There are a wide variety of responses I get when I tell people I’ve just returned from Lansing, Michigan where I was honored to judge that state’s wine competition, but all the “looks” boil down to: Wait, Michigan makes wine?
Well, yes, they do, and in many cases it’s very good wine. Maybe not great wine, but very good. It’s sort of like this: there is a dog who is able to talk. He has a bit of a problem with subject-verb agreement and syntax. And those grammatical issues get in the way of some people appreciating the base-fact that the dog can actually talk. That’s a very big deal and everything else about the situation pales in comparison.
That, in a weird way, explains Michigan wine. Some of the wine coming out of Michigan is quite decent and enjoyable. The mere fact that they are doing a pretty good job with the fruit is evidence of dedication and talent. The fact that it’s not of the caliber of other major world-recognized wine producing areas detracts from Michigan’s story, but just a little bit. However, with certain grape varietals, Michigan is right up there with some of the best.
Cabernet Franc is a grape that Michigan is vinifying with a lot of success. Delightful and fresh strawberry and cherry notes are all over the palate, and the bouquet brings some orchard style, like apples, into the mouth. This full and round, even lush, beverage leaves quite an impression and a lingering finish that does not just drop off.
Another big surprise was merlot. Varietally correct wines with this velvet-quality grape seems to be the order of the day. The “red” aspects of the wine comes over the top of a deeper black undertone. Superb structure.
While we are on surprises, might as well get the Riesling wines out of the way. Bit disappointing over the spectrum of what was offered. I really expected more of these wines to shine. Last time a few years ago when I was in Michigan judging a competition, that was exactly the case. Beautiful expressions of All the delightful qualities that define Riesling. This time, and maybe it was the conditions during the growing season, not so impressive.
While we are looking in a downward direction, I am not certain why some of the Michigan winemakers are insisting on dealing with Pinot Noir. This is not an easy grape to grow or to capture in the winery, even in the best of circumstances. All of those hard efforts put forth by some Michigan winemakers, in my opinion, would yield better results if spent with another grape.
Michigan does shine with sparkling wines. The soil compositions and the climate in certain areas lend themselves to creating sharp fruit, possessing plenty of acids, with definable characteristics. The sparkling wines of Michigan, done mainly in the Leelanau Peninsula, are a pleasure. The structure is reminiscent of all of the secondary parts of the US that do sparkling wines. None of the regions will ever be confused with Champagne, but no head-hanging is needed. Michigan’s wines with bubbles are terrific fun, refreshing, and stand on their own.
All of this is not to say that you will be able to obtain any Michigan wines here in New Orleans. The truth is that Michigan winemakers simply don’t make enough wine to supply wine lovers wherever they are. We may from time to time see a smattering or two of these wines but it won’t be on a regular basis.
Still, I thought you would enjoy knowing about another wine growing area that you may not have considered. Knowledge, even if only for its own sake, is a wonderful thing.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.