Wolverine State Wines
Sampling Sips from the Vineyards of Michigan
Saturday, November 5, 2011
I married a woman who was born in Bordeaux, France, but raised in Detroit, Michigan, so my growing interest in seeking out fine wines from the Wolverine State — particularly during our occasional visits to that flat, green land of auto factories and endless subdivisions — should come as no surprise. On my most recent visit in early September, I tried a handful of wines from the Nino Salvaggio grocery store on Rochester Road in the city of Troy and am sharing my thoughts on each of them below.
Altogether, some of these and the other Michigan wines I’ve tried over the years are often more sweet than I can handle — I’ve actually given away or thrown out more of the state’s wine than I’d care to admit — but there have also been some gems made by winemakers who clearly understand their climate’s limitations and have worked hard to overcome their less-than-ideal status. I assume that, like other emerging regions, Michigan’s vintners will only improve with time, perhaps even finding grape varieties that appreciate freezing cold winters and hot, muggy summers.
I should also note that, of the wines I tasted below, none are strictly rieslings or gewurztraminers, the two white grapes that Michigan regularly gets praised for. I plan to venture into those varietals on my next visit.
Here are the wines I tried in early September, mostly while sitting in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Rochester Hills.
Chateau Grand Traverse Red Table Wine “Silhouette” 2008: Established in 1974 with one vineyard, the O’Keefe family’s chateau — located on the finger-like Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City — has grown to four vineyards that help these second-generation winemakers produce 18 varieties of wine.
This wine is a blend of pinot noir, gamay noir, cabernet franc, pinot meunier, and merlot, aged for 18 months on new oak, and listed as a 1 on the chateau’s 0 to 5 sweetness scale, with 5 being sweetest. It had a light pinot noir-like hue and not much aroma save for occasional hints of pepper, but it had great acidity to cut through the turkey lasagna we were eating that night and was “off-dry” enough to work well with vanilla bean cupcakes as well.
I’m not a fan of sweet red wines, unless they’re thicker like port, but this one was pleasant and not cloying at all. However, I quickly was reminded of the more sugary palate of an everyday Michigander when a local dinner companion took one sip and shouted, “Wow, wow, wow, wow — this is dry!”
$14.99, 13% alcohol, cgtwines.com
With the label questioning whether it was “foresight, folly, or both” as to the success of this white wine, it was at the very least a most original blend of three pinots: 50 percent pinot blanc, for “finesse;” 40 percent pinot gris, for “power;” and 10 percent pinot noir (just the juice, no skins apparently), for “bouquet and aging.” The result was interesting, with the white wine throwing off way more nose than the previous red and offering apple and pear flavors, or perhaps a barely ripe nectarine or other stone fruit.