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TBIFOM #09: Fizzy Bizness

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of somewhat regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate’s resident wine guy, Ian.) Fizzy Bizness I enjoy bubbly wines on occasion. That's the key word, "occasion". It's usually a wedding or a New Years Eve before I'll consider popping and pouring one. It's required if a good friend offers pricy caviar, but sadly that has only happened ONCE. So, on a whim, I decided to dip back into Michigan wines because we have a really good producer here. L. Mawby is recognized as one of the more skilled bubbly makers in the U.S. They focus ONLY on sparkling wines, fermented both methode champenoise (in the bottle) and cuve close (in the tank). The less expensive cuve close wines are marketed under the "M. Lawrence" name. Currently they produce 14 different wines, packed into only 8,000 cases a year. That speaks volumes about craftsmanship and dedication. Their Cremant Classic is definitely in a French style (think crisp Alsace), although made with 100% Vignoles grapes (no Pinots or Chards). And it's delicious. A note about notes: My method for note-taking failed me somewhat on sparklers, for two primary reasons. Swirling does not accentuate bubbly the way it does still wines. And savoring sparkling wine over the course of a few hours can actually degrade it's flavors. Serve very cold, and sip as quickly as is comfortable with friends. L. Mawby NV Brut Cremant Classic (About $23) Learn more about the winery: http://www.lmawby.com/ Learn more about the bottle in front of me: http://www.lmawby.com/index.php?route=/buy/wine&id=1 SEE: A rich gold with a light peach tint. Tiny beads form and disappear quickly. SWIRL: Resist the temptation. You'll make a mess. SMELL: Typically yeasty bread notes, but in this case coupled with exotic spice, slate, herbs and white fruit. SIP: To my mind this is much more fruit-forward than a true Brut. Strawberries, nectarines, white peach and Rainier cherries. This is balanced with a slight flinty minerality. SAVOR: A moderately long finish resolves to honey crisp apple and poppy seeds.

Bubbly, sexy, diferent. Why wait?

Final impression: A beautiful cold sipper on its own. More approachable than most Champagnes in this price range. Pair with: Tends to dominate most flavors. Try with the classic pairings of buttered popcorn, fish roes, or shellfish. Might actually be a nice foil for Oysters Rockefeller or Clams Casino. Actually probably best in an ice bucket on a bedside table with that sexy someone.

Great (Paper) Plates – BBQ & Jam

R.E.'s pulled pork BBQ sandwich adorned with Michigan Tart Cherry jam from Slow Jams! Delicious-///
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Great Plates: Michigan Asparagus

'Tis the season.

Can you Asparagus?

A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Location, Location, Location!

Raw ingredients for the soup. In the case of the cheeses, raw milk cheeses to be exact...

At the same Chef's Night that yielded the previous two recipes posted below, my offering was this Cheddar/Ale soup made almost entirely from ingredients that are made within an hours drive from where we cooked. The focus of the evening was warming winter foods with an extra emphasis on locally made ingredients. We tend to look for local whenever possible to begin with, but this night the focus on Michigan bounty was even more intense than usual. There was a professional photographer and fellow food blogger/obsessive present, Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes, so we had to bring the A game and swing for the bleachers. I think we accomplished our goal. Links to the photo galleries and printed article spawned from this evenings culinary melee at the end. Recipe for Michigan Cheddar/Ale soup: Ingredients for 4 servings: 1/2 medium size yellow onion diced 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced 2 large jalapenos seeded and diced 1 Tablespoons fresh garlic, peeled and crushed 2 bottles Mad Hatter IPA (New Holland Brewing Company) 1 pint chicken stock 1 pint Guernsey Farms heavy whipping cream 1/2 pound bacon diced (home made by a friend of the Estate, so local as well) 1/2 pound Rosewood Products raw milk cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Rosewood Products raw milk goat cheddar shredded 1/4 pound or 2 oz. Oliver Farms sharp cheddar curds 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup flour 1 Tablespoon Chicken Soup base ("Better Than Bouillon" brand paste) Fresh ground black pepper to taste Zingermans pretzel bread made into croutons, or crushed pretzels Procedure:

Don't stop stirring! Burnt cheese does not taste good! Well... at least not in this case.

Mince the diced onion and peppers in a food processor until almost a paste. Brown the diced bacon in a pot over medium heat and add the minced veggies. Cook slowly for 25 minutes, or until most of the moisture is gone. At the same time melt the butter in a small pan and add the flour, cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring continuously, and refrigerate. Turn the heat on the soup pot up to high and add the garlic. Stir continuously until the garlic smell is very strong, 30 seconds or so. Add 1.5 bottles of Mad Hatter, and boil until only 1/3 of the volume is left. Add the chicken stock and cream and bring back to a simmer. Once back to a simmer add the cheeses and stir constantly until dissolved over medium heat. Or add bit by bit until it's all been incorporated, but the central theme here is do NOT stop stirring until all the cheese is melted! If you stop stirring during this part of the process, the cheese will just sink to the bottom and burn. Once dissolved, and back to a simmer, add the last half bottle of Mad Hatter and the chilled butter and flour mixture a little at a time until the soup is thickened to your liking. Stir in the chicken soup base a little at a time, tasting between each addition to make sure you don't over salt, and add as much fresh ground black pepper as you wish to your own tastes. Taste for seasoning, and bowl, using the pretzel croutons for garnish and a few turns on the pepper mill for added contrast and aroma.

Warming, cheesy, peppery, pretzelly goodness! Perfect for a midwest winter night!

I tried to go as simply as possible with this recipe, as there was a chance it would be published in a local magazine, so I wanted it to be accessible to the home cook. It's come to my attention that I'm not always very good at that though. I guess 20 years cooking professionally has somewhat disconnected me from what the term “home cook” implies. That aside, this recipe is very adaptable, you can substitute any local or even non-local variant of any ingredient included and still have one hell of a soup at the end of it.   Live well, and eat better!   -Jack Gallery from Joe Hakim of The Hungry Dudes blog Rogue Estate Facebook Gallery Real Detroit Weekly's article on the meal in question

Fair to Midland.

So, the actual saying is "fair to middlin." This may have been a Scottish wool-rating term, but folks in Texas and Michigan have been misquoting it for years. Anyway, this roundup of Michigan wines covers some Michigan whites that are definitely worth seeking out, but do not go to 11 (on my Spinal Tap rating scale). Let's get to it!

Bel Lago Auxerrois

Bel Lago 2007 Auxerrois 13% Alcohol (About $13) Auxerrois is a crazy grape with a confusing heritage.  Related to Chardonnay, but similar to Pinot Blanc, and named similar to a Malbec in some countries, it presents a challenge to sell.  I'm happy Bel Lago decided not to slap a cutesy name on it like many other Michigan wineries do. Similar in character and style to an Alsatian Pinot Blanc. The color is an attractive pale green straw.  A thin body, with no immediately noticable legs. On the nose, crisp apple and lemon with light oak. There is an herbal aftertaste, with some minerality, similar to Alsatian styles.  Some toffee on the finish as it warms. Pleasant (I like Alsatian styles), but as a fellow taster mused: "This is like the guy in the next cubicle that you make simple talk with, but he's not really that interesting." Rating 6/11, but better as it opens up.

Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc

Left Foot Charley Old Mission 2009 Pinot Blanc, 12% Alcohol 2009 was a tough, cold summer for Michigan growers, and on top of this challenge Left Foot Charley's Pinot Blanc is made from a single acre of grapes.  Very risky, and only a competent vintner paying attention could make it work. First, this has been one of the few Michigan wines I've sampled with a screw cap. I applaud the use because it means less spoilage, more convenience, and has nothing AT ALL to do with the taste of the wine. The color is a clear golden white in the glass and is fairly viscous, similar to Oregon styles.  Aromas of spiced bread, apples, honeydew and lemon are all evident. There is  tart acidity, similar to unripe nectarines, coupled with an oaky dryness. A medium body and a lingering Granny Smith apple on the finish.  Very much Michigan on the flavor profile. Overall pleasant, but I would love to taste this as a sparkling wine. Rating 6/11. I need to find the right pastry and cheese dish to match, possibly a spinach pie?

Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling

Chateau Grand Traverse 2008 Late Harvest Riesling. 10.5% Alcohol (about $15) One of the more popular Michigan varietals, and one that the winery is proud of. Color is a very light gold in glass, with characteristic viscosity, clinging to the edge heavily. I noticed an off aroma initially, heavy with yeasts and a faint bilious odor, but this quickly resolves to honey, lemon and apple aromas, even graham cracker crust for a nice apple pie! As you would expect, very full-bodied, with mouth watering acidity.  Neither bright nor light, but definitely a comfort wine, bordering on dessert. Rating 6/11.  Please take into account that sweet wines and Rieslings in particular are not my bag. The Michigan wine tour continues with a few more whites, some Cab Francs and other red blends (expect me to dis the sweeter reds, which I'm trying to steer clear of).  There may even be a Fall color tour in the works with a few special purchases to share. Incidentally, tonight I found a new source for Michigan wines locally.  Westborn Market has stepped up to provide a greater variety of Michigan products, including a few bottles I haven't seen in my neighborhood before.  Thanks, Westborn!