Michigan Wine Tasting

April 13 2011 - 11:29 AM

I’ve been dying, somewhat irrationally, to have a Michigan wine tasting.  The Midwest, with its high summer temperatures and limestone soils, seems like an underrated place to grow wine.  As usual, places like Michigan have undeserved reputations, such as believing that only sweet wines are grown there, and part of the problem may in fact lie with the growers themselves, who like to sell wines with mass appeal (i.e., sweet) and often employ a lack of viticultural sophistication.  Talk to many Chicago-area wine “experts” and the mere mention of Midwestern wine receives sneers.

I decided to buck the trend, believing that the Midwest can make good wines.  The first wine I opened was a non-vintage L. Mawby blanc de blanc (mostly chardonnay) brut sparkling wine.  From the Leelanau Peninsula,the western peninsula that defines the Michigan shape, as well as that which contains Traverse City.

L. Mawby was a nice quaffer, perhaps a bit dear at $20.99 at Pastoral, but having nice pear aromas, some cream, a dry finish balanced by some sweetness, and decent minerality.   This is a nice spring sparkler that I would gladly drink again, though I do have a bit of an issue with the price, but at 12.5% alcohol and controlled carrera obstaculos hinchables sweetness I would have no problem serving it in the right setting.   It is robust, but in a good way, given the number of mass produced bubbly manufacturers that often lack character in what they serve.

The next wine, brought by my neighbors upstairs, was an interesting 2007 Cabernet Franc from Hickory Creek.   The color was a very light red, lighter than most Pinot Noirs and perhaps even Beaujolais, but it had nice acidity, and it paired well with the grilled food I served.  It had strong notes of raspberries and hints of cherries, and it was a food friendly wine that was not big at all, something about which I was quite surprised and delighted.   I would go out of my way to get this wine, as it was nothing that I would expect from Michigan.

The final wine was a Gewurtztraminer Shady Lane, from Dustus Cellar in Lansing for $18.00 per bottle.   I could swear I was drinking a Viognier from the northern Rhône, given the fragrant floral nose.   Somewhat off-dry–in fact, as dry and even drier than some Gewurtztraminers from Alsace, this wine had loads of character and strong acidity on the side palate, I was really surprised at what could be produced in Michigan.    The front palate, however, did not quite match up to the nose, unfortunately, and there was some gooseberry and some honeyed notes, but a lot of bitterness that made the wine off-balance.   Bitterness on the finish is a good thing with a gewurtztraminer, but it could maybe use a bit of help on the front palate.  It was good overall and Shady Lane shows potential to really make a great gewurtztraminer with a bit of finesse.

As drinkers become more aware of Michigan wines, hopefully demand will follow.  Hugh Johnson, an acclaimed British wine writer, had written in his 2011 guide, “Impressive Riesling and Gewurtztraminer, good Pinot Noir and Cab Franc are emerging.”    Michigan, in particular, has 112 wineries, in contrast to small numbers in Illinois (83), Wisconsin (41), and Indiana (40) , though many of these may not make wine from grapes.

Of all the wines I tried, only one was bought here in Chicago.  A quick search of Binny’s shows seven wines, mostly semi-sweet and under $7 wines that, frankly, I would be afraid to try.  As viticulture improves, I hope to see more wines from throughout the Midwest, and the excuses are starting to run thin–such as the fact that it’s too cold or the soil conditions are not right.   Places like Texas, New York State, Colorado, and even Missouri and Virginia are starting to receive accolades for their wines, and it may be a matter of time before the Midwest can start producing fine wine.  That is, as long as they don’t keep producing all this blush wine for tourists.

–Brian Ziegler