The first time we went wine tasting was in 2012. We went to the Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City Michigan. We both liked wine, but I (Ryan) was pretty picky when it came to drinking anything that wasn’t a big California style red wine. California has a much different climate than Michigan, but regardless I was going to find my big, bold wine. To me any lighter reds, whites, or sweet reds were for the birds – well I still think sweet reds are a waste of grapes. Over the course of the day, I learned a lot about wine: specifically that the bigger and bolder a wine is doesn’t necessarily make it higher quality (sorry California). That the lighter wines can also have an extraordinary depth of flavor and nuance that is not “better” or “worse”, but different from the big wines I had formerly associated with quality.
We have done wine tastings in the US, Chile, and South Africa in at least 60+ different wineries over the years. We are going to review some of the wineries & wine regions, so we decided to create a some scoring criteria. Each criteria is scored out of a total of 10 points for a maximum score of 50 for the wineries we have taken tours of; 40 points maximum for the ones we have not. The criteria are:
- Sommelier/Service: this one can make or break a wine tasting. You can have the busy server who is trying to fill 10 different glasses on one hand or a completely private tour where you are tasting with a sommelier.
- Wine quality (overall) – is this a good producer of wine? Is it more mass produced, or are they striving for quality. Any wine faults?
- Tasting room/ambiance: What is the tasting room like? Anything notable?
- Vineyard Views: Anything remarkable about the vineyard/view/etc?
- Winery Tour (If taken): Wineries we take a tour of will also have another 10 points possible for the quality of the tour: what sets them apart, barrel room, anything interesting or unique?
With our love of wine came curiosity about wine and about the wine making process. We began with wine kits which come with the grape juice and everything you will need along with step by step instructions. We would recommend the Wine Expert brand if going with a wine making kit. After a few rounds of this we found a local farmer on Craigslist that sells about 20 different varietals. This weekend we picked up grapes for the fourth year. This year we got 90 lbs each of Cabernet Franc, Noiret and Zweigelt.
Cabernet Franc: is one of our favorite grapes and it does really well here in Michigan. It is genetically related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but better suited for the cooler climate and shorter growing season in Michigan. The best Michigan Cab Francs are medium bodied with a lot of red fruit on the nose (strawberries, raspberries, red currants) along with subtle oak and tobacco.
We tried Noiret for the first time two years ago. The bottles we have tried so far from that batch have really impressed us. It is a French-American hybrid, making it cold hardy for our climate. It almost reminds me of a cross between a Pinot Noir and a Cab Franc: more black pepper and maybe raspberry – that being said we have only had the Noiret we have made ourselves. We have tried both adding a Malolactic culture and not, I think the ML kind of freaked us out but both vintages have turned out really good.
Zweigelt: we have not ever tried outside of a red blend so it will be exciting to see how it turns out. It is a crossing between St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch developed in Austria. We really like Blaufränkisch, and our grower had it on his list so we thought we would try it out!
Gruner Veltliner: Last year (2017 vintage) was a tough year for grape growing due to a late frost which hurt a lot of the Vitus Vinifera (The grapes of European origin you typically see at the store) varietals our grower sells. This resulted in us adjusting our normal order to get a 6 Gallons of Gruner Veltliner and 100 lbs of Noiret. The Gruner produces a really interesting white wine, which has a nicely balanced acidity with peach and maybe a peppery note in there as well. We tried the first bottle last night, it was fuller bodied than I had expected and I probably would have guessed a dry Riesling.
We have also made Marquette from grapes in the past – it was actually our first attempt at wine from grapes. We wanted to start with a hybrid since they are around half the price a Vitus Vinifera varietal. This is an interesting wine – first off it is basically like drinking purple ink as it stains your entire mouth. Outside of that I am always surprised by it because it tastes just like RASPBERRY SWEET TARTS – yes I did just yell that out loud in real life too. In retrospect, we probably should have gone a little bit heavier on the oak to mellow it out a bit more. That isn’t to say it isn’t good, just that it isn’t the most complex wine I have ever had. I have also never had it as a standalone wine, so I have nothing to compare it to – it is usually blended with other hybrid varietals for balance.