Michigan wine 2019: Another regional wine state that offers quality – and even value
One of Drink Local Wine’s great regrets was that we were never able to do Michigan wine. The state had some of the best regional wine in the country, and its efforts have only improved since then.
I know this because I was lucky enough to get Michigan wine samples last fall, and the quality was consistent and impressive. Wine is made throughout the state, but the best known region is along the northwestern Lake Michigan shore, centered around Traverse City. That means weather is a challenge every year, and cold, snow, and ice have wreaked havoc with any number of vintages. Riesling is its trademark grape, but some cold climate reds are also outstanding.
The following wines were the best I tasted – all were samples. Availability may be limited in other parts of the country.
• Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Resling 2017 ($14, 12%): One of regional wine’s biggest challenges is producing affordable products, but this long-time Michigan producer has done just that. It’s a little tight, but reflects Michigan’s style and terror — almost stone fruit instead of citrus; a crisp, steely finish; and an appealing and pleasing riesling softness. Highly recommended.
• Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir 2017 ($26, 13%): This red is a trifle pricey, but impeccably made and just as delicious. Again, a terroir-driven wine that is less fruity (tart cherry, perhaps?) and more noticeably spicy than a Beaujolais from France, which is also made with gamay. This vintage is sold out, but if the 2018 is anything close to the 2017, it’s a must buy.
• 2 Lads Cabernet Franc 2016 ($35, 13.5%): This is an intriguing approach to cabernet franc, a red grape that does well in many regional states and is best known as the red from the Loire in France. It doesn’t have the pencil lead that marks some Loire wines, and it’s not as fruity as a west coast label. Instead, it features blackberry fruit and baking spice, plus an almost zesty mouth feel. It’s well made and top quality, but the price is a problem.
• Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio 2016 ($27, 13.5%): Excellent example of what Michigan can do with a red blend. It’s brisk and spicy with well-developed berry fruit. There’s an appealingly lean structure, save for a bit of ashy heaviness on the back and a touch too much oak.
• Hawthorne Vineyards Rose 2016 ($12, 13.2%): A dry pink wine that is heavier than I prefer, but still well made and rose-like — dark raspberry and strawberry fruit. And, again, an affordable price.
• Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2016 ($19, 8.5%): This white dessert wine is just so close to being the kind that wins double gold medals and best in shows. It’s sweet – think honey and ripe peaches – balanced by an almost fresh orange juice acidity. That’s where it falls just a smidge short, since a little more acidity would balance the sweetness. But it’s still a delicious wine and well worth the price.
This week’s wine news: A regional wine roundup, featuring more deserved good news and one intriguing conundrum
• Bring on the regional wine: Jessica Dupuy, perhaps the top regional wine writer in the country, tells Sommelier’s Guild readers that “While California, Washington, and Oregon continue leading in both sales and overall familiarity, an exponential increase in wine production and vineyard plantings in New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and beyond has started to paint a more definitive picture of the future of American wine.” Her best bests for top regional wine? Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, and New York.
• Bring on Michigan wine: Paul Vigna, another top regional wine journalist, agrees about Michigan: “Now I’m a believer, having tried samples of everything from still wines to sparkling, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gewurztraminer.” This is no surprise to those of who have followed the state’s success, despite weather that doesn’t always cooperate and the state’s up and down economic climate.
• But not at Cooper’s Hawk: I met Tim McEnery about the same time we started Drink Local Wine; Tim had a restaurant in suburban Chicago called Cooper’s Hawk that made wine. But it wasn’t Illinois wine – it was made in Illinois using grapes from California. Tim’s business model was based on the assumption consumers didn’t especially care where the wine was from. Needless to say, we had a discussion or two about the idea. Today, as Mike Veseth notes in the Wine Economist, Cooper’s Hawk is the 34th biggest winery in the country (bigger than Hall of Fame regular McManis) with 30 locations in 30 states. Cooper’s Hawk has always been a conundrum for those of us who support regional wine, since there’s nothing particularly local about the product. What does its success say about the drink local movement, which has also had its share of successes?
? Even bigger than France: Those of us of a certain age will remember Algerian wine as really cheap and not very good ? sort of like Two-buck Chuck without any redeeming features. I once asked a French winemaker, who was working in Wisconsin, what that was like. His answer? Making wine in Algeria prepared him for anything. The point of this is a terrific piece by Beppi Crosariol in Toronto's Globe and Mail talking about the glory days of Algerian wine, when the French colony was the world's leading exporter.
? Another liquor law battle: This time in Michigan, which has one of the most restrictive three-tier systems in the country and was the defendant in the Supreme Court case that liberalized direct shipping. A bill has been introduced in the state ?s legislature, by a pro-business Republican, to allow increased retail sales and to lighten regulatory burdens on the state ?s winemakers. Needless to say, a spokesman for the state ?s distributors didn ?t miss a beat: ?There are proposals which threaten the licensed three-tier system which exists today as it relates to separation of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Those provisions are what help bring about an orderly marketplace. Who knew Michigan ?s small wineries were so powerful?
? Cheap Italian wine: Another winner from the Italian Wine Guy, discussing how many wonderfully pleasant and inexpensive Chiantis are available: ?Anyone who has waited at a bar for a table in any number of Italian-American places knows there is a lot of crappy overpriced Chianti being poured. Probably one of the reasons why folks think the wine has seen better days. But this tasting, done blind, was different. The wines seemed to have a sense of place. Yeah, they were humble and every-day friendly. But they weren ?t pretending to be something they weren ?t. ? What more can we ask of cheap wine?