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Swingin’ on a Tire

April is Michigan Wine Month, and I can’t think of a better way to start the celebration than with a dandy sparkling wine from up north. Michigan is probably best known for the fine Riesling produced here (although one observer has proposed that Pinot Blanc “could be the wine that provides Northern Michigan with an opportunity to create a global brand name”), but I was struck by the following thought as I prepared this blog entry: Michigan could very well make as much a name for its wine industry with sparkling wine as with Riesling. I wonder if Larry Mawby would agree with that?

Think about it; the finest sparkling wines in the world are made in the northern-most wine region in France, Champagne. It’s a cold climate where grapes can have a hard time ripening. Sound familiar? It seems like every time I turn around, I’m trying another delicious Michigan sparkler. Mawby has been spearheading the movement for three decades, but there are other producers making fine bubbly as well. A few that come to mind are Shady Lane Cellars’ Sparkling Riesling, Left Foot Charley’s Chapter Nine Sparkling Pinot Blanc and 2 Lads Sparkling Pinot Grigio. Now, add to that list the one that I tried just this Sunday, bigLITTLE Tire Swing. (Click image to enlarge.)
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White Rhône Rangers from Bonny Doon and Tablas Creek

We’ve always been upfront about the fact that we receive samples for review from various wineries and importers. These are almost always shipped to us from different parts of the country, and they always go straight down to rest after their journey for at least a week in the infamous “Cellar from Hell,” which is now actually much more tidy and organized than when it was given that dubious designation. We don’t do clinical tastings when we review wines, we like to evaluate them in natural settings, enjoying them with food and/or friends. There have been more than a few occasions when some of these samples end up spending as long as a few months down there, because we like to wait for the right occasion to pull the cork or twist that stelvin enclosure, but sooner or later, the deed gets done.

Such was the case last week when we enjoyed the following two wines. Both had been sitting patiently for several weeks, when I got it in my head that it might be interesting to open them with dinner and see how they sized up against each other. We’re very familiar with Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Blanc and Tablas Creek’s Esprit de Tablas Blanc; they’re two of the very finest white Rhône blends made in California, and we’ve had multiple vintages of each. It was a decidedly unscientific setting; the blends were somewhat similar, but from different vintages. We weren’t looking for one to show that much better than the other, it was more a case of just wanting to compare them and taste what both had to offer with some good food. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Mmm, Brut Rosé

Considering the fact that this is my 4th blog entry about sparkling wine in a little over a month, one might get the impression that I’m getting somewhat obsessive about my bubbles. I don’t know that it’s gotten quite that bad (yet), but, truth be told, I am almost to the point where I prefer sparklers to still wines, even when it comes to my beloved red Rhônes or Mr. Ridge. Not quite, but almost. I will say that I’m now actively and regularly seeking out new things to try and to share impressions of here in this blog. (Click image to enlarge.)

Case in point: Last week, while perusing the wine selection at our friendly neighborhood Costco, I lamented the fact the two Rotaris I’d been so taken with for several months are no longer available there. Then, I took note of the Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé that had been waiting patiently to catch my attention during the same period, and this time I bit.

Mirabelle is Schramsberg’s non-vintage label, and this was my first time trying one. My experience with this storied producer goes back to the late ‘70s, when I enjoyed a ’76 Blanc de Noir with friends (you can see the actual label on this page). I also loved the ’99 Blanc de Blancs Brut 5 County and ’03 Brut Rosé 4 County in 2006, but have had nothing from them since, so I was quite looking forward to finding out just what was in this particular bottle. It turned out to be very nice indeed…
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A Wacky Doon Sparkler and More

Back in the late ‘90s through about 2005, while Australian wines were still quite popular hereabouts, there was a curiosity making the rounds known as “sparkling Shiraz,” which, of course, was, and still is, Shiraz with bubbles. I tried a few back then; I sold some of the stuff as well, during my time in wine retail, and if they never really caught my fancy, I didn’t actually dislike them either. As stated above, they were more a curiosity than anything else. One example that still stands out in my memory is a 1990 Lindemanns Sparkling Shiraz, which we enjoyed at our very first Toledo gathering 15 years ago. This particular “spurgle,” as the Aussies call them, had spent a decade or so in the cellar and showed similar qualities to that of an aged still Shiraz or Syrah, with secondary meaty and leathery characteristics that were quite enjoyable. (Click images to enlarge.)

I hadn’t thought much at all about “spurgles” lately, until we received a new batch of wines for review from our friends at Bonny Doon Vineyard, and, lo and behold, there was a California Sparkling Syrah included in the shipper. Now, we’re used to Randall Grahm and company coming up with off-the-wall bottlings; constant readers will remember how much we loved their Sparkling Albariño, and we found their ¿Querry? Pear Apple Quince Cider quite to our liking as well, so I was more than a little intrigued to see what this little number was all about.

It’s my favorite Bonny Doon wine.- Randall Grahm

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Three Michigan Sparklers By Mawby

The time has finally come for this taster to right/write a great wrong. For some years now, I have referred to myself as a “bubblehead,” a term used to describe someone who so enjoys sparkling wines, they could literally drink them on a daily basis. I have also been, and continue to be a staunch supporter of the burgeoning Michigan wine industry, and yet, in all that time, only once have I reviewed anything from one of the finest sparkling wine producers in the U.S., the Leelanau Peninsula’s own L. Mawby Winery. (Click images to enlarge.)

The irony in all of this is that I’ve talked with Larry Mawby more than a few times over the last several years. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the wine industry. I’ve also enjoyed many of his wines, from both the L. Mawby and M. Lawrence labels. Still, I’ve only written about one of them, a delightful thing which goes by the name of “Detroit.” This protracted oversight ends now.

Mawby planted his first vines in 1973, before establishing vineyards at the current Elm Valley location in 1976. Today, the property is planted with about 20 acres of Pinot Noir, Vignoles, Pinot Gris, Regent, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Significant amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also purchased from other growers on the Leelanau Peninsula for the original L.Mawby line, which is made using the traditional Methode Champenoise. Larry himself has been making these since 1984.
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More Red Wings and Red Rhône Rangers From Tablas Creek

A few months ago, we received two late model reds from the fine folks at Tablas Creek Vineyards for review purposes, one each of the entry level and flagship bottlings. As is often the case here at Gang Central, we took our time getting to them, letting them rest for several weeks in the cellar from heck. Finally, I decided that we needed some good Red Wings & Red Rhône Ranger mojo, so we opened them both and enjoyed a few glasses of each with a good old hockey game; well, I did, anyway, Kim had other things to do, but she likes these wines every bit as much as I do. (Click image to enlarge.)

As previously reported, Tablas Creek’s Patelin de Tablas range of wines is comprised of grapes sourced mainly from the estate’s neighbors; Patelin is roughly translated from the French slang for “country neighborhood.” As you can see from the list below, some of the grapes are from Tablas clones, which is always a good thing in capable growers’ hands.
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A Right Tasty Mâcon-Villages

In October of 2013, I blogged about our current house Chardonnay, the 2011 Domaine de Roally Mâcon Vire-Clesse. I’m happy to report that it is still drinking beautifully and can still be found in the Detroit area; I’m even happier to report that over the last nine months, we’ve found another Chardonnay from the Mâcon that is almost as good, and costs $7 less. We first tried it last summer, at one of our favorite eateries, Café Muse, in Royal Oak. I liked it so well, that, A. I had it there with dinner on my birthday, which is telling, given their excellent wine list, and, B. I bought a case in November to have around to augment our stash of the Domaine de Roally. (Click image to enlarge.)

Christian Collovray and Jean-Luc Terrier have been friends since childhood and shared the same passion for wines. Their friendship was further strengthened when they married sisters Brigitte and Florence, whose father was a winemaker. In 1986, they established the Domaine des Deux Roches, based in the village of Davayé in the Mâconnais; Christian takes care of the vines while Jean-Luc manages the cellar and the commercial end of the business, and Brigitte and Florence both hold administrative positions. Christian’s son Julien Collovray joined the business in 2008. The Collovray & Terrier label was established in the early ‘90s, and now focuses specifically on bottlings from Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran and Macon-Villages, the latter being the one that has caught our attention as of late. The vines that produce the Chardonnay that goes into the Mâcon-Villages ‘Tradition’ are planted in the clay and limestone soils of Charnay, Davayé, and Pierreclos.
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Two Well-priced Loire Cabernet Francs

As a wine producing region, France’s Loire Valley flies under the radar of a lot of North American wine drinkers. I’m willing to bet that most would not recognize the names of any of the Loire appellations, with the possible exception of Sancerre, and many wouldn’t not know that region is located in the far eastern end of the 170 mile long river valley. While probably best known for the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc produced there, there’s a good deal of red wine coming out of the area as well. We’ve been drinking a lot of Loire Cabernet Franc lately, one coming from Bourgueil and the other from Chinon. Both wines offer exceptional value, and are deserving of greater recognition. (Click image to enlarge.)

I first heard about the wines of Bourgueil, approved as an AOC in 1937, about 6 or 7 years ago; the buzz at that time was that these well-priced reds were all the rage in Paris bistros. We tried a few at that time, but never really found one that caught our fancy until we happened upon this little gem at Ferndale’s Western Market, from a cooperative that was founded in 1931.
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A Cornerstone Quartet

We got together not too long ago with our partner in crime, Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan, to indulge in our favorite collective activity, that being eating and drinking great food and wine. We invaded Chez Kerr with four bottles sent to us for review from our friends at Cornerstone Cellars; we opened the two Cabs on the first night of our visit, and the Sauvignon and Bordeaux Blend on the second. We were joined by our old MoCool buddy Howie Hart and his friend Mary Jo Giambelluca on night one. Alan created a terrific dinner around a leg of lamb, which paired beautifully with the two Cabs. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Two Great QPR Sparklers From Rotari

Despite the fact that we both love fine wines of almost every kind, Kim and I have something of a disconnect when it comes to bubbly. I love them, while she can take them or leave them. Because of this, when a cork is pulled from a sparkler on any given occasion, she may have a glass, or opt for a still wine instead, so that the bubble-heads have more to enjoy. I mention this only because such was decidedly not the case with one of the two wines in this report.

I’m of the opinion that sparkling wine is not just for celebrations, but rather, they fit almost any occasion, much like most fine wines. I enjoy them at least twice a week, often more, and until very recently, my go to every day sparkler has been the Mionetto Prosecco, which I’ve been buying at our local Costco since 2009, for $9.99. It has remained remarkably consistent since then, and while I still enjoy it, I’ve found two selections from the Trentino producer Rotari that I like even more, and both are every bit as well-priced. (Click image to enlarge.)

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