UPDATE, APRIL 22: One of the "six wines to die for" detailed below -- Chateau Fontaine's 2010 Leelanau Peninsula Gewurztraminer -- took the trophy yesterday for Best White Wine at California's Pacific Rim Wine Competition. It's not yet been released to the public.
Twenty-two Michigan wineries showed up to pour at the Michigan Wine Showcase in Bloomfield Hills on Monday, April 11, under the auspices of the state's Grape and Wine Council, abetted by Master Sommeliers Claudia Tyagi and Madeline Triffon.
For many of us, this was first contact with a critical mass from the much-touted 2010 vintage. Straight to the bottom line: the 2010 whites live up to the hype. The best of them combine the ripe aromatics, flavors and body of 2007 with the underlying food-friendly acidity of a typical Michigan vintage.
Chateau Fontaine's Dan Matthies
Not everyone at the Showcase poured 2010. In fact, a majority of the wines, and all of the reds, came from the less-heralded 2008 and 2009 crops, plus a few late arrivals from 2007. Some were also tank samples, or "behind the table" pre-releases that didn't yet show their best. Time constraints also kept me from tasting every wine in the room.
But overall it's clear that most winemakers took advantage of 2010's early spring and long summer to ripen their grapes fully, yet surprisingly few showed traces of the over-ripeness that causes acid to drop out and tips a wine into flabbiness. Definitely a top vintage.
Here are a half-dozen wines from the Showcase that whipped my palate to attention. Half are 2010 whites, and all but the first are new releases that may not yet have made it to winery websites. Some are already available, others arrive soon, as noted.
L. Mawby "Consort", Leelanau Peninsula. Not a new release, but sometimes it's easy to take long-time members of Larry Mawby's bubbly family for granted, especially those you haven't tasted in a while. This off-dry "Sec" counterpart to his "Brut" Blanc de Blanc arrives with full Methode Champenoise pedigree, from Leelanau Peninsula Chardonnay grapes. The slight sweetness enhances the rich, creamy side of the varietal's apple flavors -- more toward Golden Delicious than fresh-picked Granny Smith. Something to serve alongside steamed lobster with drawn butter, or equally satisfyng on its own.
Chateau Fontaine 2010 Gewurztraminer, Leelanau Peninsula. As owner Dan Matthies reached behind the table for this unreleased bottling, he proudly noted its birth at the new contract winemaking facility next to his French Road tasting room, run by son Doug and winemaker Shawn Walters. If showy wines turn your head, Walters nailed this one. For aromatics, imagine sticking your nose into a bowl of rose petals -- all the way in, that is. Follow up with a healthy dollop of spice and a nicely rounded palate. I don't for a second believe Matthies's claim of zero residual sugar, but it's still the best Michigan Gewurz I've tasted in several years.
Left Foot Charley 2010 Riesling, 7th Hill Farm, Old Mission Peninsula.
Owner / winemaker Bryan Ulbrich provides the up-north yin to Shawn Walters's yang. While wines by Walters trade on flash and sizzle, Ulbrich normally goes for restraint, a hold-the-reins strategy that can pay dividends in exuberant vintages like 2010. These grapes, from grower Tom Scheurman, with whom he's worked since 2001, are one of six Rieslings that Left Foot Charley will release from 2010; it's elegant, medium-bodied with light florals, peach flavors and a long finish. Not quite knit together yet, pending a May release. Of the sweeter persuasion at 2.6% residual sugar but, as Ulbrich says, "The numbers don't matter. It's all about balance."
Charlie Edson of Bel Lago
Brys Estate 2010 Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula. Scion Patrick Brys waved the flag on behalf of parents Walt and Eileen, featuring three of winemaker Coenraad Stassen's 2010 estate-grown whites. This one's the lone Riesling Brys produced from the vintage, and it's a rock-em, sock-em take-no-prisoners affair that plays shamelessly to 2010's strengths: intense peach and orange aromatics and flavors that lead into a voluptuous body and, given the ripeness, a surprisingly vibrant acid backbone that nicely offsets its whopping 6% residual sugar. Available from the winery, but not yet being poured in the tasting room, this is a statement wine that stands out in a crowd -- though it's not for diabetics.
Bel Lago 2007 Tempesta, Leelanau Peninsula. Ever-genial grower / winemaker Charlie Edson finally got around to releasing his flagship red blend from the ripe 2007 vintage. It was worth the wait -- though the wine probably requires another five years in the bottle to reach peak. The bright cherry scents and flavors come from Cabernet Franc, which makes up just under half the blend, creamy vanilla comes from aging in American oak, and all sorts of dark and spicy notes from the other half-dozen varietals that supplied the rest of the juice. A midweight, well balanced wine that's just starting to knit together; like a Chinon from France's Loire Valley, but with lots more going on.
Wyncroft 2009 Pinot Noir, Avonlea Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore.
By now, I'm used to tasting too much Michigan Pinot Noir that disappoints. And hardly anything went right during the 2009 vintage. So how did Jim Lester, proprietor of tiny, high-end Wyncroft, come up with the grapes for this stunner? Though it doesn't reach the ripeness or intensity of the very best Wyncroft Pinot -- the fruit flavors align closer to cranberry than strawberry, for example -- you'll still find ponderous flavor depth, offset by well-rounded acidity, lots of dark tones and only moderate oaking. Tempting to drink today, but it should improve for several years.