Monday, June 29, 2009

Some Wines From Michigan

I know they make wine in all 50 states, now, but that doesn't mean I have to try them all.

Still, when Shawn Walters, the winemaker from Forty-Five North Winery, in Leelanau County, northern Michigan, contacted me and asked if I would like to sample his wines, I was intrigued. The winery seemed to have a good reputation. They made a couple Rieslings, which always gets my attention. I had recently tasted some pleasing wines from Pennsylvania and Virginia, so there was hope. And it's hard to tamp down my natural curiosity. So I told him to send them on.

A little background. Forty-Five North is owned by the memorably named Steve Grossnickle, who used to have an ophthalmologist practice in Indiana, and bought property in Leelanau County in 1983, while a farm intended for grape growing was purchased in 2006. The name of the place translates Grossnickle's ambitions: Bordeaux also lies at the 45th parallel, albeit 4500 miles to the east.

Walters sent me bottles from both their first (2007) and second (2008) vintages, and, from what I tasted, there's more than a bit of beginner's luck going on here. All the wines made for fine, suitable drinking, and a couple were more than fine.

All the whites were extremely light in hue, owing to the northerly climate, I should imagine. Nearly water white. The 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling had good acidity and was well-focused. The nose was appealing: white melon, white peach, nectarine, apricot, and grassy fields. The palate showed high fruit, but not big fruit, if you know what I mean—lime, lemon, gooseberry, white cranberry and lemongrass. (This wine is now sold out; I'm not surprised.)

As for the Select Harvest Riesling 2008, honey and pear scents were evident. In the mouth, there were lovely flavors of Barlett pear, tangerine, white peach and honeysuckle. It had a medium finish. Not a lot of depth, but perfectly pleasing.

Of the reds, I liked the Cabernet Franc 2007 as a bright, light, summer red of medium body and medium finish. It had a full fruit nose of cherry and plum, with some spice, cocoa and chocolate. It was light going down. The palate mirrored the nose. Red and black cherries and plum mingled with flavors of cocoa and chocolate, plus some green notes hidden there in the middle.

But the prize, perhaps, of all the bottles I tried was the Pinot Noir Rose 2008. I've tried a lot of disappointing roses made from Pinot Noir; this wasn't one of them. Very likable, it began with a cherry-strawberry-raspberry-gooseberry nose. The acidity was good, but modest in its effect; overall this was a fruit-forward wine, sporting flavors of strawberry and Prince Ranier cherries. A touch of creaminess and a little tannic edge added to full and interesting flavor profile. At $18, it's a good, if not fantastic, buy.

The alcohol levels on these wines were low—below 12%, with the exception of the Cab Franc (13.5%)—allowing you to enjoy them over dinner well into the third glass.

Not every wine worked. The Pinot Gris was simple and lacked dimension. But if I lived in upper Michigan, I'd be awfully thankful to have this winery around.

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