Wine Reviews: Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-23-2018

This week, I’m digging into some wines from Michigan. The state has lots of vineyards, most of which are planted to juice grapes like Concord and Niagara. But, wine grape acreage has been increasing and now tops 3,000 acres, putting it in the top 10 states. Some 50 different wine grape varieties are grown here, with Riesling the main one, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown close to Lake Michigan, like these ones from the Old Mission Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The lake affects the winegrowing by extending the growing season, and it moderates the climate in the coldest months, which can protect against frost. The Old Mission Peninsula juts out from Traverse City, and its rolling hills are surrounded on both sides by the East and West Traverse Bays of Lake Michigan.

The nine wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula account for nearly 30% of the state’s wine grapes (and each winery is represented in this report).

Xx1GUlVfTJuW5zxMVpywFQI’ve tasted a decent amount of Michigan wines in the past, but this lot was the most impressive I’ve come across yet. The white wines have a brisk, vibrant, aspect to them. Just smelling a few of these wines made me salivate. I’m glad this lot focused less on reds. I love Loire Valley reds even in wet vintages, for example, but I’ve felt some Michigan reds can struggle with body and depth.

That said, I am stoked about the Michigan Gamay in this report. I kept revisiting it because it fascinated me, as a Beaujolais devotee and fan of Gamay from other regions. I was also excited to learn that, according to Michigan Wines, Gamay Noir acreage jumped from almost nothing in 2014, to 29 acres in 2016. I can only hope to find more Michigan Gamay of this quality.

You may be skeptical (and for good reason), and surely there are some uninspired wines from Michigan. But there are some seriously good wines out here. I would drink the Bowers Chardonnay in this report over pretty much any California Chardonnay at a $16 price point, for example. And, seriously, the Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling may be my favorite Riesling in America for its price. And even though this is a small sample size, I’m excited to follow how the rest of American opens up to Michigan’s wine culture.

The wines below were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Black Star Farms Sauvignon Blanc Arcturos - USA, Michigan, Leelanau Peninsula
SRP: $18
Pale straw color. Zesty on the nose, with limes, lemons, guava, topped with nettle, white pepper and cucumber slices. Pleasantly light and fresh on the palate with crisp, zesty acidity and flavors of lemons and limes drizzled over guava. Notes of chalk and white flowers mix with nettle, mint and white pepper. A crisp, bright, vibrant, easy-drinking style of Sauv Blanc. (86 points IJB)

2017 Bowers Harbor Vineyards Chardonnay Unwooded - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $16
Light yellow color. Juicy aromas of green and yellow apples, kiwi, topped in yellow flowers and chalk dust. Plush texture, nice depth, but this is a bright and zesty Chardonnay with a salty, chalky streak to match the green apples and lemon curd. A cool mix of breezy floral and deeper honey and raw almond notes, with an underlying mineral streak. A pure, zesty, impressive Chardonnay from Michigan. (88 points IJB)

2017 Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $13
Medium yellow color. Aromas of juicy peaches, green melon, with a lovely flinty, mineral, chalky, mountain stream aesthetic, and plenty of flowers. Crisp and nervy on the palate, lots of texture and depth but so tangy, brisk and dry, too. White peaches, limes, lemons, mixed with complex floral and honey notes. Lovely stony, mineral, crushed shell aspect. I’ve enjoyed this producer before but this is an eye-opening Old Mission Peninsula Riesling. Crazy value. 10.5% alcohol. (90 points IJB)

2016 Hawthorne Vineyards Rosé - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $12
Light raspberry color. Smells of subtle red fruits and floral tones, raspberries, sour red apple, roses and some white pepper. Crisp acidity on the palate, this shows high-toned red fruit (crunchy red apple, tangy cherry), along with rose petals and white pepper. Fun, straightforward, tangy, stuff, not too complex, but well made. A saignée method blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Meunier, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gamay. (85 points IJB)

2016 2 Lads Cabernet Franc - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $35
Deep ruby color. Intense aromatics with tons of spice (black pepper, tobacco, clove) along with roses and tangy red currants. Dusty, light tannins on the palate with crisp, crunchy acidity. A leaner style with tangy red currants, red and black cherries. Lots of roses, pepper, sage, tobacco, over a constantly zippy aesthetic. Fresh, vibrant, interesting stuff! Includes 15% Merlot, aged nine months in a mix of French oak. (88 points IJB)

2017 Mari Vineyards Gamay Noir - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $26
Bright purple color. Love the nose: tart cherries, red currants, pomegranate, with elements of earth, pepper and rose petals. Crisp acidity frames this wine so well, and light tannins provide enough structure, but this goes down easily, with juicy but tart cherries, cranberries and red currants. Notes of roses, violets, black pepper, black tea and mushroom add significant complexity. A spicy, tart, vibrant, fruity, eye-opening Gamay for me. This was the first vintage of Gamay from this winery’s Jamieson Vineyard, and if this is any sign, this is a wine to pay attention to in the future. (90 points IJB)

2016 Brys Estate Pinot Noir Reserve - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $32
Pale ruby color. Bright and vibrant on the nose, rose petals, rhubarb, clove, white pepper, along with red cherries, cranberries, red apples, love the spicy edge to it. Medium-bodied on the palate with brisk, refreshing acidity and light, fine-grained tannins. Bright and crunchy with herbal tones that pop (rose petals, rhubarb, white pepper, clove). A bright style but shows some smoothness and velvety appeal, too. (87 points IJB)

2016 Chateau Chantal Proprietor’s Reserve Trio - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $27
Light purple color. Aromas of tart cherries and red plums, along with rose hips, spicy pepper, sliced bell pepper and smoky tar. Medium-bodied on the palate with zippy acidity and lean tannins, a brisk approach here. Tart plums and cherries topped in spicy pepper, anise, rhubarb and soy. Lighter, fresher, veggie-friendly style. A blend of 61% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Franc and 1% Pinot Noir. (85 points IJB)

2016 Peninsula Cellars Riesling Late Harvest - USA, Michigan, Old Mission Peninsula
SRP: $19
Light straw color. Aromas of sugar cane, white flowers, clean laundry, on top of white peaches, honey and spiced tea. Plump and rich on the palate, sweet and honeyed but crisp, vibrant acidity throughout, and the depth is impressive. Oranges, white peaches, apricots, honeyed and juicy but vibrant and crisp with mineral, chalky, floral elements. This is lovely, balanced stuff. 8.5% alcohol, 8.75% residual sugar. (87 points IJB)

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