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Black and White and Red All Over

Michigan's seasons are changing.  As anyone who has spent a lot of time here knows, it's a relatively quick process, akin to a well-placed kick between the legs.  From daytime high's near 90F in September, we're expecting lows of 40F lately in southeast Michigan. And thus, a young* man's desires turn from pale golden to ruby and garnet.  In other words, it's red wine time.  What follows are brief tasting notes on a few Michigan reds, from the predictably sweet/dull to a few drier standouts. What my exploration into Michigan wines has taught me thus far is that Michigan growers and vintners are a beautifully mixed bag of brilliant, tired, old-school, creative hot-shot and huckster--but the work ethic shows through.  I say that because it can be difficult climate for grapes, especially red varietals.  But it IS workable.  The Loire region of France and the Willamette Valley in Oregon have proven it.  What's been missing is hotter summers, and plain old fashioned experience.  And Michigan is slowly gaining more of both. I still haven't found a wine able to go the Spinal Tap "1 more, up to 11", but we're getting closer. The Sacrificial Lamb

Unfortunately, truly old school.

Peninsula Cellars Old School Red NV Old Mission Peninsula.  At 10% Alcohol this should NOT be labeled a "DRY Red Table Wine" (about $15) This is an entry level wine from a another old Michigan farm that specialized in apples and cherries until diversifying into grapes in 1991.  Like other local wineries, their tasting room is a renovated 19th century schoolhouse, and that features in their marketing as well.  While I'm certain that they have better offerings, this bottle did not impress. Properly a semi-dry or sweeter, this is a tart cherry-flavored sweet red, which I have grown less and less fond of.  Very fruit-forward with little to no oak.   I just don't understand the sweet red wine that is so common in Michigan.  Disturbingly, I've seen more and more sweet reds marketed locally from other states, even California.  I think it's a fad for the lazy winemaker, tapping into a niche that many haven't served in decades, although I can't vouch for Peninsula Cellars' sales.  I'll be happy when tastes change--good riddance. 4/11, and that's being generous. Franc From Around the Way As I wrote earlier this year, I'm a fan of the acidic Cab Franc's from Chinon, in the Loire region of France.  Generally great with game birds, these cool climate grapes are doing very well in Michigan.  I managed to score a few examples to do a local version of the Franc VS Franc battle.  While they're not ready to challenge the better Cali and French versions, all of these are recommended, especially with locally harvested birds. The Baseline

Will the real Shady Lane please stand up?

Shady Lane Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc Leelanau Peninsula 12.5% Alcohol (about $20) Like others purchased in the Summer heat, this one had a slightly wet cork and the quality was possibly (although not obviously) compromised due to oxidation. The color is a brilliant medium ruby fading to a light violet rim, with noticeably slow legs clinging to the glass. Initial aromas of bacon, heavy alcohol, rounded out with plums and a faint orange-rind citrus note. On the tongue the heat remained underneath tastes of cranberry, mild cocoa, and red apple skins.  A dark  medium-bodied wine with some vegetal notes.  Characteristically for Cab Franc this was big on the acid and tannin. Rating 6/11 but likely a 7 or 8 when allowed to open and paired with duck. The Challenger I was excited to find a Franc from the southwest side of the state, seeing as how the northern AVA's are getting more attention.  Fenn Valley got it's start in the early 70s and takes an admirably scientific approach to their vines, and also focuses on wines to compliment food.
Fenn Valley Sign.

37 years young.

Fenn Valley 2007 Cabernet Franc Fennville AVA, on Lake Michigan's shore; 12.5% Alcohol (about $19) Thankfully a good cork on this one.  Interesting difference in color, Fenn Valley's Franc is a light brick ruby through to the rim. Somewhat thinner in the glass than the Shady Lane, but with good slow legs. Aromas of leather, bright berries, red apple, and even sweet corn, making it a nice BBQ option. Tastes of tart cherries, cranberry, and bittersweet chocolate. This is a bright wine, medium bodied, with purer fruit than Shady Lane, still heavy acid and tannin. Rated 7/11 but definitely better with-slow smoked or braised turkey thighs. Vogue Ciccone Vinyard and Winery brings the Italian passion to Leelanau.  They plant a wide variety of grapes, and work hard to bring an old world style to the area.  I would love to see their production increase slowly and distribution improve quickly.  Oh, and they have a mega-celebrity daughter who graces some of the labels.

A material wine.

Ciccone Vinyard and Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc Leelanau Peninsula 12.1% Alcohol (about $15) Good to see a tight artificial cork.  This Franc was a light garnet/ruby in the glass with good viscosity.  A very characteristic chocolate-covered cherry aroma, coupled with oaken tobacco leaves--a wonderful expression of Autumn.  A faint touch of meat or leather and ripe olives followed. On the tongue there was mouth-watering acidity and solid tannins.  The base of the flavor was currants and cocoa with smoke.  This wine exhibits a great dry style, equal in every way to French Chinon's.  8/11.  A solid, competitive wine and my best find so far. The Oddball Outsider Another Fenn Valley offering, this was initially unfamiliar, but an interesting bold red worth tasting and trying again.  The Capriccio has won Best of Show at the Michigan State Fair, and is a customer favorite. Fenn Valley  Capriccio Dry Red Wine Lake MI Shore 12.5% Alcohol (about $14) Through the glass this presents a bright ruby red with slight pink rim, and looks young.  The nose is of lively cherries, rock salt, and some oak.  Rather hot as well. At first it is reminiscent of a Beaujolais, but slightly more substantial. There is cranberry tartness backed with black fruits (plums, and darker berries).  On the finish I tasted local blueberries and herbs. Rated  7/11 and again, just begging for roasted pheasant or duck. So, as the weather turns, and the Rogue Estate crew kicks up the food focus, I may move away from Pure Michigan wines, and explore the wider world.  But I'm far from done digging in my own backyard, and still plan a trip north before the leaves drop. *Any comments related to my age will be moderated into the void.