannins – there’s also a steady seam of spice. Lovely.

La Posta 2008 Estella Armando Bonarda ($13.45)
This wine is an absolute steal; at under $14 for this single vineyard wine from 46 year old vines, you’d be a fool not to buy at least 6.. Those deep roots are picking up some real wonderful flavours. Smells of red berries, vanilla, white pepper and plum. In the mouth, it pops with juicy fruit, cherry, plum and vanilla. There’s a nice hit of acidity here that keeps this wine fresh on the palate and a chocolate-mocha finish to die for. One of the best value wines I have tasted.

Luca 2007 Laborde Double Select Syrah ($32.95)
As good as the last wine was this one was better, in fact for me it was the best wine of the tasting, and that is saying a lot. “Laborde” is Luis Laborde, owner of the vineyard that grows these over 50-year old vines that were originally sourced from the Rhone Valley in France and transplanted to Argentina’s Uco Valley. At 14.5% alcohol this wine is no shrinking violet, but I never smelt or tasted the alcohol, it was so well integrated into the wine. Smells are spicy, floral and maple double-smoked bacon … smells you could simply sit back and smell all day. That is until you get this nectar into your mouth, there’s where the wine explodes with flavour: floral, spice, smoky black fruit, white pepper, dusty tannins and a long finish that lingers forever. This wine was everything you want in a Syrah, lush, supple and fantastic. If ever a wine deserved the mythical 6th star, this would be one of them.

Report from ... Francois Lurton Tasting at Le Select Bistro - September 10, 2009

Francois Lurton came to town with some memorable quotes (bon mots) and some memorable wines (bon vins).

The Quotes …

On why Francois make 70 different wines from 5 different countries: “I like to produce them. I like the diversity, they all have a reason to exist, there is no marketing link, none of them are made to just fill some kind of marketing hole.”

About his 4-million bottle production of ‘Les Fumees Blanches’ (France – Sauvignon Blanc): “I want to prove that we can produce volume and quality.”

About his closure of choice: “If I could put all my wines under screwcap I would … they are a neutral solution, cork adds too much to the wine, good and bad.”

On why he is making wines all over the world: “I think you can produce very good, inexpensive wines all over the world. I think I have accomplished that goal.”

On the use of natural versus cultured yeast in the making of wine: “Never use natural yeast on a white wine; the best way to make a bad white is to use natural ferment.”

On Pinot Noir: “I love new world Pinot Noir, those are the kinds I drink.”

The Wines …

(France) – 2008 Les Hauts de Janeil (Syrah / Grenache) … a fresh, fruit driven wine, beautiful red fruit, supple and easy drinking, good spice and black pepper notes (****) – available November 2009 at the LCBO ($12.95).

(France) – 2006 Mas Janeil (Grenache / Syrah / Carignan) … sweet licorice and vanilla, elegant, spicy, peppery; beautiful on the palate, with just a touch of tannins (****½).

(France) – 2004 La Racaoufa du Chateau des Erles (Syrah / Grenache / Carignan) … black fruited and toasty, cinnamon and spice with graphite on the finish (****½).

(Spain) – 2007 Campo Alegre (Tinta de Toro) … a co-production with Michel Rolland. Average age of the vines is 50 years, and the complexity really shows. Big cherry fruit, cigar box and white pepper on the nose, lovely acidity with a touch of spice, vanilla, cinnamon and oak notes – look for the delicious mocha finish (****½).

(Portugal) – 2007 Quinta do Malho (Touriga Franca / Souzao / Tinta Amarela) … sweet spices and herbs start off the nose, deep sniffs produce blackberry, black cherry and chocolate; there’s juicy black fruit and chocolate on the palate, smooth, supple and very tasty (****½).

(Chile) – 2009 Vina Hacienda Araucano (Sauvignon Blanc) … grapefruit and melon rind aromas; melon, tropical fruit, citrus on the palate, nice hit of acidity on the tongue, good mouth feel, long finish (****).

(Chile) – 2008 Vina Hacienda Araucano (Pinot Noir) … earthy and smoky yet seemingly sweet on the palate, nice up-front fruit flavour (****½).

(Chile) – 2007 Clos de Lolol (Syrah / Cabernet Franc / Carmenere) … floral, black fruit and sweet cherries; this is a very red fruit driven wine with vanilla and red licorice backing it up, there’s also a nice chalky-mineraliness here (****).

(Argentina) – 2009 Bodega Lurton (Pinot Gris) … Lurton was the first to plant Pinot Gris in Argentina, and the funny part is it was accidental (the nursery sent the wrong vines), but now it is a very important varietal for them there. Delicious apple, apple blossom and wild flower honey on the nose; melon rind, citrus-orange on the palate with very good acidity (****½) – available at the LCBO, $10.95.

(Spain) – 2004 Campo Eliseo Gran Vino de Tinta de Toro (Tinta de Toro) … big blackberry and cassis, lots of fruit and spice with peppery notes and show ageworthyness with big tannins (****½).

Report from ... Chilean Preview Tasting - September 9, 2009

On the day the Beatles invaded the rock world, once again (with the re-release of their catalogue and Rock Band video game), I found myself in the basement of Crush Wine Bar tasting 45 Chilean wines. Today it was all about wines that were available at the LCBO, soon to be available or wines on consignment (purchable through the agent) … basically these are all wines you can get in some form or another at some point in the province of Ontario. We tasted the wines blind (not knowing who’s we were tasting), though we were given hints as to the category. Here were my top picks by category:

Flight A – Sauvignon Blanc and various (6 wines poured)
Vina Anakena 2009 Single Vineyard Viognier ($14.95)
- peachy, melony nose follows into the mouth… very pinot gris like … easy sipping and thoroughly enjoyable. (****½)

Vina Montes 2008 Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95 – Vintages #32060)
- lots of grapefruit and nice acidity. (****)

Flight B – Chardonnay or Chardonnay Blends (9 wines poured)
Vina Emiliana Organico 2007 Novas Winemaker’s Selection ($18.95 – Vintages March 2010)
- best wine of the day bar none. A blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Marsanne, this wine had the perfect balance of fruit to oak to acidity. Vanilla and butterscotch dominate the aromas on the nose which led to much the same on the palate with just enough fruit to bring it all home. Great yum-factor, and at 15% alcohol this is not a wine to be trifled with, but even with that much alcohol it is so well integrated you’ll never even notice it’s there. (*****)

Vina Sena 2008 Arboleda Chardonnay ($15.95 – Vintages)
- vanilla and almond nose leads to a palate that’s nutty with grapefruit rind tones, nice acid bite on the finish. (****)

Vina Cousino Macul 2008 Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay ($14.95 – Vintages February 2010)
- peach, apple and lime on the sniffer, good fruit on the palate with a lively peach finish. (****)

Flight C – Pinot Noir / Merlot / Syrah / Shiraz (6 wines poured)
Vina Errazuriz 2007 Max Reserva Shiraz ($17.95)
- pepper and spice lead the way here; bacony, smoked meat and juicy blackberries, nice fruit with hits of tannin and lovely fruit on the finish. (****)

Vina Veramonte 2008 Reserva Pinot Noir ($15.95 – Vintages September 12, 2009)
- nice cherry and raspberry nose, earthy-strawberry character in the mouth. (***½)

Flight D & E – Carmenere / Carmenere Blends (10 wines poured)
Vina Terra Andina 2007 Reserva Carmenere ($13.95 – Vintages)
- rich minty aromas with lovely red fruit, on the palate it’s juicy red fruit, mint and a nice smooth finish. (****½)

Vina Emiliana Organico 2007 Novas Limited Selection Carmenere / Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.95 – Vintages March 2010)
- black fruit and cocoa aromas, follow on the palate with nice firm tannins; needs a couple of years to settle down into smoothness. (****)

Flight F & G – Cabernet Sauvignon (14 wines poured)
Vina Cousino Macul 2007 Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.45)
- first bottle was corked, but the subsequent bottle exploded with juicy red and black fruit flavours; ultimately sippable and lovely, as long as it’s a good bottle. (****½)

Vina Sena 2007 Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95 – Vintages)
- minty, brambly blackberry and cassis, juicy palate loaded with blackberries, chocolate and tannins. (****½)

Vina Errazuriz 2007 Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95)
- nice fruit, mainly red, with chocolate-mint notes and blackberry tang. (****)

Vina Santa Carolina 2006 Reserva de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.95 – Vintages)
- juicy red fruit, with a touch of cocoa on the finish. (***½)

Vina Concha Y Toro 2007 Winemaker’s Lot 115 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.95 – Vintages)
- blackberry, toasted vanilla, cinnamon and herbs. (***)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 4 - June 16, 2009

Today was a very light day, two wineries left and 2 breweries, which I had learned about the night before at Stella’s from our “beer nut” waiter, Keith.

We lunched at North Peak Brewing Company, tried their amazing pull pork sandwich, which I had read about on their website, treated ourselves to an awesome Moomers based dessert and tried their 8 beer sampler – 5 everyday and 3 seasonal brews. My favourites were the Steelhead Red and the Mission Point. The Blonde and Belgian were also quite tasty; the blonde was light and refreshing, while the Belgian was caramelly and sweet. The Chocolate Porter tasted like coffee (which I am told is typical of chocolate beers).

The only winery worth mentioned is Peninsula Cellars, because the last winery, Black Star Farms, was just a retread of what you get back in Leelanau – though this Black Star is newer and more modern looking (I’m talking wine-wise). Peninsula Cellars is housed in an old 1896 school house and they use that theme throughout, including lines written on the blackboard a la Bart Simpson. Here I had my third encounter with a Michigan Pinot Blanc, the 2007, which was fruity and fun. But the standout wine here was the 2006 Dry Riesling – green apple, lime and other citrus flavours, which lead up to a long persistent finish with great acidity (****½), another great Michigan Riesling.

My final stop in Traverse City was at a place called the Right Brain Brewery, a project started by a hairdresser named Russ who “just loved beer”. With his salon out front and brew pub out back Russ is living his dream; at this place there is no such thing as ordinary when it comes to beer. A lifetime membership to the pub is $150, for that you get your own mug - which you can decorate any way you like, a hook to hang it on and a fill for the price of a pint. Russ says they brew what they like and the beer menu changes 2-3 times a week. In their 18 months of being in business they have brewed almost 100 different beers (all ales) – some they make again based on demand from clientele, or are just favourites of Russ and the brewmaster, but they like to experiment with the oddity brews and local flavours. While I was there the menu consisted of Scarborough (brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme); Big Boned Belgian Ale - coming in at 6.1% and having bubblegum like flavours and smells; Wicked Garden Wheat – with oven roasted beets in the brew; Empire Spear Beer – brewed with, you guessed it, grilled asparagus; and Chocolate Orange Cream Stout. My favourite turned out to be the Cagney IPA (brewed with red grapefruit peel). As you can see this is not your normal everyday brewery.

Final Thoughts:
I would have to say that I was quite impressed with what I found in Michigan wine country … Rieslings are king here, with Cabernet Franc being their red of choice – but the real surprise is Pinot Blanc: tasty, delicious and well-made; I was told only 4 wineries are making wine from this grape, but I found only three to try – still this is definitely a grape Michigan is doing well with and, with some winemaker passion, should continue into the future.

Leelanau is still playing with hybrids, while the Old Mission is focusing its attention on vinifera (Cabernets, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc). I found the quality to winery ratio leaned toward the Old Mission Peninsula, granted they only have 7 wineries to chose from, but only one was a total let down (I will not mention it’s name). If you have a weekend and decide to make the trip I would suggest starting with the Old Mission Peninsula and work your way back to try a few in Leelanau (see previous days reviews for the wineries I would recommend).

Thanks to Diane Stampfler and Promote Michigan for making the trip possible, and the folks at The Homestead, I’d stay there again in a heartbeat. (Read Day 1)

Wineries Visited (in order):
Peninsula Cellars, Black Star Farms – Old Mission Peninsula

Other Visits:
Right Brain Brewery and North Peak Brewing Company

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 3 - June 15, 2009

Day three saw us finish off the Leelanau Peninsula with a visit to Cherry Republic, a cherry winery and so much more. Here you’ll find everything cherry, from peanut butter infused with cherry to bbq sauce, wine, pop and hard cider. Traverse City is the heartland of cherries so this kind of village devoted to the red fruit makes perfect sense. As it turns out it was so easy to find though we made it twice as difficult. We pulled out from our local restaurant and started down the highway, the GPS dinged and told us to turn around and go back, we did, flew by the restaurant we just ate at and the GPS dinged again, we repeated out u-turn … as it turned out it was a mere half a block down the road from our restaurant, had we known we could have walked and saved ourselves the hassle.

At noon we decided to forego lunch for a special treat we had read about: Moomers Ice Cream – rated “America’s best scoop”; if you love ice cream this is your place. They make over 100 different flavours, 20 of which are served daily – you didn’t actually expect them to have 100 choices each day, you’d spend all your time reading and salivating instead of licking and leaving. I went for the flavour called Just Caramel, pretty self-explanatory really, while Erica, who loves peanut butter flavour in her cone, opted for Cow Tracks (vanilla ice cream with pieces of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and chocolate fudge swirl). We licked and slurped our way through the mammoth waffle cones while looking out into the field where the cows, who produced the milk, grazed. If you make your way to the Traverse City area you will notice that Moomers is all over the place, its served in many of the restaurants and we even found a small outlet in our hotel lobby (Grand Traverse Resort and Spa) – this place provided us with our second scoop of Moomers Ice Cream, which was just as good and tasty as the first … though this time the flavours we chose escape me.

We left the peace and quiet of Moomers in the country to find the illusive and often talked about Left Foot Charley’s. Bryan Ulbrich was out on the Old Mission Peninsula looking at the grapes, so assistant winemaker, Andrew Perry, took me for a walk about. This 6000 case winery, located in an industrial part of town, has no vineyards of its own, instead they have long term contracts with 12 vineyards, which they control and 25 growers – everything is about how they want the fruit grown. They are mainly a white wine house, producing 90% whites, mainly from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc. In fact, Left Foot Charley’s was my first encounter with Pinot Blanc in Michigan, but it wouldn’t be my last. Blanc seems to have taken a liking to Michigan soils and in turn Michigan winemakers have taken a liking to it, starting right here with Mr. Ulbrich at LFC. The 2008 Pinot Blanc is made from 12 year old vines, has pear and apple on the nose, with juicy pear, good acidity and nice fruit on the palate. At LFC they also makes 3 kinds of Riesling (a medium dry and 2 vineyard specific versions). Wines planned for the future include Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Dornfelder and Sauvignon Blanc.

We left Charley’s and drove up Old Mission Peninsula to the tippy top, or at least where the wineries begin, to a new modern facility with lots of steel and glass called 2 Lads, quite impressive, the ‘08 Rosé and the 2007 Cabernet Franc were highlights. Next up was Bower’s Harbor, who have a cute dog that resides in the bathroom on hot summer days, resting his head on the toilet bowl to keep cool. They also produce a Cabernet Franc (2005) that was of particular interest to me; it’s grown in Erica’s Vineyard (named that because it is where the owner proposed to his wife, Erica – my fiancée’s name just happens to also be Erica; so we bought a bottle. It has nice pepper, blackberry and black cherry notes on the nose; with black cherry fruit and a nice peppery finish (****).

Brys Estate was my second run-in with Pinot Blanc in Michigan and another winery making it in a delicious fruit forward style. Lots of citrus, peach and apple, on this 2008 Pinot Blanc, crisp acidity on the tongue with a touch of lime on the finish (****½). They also make a pretty stellar Gewurztraminer (2008 - ****½) as well as a good Reserve Pinot Noir (2007 - ****) and Pinot Grigio (2008 - ****) – though it’s more a Pinot Gris in style with lovely juicy fruit flavours.

Final stop, winery-wise, was Chateau Grand Traverse, where they are making anything and everything. One of the few wineries making Gamay in the area, they actually produce two; they also have a delicious 2008 Whole Cluster Riesling with grapefruit and apple notes (****½) and they even have a Botrytis Riesling; (it’s the only one I saw my whole trip), it was lip-smackingly good.
Dinner was at an old mental hospital (with all the wine we’d been drinking you’d think they’d want us to check in) … all kidding aside, the restaurant was located in a building that was once a mental hospital and is now part of a revitalization project for the city … the restaurant iscalled Trattoria Stella, which was very tricky to find, but so worth the search (piece of advise, take the phone number with you for when you get lost). They had a huge selection of local beers and wines; we opted for beer after such a long day of wine tasting. The server was a bit of a beer nut and he recommended many local brewers. We chose beers from Short’s Brewery (located in Bel Aire, Michigan). Erica went for the light and pleasant Pontius Road Pilsner, while I chose the Stella’s Ale (made specifically for the restaurant and sold only at the brewery and on tap at the Trattoria). The beer has citrus smells and an orange peel finish, refreshing on this hot summer’s day. Dinner was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. We had been enjoying such rich food of late that we had forgotten what joy the simplicity of pizza and pasta could bring. This was by far our favourite meal of the journey – as Erica pointed out “I like plain people food, it’s what makes me happiest.” I fully agree. (Read Day 4)

Wineries Visited (in order):
Cherry Republic, Left Foot Charley’s, 2 Lads, Chateau Chantal, Bowers Harbor, Brys Estate, Chateau Grand Traverse

Monday, September 14, 2009

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 2 - June 14, 2009

We traveled back to Glen Arbor for breakfast on the recommendation of Mari Chamberlain of Blu, who told us she has friends who come to town and when they do they always breakfast at … “the name of the place at the end of the street, it escapes me…” We found it (Art’s Tavern). It seems to be the place where the locals go, and if it’s good enough for the locals it’s definitely good enough for us … so good in fact we ate there the next day too. Then it was off for more wine adventures on the Leelanau Peninsula wine tour.

First place of note was Willow Vineyard, with its beautiful view of the lake and immaculate property; not surprising to learn the owner is a former landscaper. These guys had the best view from their front door of any Leelanau winery. They opened on Labour Day 1997 and were the 5th winery on the Peninsula. Over the years they have remained fairly small, producing only 1200-1500 cases a year. They grow and produce wines made from their own estate fruit which consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The wine of note here was their 2008 Baci Rosé: cherry, raspberry smells with good acidity and a dry finish (****).

We stopped in to see Dan Matthies at Chateau Fontaine, though neither he nor I knew we were going to hit it off so well. Nor did Dan know I was coming. Dan figured, after about 10 minutes, that I was not your usual winery visitor, with my notebook, constant spitting and dumps of the wines – most visitors spit nothing and will finish what’s in their glass (like it or not). Dan was a pleasure to talk to and so forthcoming about his wine and the region as a whole. His vineyard was established in 1989, the winery followed some 11 years later. He was the first to grow Syrah in the state (2000) and the first to try his hand at Cabernet Sauvignon on the Leelanau Peninsula (2003), it’s not a grape he would recommend to anyone who’s thinking of planting it here, “too hard to ripen”. He uses only his estate fruit for his wines – he has 27 acres on the property and owns another 33 acres “down the road”. His wines were easily some of the best and most consistent I tried on this side of the Peninsula. His 2008 Woodland White is made form 100% Auxerrois (a variety I rarely see anymore in Ontario) – peach, melon, cantaloupe and honeydew smells, subtle touch of acidity, with peach and melon in the mouth – outstanding (*****). His 2006 Woodland Red was also very good, but the soon to be released 2007 was even better. A blend of Syrah (8%), Merlot (12%), and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc (40% each), soft yet firm with great red fruit and a persistent finish (****½). Finally, his specially made, secret process, Cherry Wine, at only 8-bucks a bottle, really captured cherries in a glass, it even managed to keep the tart aspect of the fruit and offered such a beautiful long black cherry finish, and you’d swear it had chocolate on the aftertaste (****½). I bid adieu to Dan, having spent a good hour in his company and sure I could have spent more.

A stop at Bel Lago Winery showcased what I thought was Leelanau’s best Gewurztraminer, Bel Lago’s 2007 edition was just what the G-Doctor ordered – tangerine, spice and a touch of rosy on the nose; a little floral, spice and good lychee fruit on the palate (****½).

Final stop of the day was at Longview Winery, where we tasted a crisp, dry Riesling with pear and melon on the nose and honeydew and peach on the palate. This one rivaled Black Star for best Riesling in Leelanau (****½).

Before dinner I had my tour of the Homestead resort:

The Pool ...

The Beach ...

The Spa ...

The Perfect Surroundings ...

Dinner was at the authentic Italian restaurant (nestled in the woods) called Nonna’s on the Homestead property, run by chef John Piombo – a lively, gregarious fellow who loves food and wine – we spoke about both for easily 30 minutes straight with no diversion or side trips of any kind, not even a weather conversation, unless it pertained to the grapes … I am pretty sure we bored the other guests at the table. There was no doubt in my mind why he chose his current profession – he loves his job. Good food, great desserts (can you tell I love my sweets). (Read Day 3)

Wineries Visited (in order):

Good Harbor Winery, Shady Lane Cellars, Willow Vineyard, Chateau de Leelanau, Boskydel Vineyard, Chateau Fontaine, Bel Lago Winery, Longview Winery

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 1 - June 13, 2009

I received an email, oh, it’s gotta be about six months ago now, that said, “Michigan now has 64 wineries” … Michigan has wineries? That seemed to be the question on everybody’s lips when I told them I was headed there to check it out.

So why the sudden urge to check out Michigan wineries? Well, my fiancée hails from the state of the Spartans (and the Wolverines) so we did a stay-cation – well, a stay-cation for her, me, I’ll go anywhere they’re pouring wine.

We left just after noon on the Friday (June12) to avoid the summer traffic going north (think Ontario cottage country) and to stave off that would-be sleepy feeling we would undoubtedly get if we were to stick with the original plan of waking up at 4 in the morning on Saturday. Traverse City is about a 4-hour drive from Detroit. We arrived around dinnertime and ate at one of the first places we saw that looked decent; we ended up at a family restaurant called “Shelde’s”. The place had a warm friendly atmosphere and good food. While there we checked out their breakfast menu, seemed like a good place to come on Saturday morning too. After dinner we checked ourselves into the Traverse City HoJo’s for a good night’s sleep. (The nice part about being a day early is that we got a chance to rest and relax before the hectic schedule of the next 4 days began; I actually got to read a book that was not about wine).

Saturday morning we were up-and-at-‘em, breakfasted at Schelde’s, then it was off to see the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula, which is to the west of West Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan; to put this into perspective, they call this region “Northwest Michigan”.

First stop was Black Star Farms, a winery that also has another outlet on the Old Mission Peninsula (we’d be doing that part in a couple of days). Black Star was established in 1999 is quite the impressive piece of property and has quite the array of wines, from dry to sweet, reds to whites and most everything in between – including grappa. They produce 17,000-20,000 cases a year. Lucky for us we bumped into the right person this morning, tasting room manager Christopher Lopez, who ran us through the gamut of their wines. Highlights here included the racy 2008 Arcturos Dry Riesling and the well balanced 2008 Late Harvest Riesling, both garnered a four-and-a-half (4.5) star rating in my notebook. We bought a couple of the Dry Rieslings to take home, it should be quite a treat on a hot day – and will age quite nicely. There were also two reds that were quite tasty: the Cabernet Franc and Merlot/Franc blend, both from the 2007 vintage. Chris told us about the Leorie Vineyard, where the reds for the blend come from, this is their best vineyard – it’s a natural amphitheatre visible only from the lake on the Old Mission Peninsula side … neither one of us had a boat so we had to forego seeing it. As mentioned, Black Star also makes a line-up of grappas. I learned that Erica had never tried grappa before, so Chris poured us each a shot … I now know my fiancée does not like grappa (even when it is flavoured), and the truth is neither do I, I have never developed the taste for it.

We made a stop at a brand new winery called Circa, which came highly recommended to us. They are housed in a 10,000 square foot building, of which only ¼ is above ground, they use geothermal heating and cooling (heat comes from the fermenting, while the sod roof keeps them cool year round). They opened January 1, 2009. The wines we tried were good but not spectacular; though just before leaving, owner David Bell snapped his fingers and said, “Would you like to try something not yet released?” It just so happened he had a sample bottle of the soon to be released 2007 Cabernet Franc – now that was truly impressive. Too bad we won’t be around when it is released, it really was a delicious wine with beautiful red fruit and cherry tobacco on the nose and lots of complexity in both fruit, spice and barrel notes in the mouth.

We swung by a place called Gill’s Pier, where we heard about a winemaker name Bryan Ulbrich and his Left Foot Charley project (Bryan makes wines for Gill’s Pier), he has developed a reputation in the area as quite the winemaker, especially his whites. This was not the first time we would hear of Bryan, nor would it be the last. I wondered if Bryan has heard about me?

In the mood for some bubbly we found ourselves at L. Mawby, a sparkling wine house. They make at least 11 different kinds of bubbly, with names like ‘Wet’, ‘Sex’, ‘Fizz’ and ‘Sandpiper’; they also have more traditionally named bubbles, like Cremant, Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir their ‘methode champagnoise’ line. The Blanc de Blanc is made with Chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Gris, and it is absolutely delicious (****½), but then again so is the simple and tasty ‘Wet’ with its touch of sweetness and a bit of brioche, another 4½ star treat. Finally, the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend called ‘Sex’ was a joke name that stuck, and truly proves that sex does sell. This place was totally worth the visit, it was not the kind of uppity place you’d expect a sparkling house to be, loud music, dancing wine jockeys behind the bar, bells ringing when tips were thrown into the bucket on the counter, and of course, bubbly everywhere. It was a true highlight of the day, and a real party atmosphere, had we not be on a tight schedule it would have been the place to put up our heels and enjoy the sunshine with a little nibbly on the patio.

We ended our day by checking into our accommodations, The Homestead Resort, courtesy of Promote Michigan, all I can say here is ‘wow’, what a beautiful piece of property. It seems like they are miles from nowhere and yet have all the amenities you could ever want, including their own self contained village in the heart of the woods. The views across the lake were breathtaking and pools, beaches and spas for all. I got a full tour on Day 2.

Dinner tonight was at a place called Blu in Glen Arbor, (20 minutes down the road) where chef Randy Chamberlain has made quite a name for himself, and no wonder, the food was incredible and the view from the restaurant, which overlooked the lake, was spectacular, nothing beats a seafood dinner, while one looks out over the water, makes you hunger for more – must be the lake breeze and clean air. Erica and I took advantage of the chef’s tasting menu, where he picks dinner for you; we also paired our meal with local wine, including L. Mawby sparkling and here we also had our first taste of a Left Foot Charley’s creation, a white called Murmur.

Dinner menu … we shared:

Amuse Bouche: Pastry, crème fraiche, white fish caviar, chive oil

Appetizer (left)
: Fresh Bay Scallops in beurre blanc served in a fish shaped puff pastry.
Appetizer (right): Tuna Tar Tar with chili oil, mint, key lime, pickled red onion and vanilla-wasabi crème fraiche

Salad (left)
: Local Baby Spinach, wild blueberry vinaigrette, fresh strawberries and toasted pepitas
Salad (right): Zenner Farms Romaine Salad, creamy Champagne vinaigrette, pear-ginger Stilton cheese, pecans

Entrée (left): Lupe de Mar (Wolf Fish), roasted fillet with plum tomatoes, torn basil, roasted salsify and crisp prosciutto
Entrée (right): Hawaiian Ono, grilled medallions, sautéed scallops, fine herb butter sauce

Dessert was, well … oh so tasty: Lemon Tart and Opera Cake

We went home happy and very full. (Read Day 2)

Wineries we Visited (in order):
Black Star Farms, Forty-Nine North, Circa, Gill’s Pier, Leelanau Cellars, Silver Leaf Vineyard, Rafstol Vineyards, L. Mawby, Ciccone Vineyard (yes, that Ciccone, Madonna fans).

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