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Choosing a wine of the year, is not just about finding a great wine but about finding a wine with a story to tell. Saad Mandwee says he has found it with the 2008 Tsantali Family Rapsani “Grande Reserve,” the 2014 Tiffany’s Wine & Spirit Shoppe Wine of the Year.
KALAMAZOO, MI — Choosing a wine of the year, is not just about finding a great wine but about finding a wine with a story to tell.
Saad Mandwee says he has found it with the 2008 Tsantali Family Rapsani “Grande Reserve,” the 2014 Tiffany’s Wine & Spirit Shoppe Wine of the Year.
The Greek red comes from the vineyards of Rapsani, which are located on the slopes of Mount Olympus. It is made with traditional Greek wine making techniques from three Greek grapes: Xinomavro which imparts its deep red color and tannin to help the wine withstand long-term aging; Krassato which balances the acidity and adds to the mid-palate; and Stavroto which contributes towards the character and body of the wine.
Mandwee, co-owner of Tiffany’s Wine & Spirit Shoppe, 1714 W. Main St., traveled to Greece to visit the vineyard.
“It is always my task to look for something people have not researched, an area or a type of wine,” Mandwee said. “It’s not just a wine. It’s the culture, the food, the climate, tourism. It’s about where that place is. The whole thing goes beyond the wine itself,” which he says is a versatile and well-balanced combination of “fruit, tannin and acidity.”
“It’s not an in-your-face brightness,” Mandwee said. “It can go with anything from grilled foods to fish and seafood. It’s very full-bodied. As soon as you open it you really get soft tannin. It’s really delightful.”
Mandwee selected the Tsantali Rapsani from about seven finalists, three of which he said were Bordeaux and “a Bordeaux is a Bordeaux.”
He was drawn to the idea of featuring a Greek wine this year because people come in and say, “I never even think of Greek wine,” he said.
But Greece has been home to winemaking for more than 6,000 years. Patriarch Evangelos Tsantalis was instrumental in elevating the quality of Greek wines with his robust infrastructure investments starting back in 1940, Mandwee said. His passion for indigenous varietals breathed new life into some of the most historic terroirs and vineyards of Greece.
Mandwee said he compared the win to the wines of burgundy, but the family corrected him.
“They said most of the wine that went to Italy and France and Spain caome from us. Now you tell us that you want to compare our wine to grapes that France took from us,” he said.
The 2008 Tsantali Family Rapsani “Grande Reserve” sells for $22 a bottle at Tiffany’s.
“If you want a sweet sparkling wine, look for the words demi sec,” Mawby said. That would be a sweeter style. Brut is the drier style. There’s a lot of nuances but at least that gets you to the starting point.”
Red or white? Brut or demi-sec? When it comes to selecting a sparkling wine for your holiday gathering, it can be daunting. We asked several Michigan wine experts for their guidelines on buying Michigan-made sparkling wines.
Michigan sparkling wines run the gamut from bone dry to super sweet and pair well with food, especially salty food, said Cortney Casey, a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website that promotes the Michigan wine industry.
“A lot of people only turn to bubbly on holidays and other special occasions, but I’m a firm believer that sparkling wine is suitable for any day of the week,” Casey said. “It’s not unusual for me to pop open a sparkler on a random Tuesday night. I feel like sparkling wine is a fail-proof mood lifter.”
One cannot discuss Michigan sparkling wines without talking to Larry Mawby, owner and winemaker at L. Mawby Winery in Suttons Bay, who is considered the authority on Michigan sparkling wine, according to many industry experts.
“If you want a sweet sparkling wine, look for the words demi sec,” Mawby said. “That would be a sweeter style. Brut is the drier style. There’s a lot of nuances but at least that gets you to the starting point.”
Mawby has been growing grapes and making wine for 40 years. About 15 years ago he decided to make only sparkling wines. He uses grapes grown in the Leelenau Peninsula, along with grapes grown in the Benton Harbor area in Southwest Michigan and grapes grown in northern California.
Mawby makes two types of fermented wines, those fermented in a tank and those fermented in the bottle, which he sells at a higher price point because of the labor and time involved.
Mawby said Michigan wine differs from wine produced in other locations because of the soil and climate, along with the blends of grapes used. Michigan sparkling wine is not the same as champagne, because only wine produced in Champagne, France, can be called so, Casey said.
Traditional sparkling wine grapes in Champagne, France, include Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, but Michigan wineries also use other varieties, including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Riesling. What makes sparkling wine different is a second fermentation process.
Karel Bush, promotions specialist for the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, said the majority of Michigan sparkling wines are white wines, while a few unique sparkling wines are made from red grapes and have a completely different flavor than traditional white sparkling wine.
One of those is L. Mawby’s Redd, a “brut,” or dry sparkling red wine.
“I really do think the success that we have with our sparkling wines is not so much attributable to me but to the fact that this is a very good area for grapes and making sparkling wine,” Mawby said. “We’re doing the right thing in the right place and we try not to screw up.”
Mawby recommends two of his brand’s sparkling wines for people wanting to add bubbly to their holiday parties. For someone looking in the $15 range, he recommends Sex, a brut rose available at specialty wine shops and big box stores like Meijer. It’s sold under his M. Lawrence brand.
“It’s not the driest of the dry,” Mawby said. “Obviously it’s a fun name, and the only sex you can legally pay for in the state.”
For someone looking for a higher end sparkler, Mawby recommends his brand Blanc de Blancs, a white wine made from chardonnay grapes. It’s his biggest seller and it runs about $23 a bottle.
“It’s drier, crisper, tarter than Sex. … It’s significantly more expensive but it compares favorably with $40 champagnes,” Mawby said.
Casey recommends several of L. Mawby’s sparklers, along with other Michigan-made sparkling wines, including 2 Lads’ Sparkling Pinot Grigio, Chateau Chantal’s Celebrate, Left Food Charley’s Sparkling Pinot Blanc, Black Star Farms’ Bedazzled and Tabor Hill’s Tabor Mark.
Bush said sparkling fruit wines, including Sparkling Cherry, a sparkling wine made with Michigan cherries from Chateau Chantal, are especially fun for New Year’s Eve.
She also recommends Frazzle Frizzante Rose by J. Trees Cellars in Tecumseh, and Fenn Valley Vineyards’ Sparkling Demi-Sec, both wines that would please many palates in the range of $12 to $20 per bottle.
Bush said Christmas dinner can benefit from a sparkling wine, even if it’s not something you usually buy for the dinner table.
“If you want to have wine with dinner and you just don’t know what type of wine to have with it, a sparkling will always compliment your food,” Bush said. “A drier sparkling can always be paired with just about anything.”
Michigan wines tend to run sweet, and that includes sparkling wines, said Annie Burch, wine manager at Bacchus Wine and Spirits in Kalamazoo.
“Probably the sparkling wines that I’m most excited about in Michigan are from Mawby,” Burch said. “The only kind of wines they produce are sparkling wines. They use Michigan grapes and they do an excellent job.”
Burch recommends L. Mawby’s The Talismon, a drier, full-bodied wine with a toasty flavor. Burch said it’s one of Michigan’s best selling sparkling wines. She also recommends L. Mawby’s Sex, a brute rose.
“It’s not super full-bodies but it’s a little bit fuller,” Burch said. “It’s pink in color and it’s drier and it’s got a medium body. It’s one of my favorites.”
St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw produces four sparkling wines, from the Braganini Blanc de Blanc on the dry side, to the Passionate Peach Spumante on the sweet side. One of the winery’s notable sparkling wines is Sweet Nancie, a Sparkling Traminette with peach, pineapple and lemon zest flavors named after head winemaker, Nancie Oxley.
Oxley said Dave Braganini, St. Julian president and owner, wanted to honor her as the first female commercial winemaker in Michigan. Oxley said she resisted, but eventually decided to make a wine the reminded her of the Asti Spumante her parents drank on the holidays.
“To pay homage to my family, Sparkling Traminette seemed perfect, and we didn’t have a wine like it in the St. Julian portfolio,” Oxley said. She said it appeals to a wide variety of palates and is great by itself or in a mimosa.
Burch recommends anyone buying sparkling wine for the holidays to go in to a specialty wine shop knowing whether the individual and his or her guests prefer sweeter or drier wines.
“There are a lot of options out there and there are definitely Michigan sparklings out there for everyone,” Burch said.
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