Monday, April 23, 2018

They Make Wine: Michigan Edition

I tried my first Michigan wines a couple of years ago, on New Years Eve no less!

Fun fact: Michigan has over 13,000 acres under vine, making it the 4th largest state for grape growing! However, most of that acreage is for grapes that are used to make juice. If we drill down a bit, there are only about 3,000 acres under vine with grapes destined to become wine.**

In 1679 French explorers first made wine from native grapes growing in Michigan. By the mid-1800s a wine industry is established and it thrives until Prohibition. Now there are 5 AVAs in Michigan, including Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula which constitute 51% of the vines in Michigan. There is also Lake Michigan Shore, Fennville, and Tip of the Mitt.

Vitis vinifera, which are the grapes we know and love, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc, started being planted widely in the 1970s. Today most new plantings in Michigan are v. vinifera. The most commonly grown grapes are Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Merlot, and Pinot Blanc. All of these grapes thrive and work well in cooler climates. The climate in the grape growing areas of Michigan are very cold, but Lake Michigan provides a much needed mitigating influence, which helps the grapes to survive in this cold.

Hybrids, which are a cross between v. vinifera and a native grape consist of 27% of plantings. Some consider these grapes (and subsequently these wines) to be inferior. I won’t get into the debate here, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. I once heard an MW speak (who shall remain nameless!) and he made a very interesting observation. He wondered if wine made from hybrids really is inherently inferior or is it just that no one has tried to make an excellent wine from hybrids? Native grapes make up 3% of plantings.

Mawby is a sparkling wine producer in Northern Michigan, creating traditional méthode champenoise, cuve close wines, and sparkling ciders. I have not personally visited Mawby, but was sent some samples for review. Their first vines were planted in 1973 and they now have 20 acres under vine, with plantings of: Pinot Noir, Vignoles (a hybrid), Pinot Gris, Regent (a hybrid), Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. They also source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from other vineyards. Their tasting room is open year round, with limited hours in the winter. Larry Mawby has been making their wines since 1984.

Wines tasted:

M. Lawrence Green, Michigan Sparkling ($15)
This wine is a tank method sparkler made from 70% Cayuga (a crossing of 2 hybrids) and 30% Riesling with 1.5% RS (residual sugar). The wine is pale lemon green with medium aromatic intensity. On the nose is a floral note. Overall, this wine is quite unfamiliar due to the Cayuga. The wine is not all v. vinifera grapes, so you don’t get the traditional aroma/flavor descriptors.  This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

L. Mawby Blanc de Blancs, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from Chardonnay grapes. The color is pale lemon green with a medium - aromatic intensity. There are faint youthful citrus aromas. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

L. Mawby Cremant Classic, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($27)
This is a multi-vintage, traditional method sparkler made from 100% estate Vignoles, a hybrid. This wine shows citrus and yeasty/leesy notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

Talismon, Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan Sparkling ($37)
This wine is made from a field blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and Pinot Gris. This was my favorite of the bunch, with a nice toasty nose and nuttiness on the palate. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal. I’d also enjoy a glass of this post-dinner as a palate cleanser.

Grace Rosé, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is made from 98% Pinot Noir + 2% Regent, which is a hybrid grape used for color and aroma. This is a very enjoyable domestic rosé. Red fruit aromas of strawberry and raspberry. This wine would pair well with a fresh fruit dessert tart.

Tradition, Michigan Sparkling ($23)
This wine is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay made in the traditional method. It’s an austere sparkling with strong acidity and citrus/green fruit notes. This is a clean and simple sparkling that would be best consumed on its own or perhaps with something salty before a meal.

**Statistics pulled directly from

Monday, April 16, 2018

Portuguese Night in LA

Last Saturday, the hubby and I decided to have a fun day around town. The plan was to venture out during the day, come home that afternoon, cook dinner, and enjoy a bottle of Portuguese wine I received as a sample. What to pair with a Portuguese wine, than some Portuguese bites, called Petiscos. Petiscos are to Portugal what Tapas are to Spain. Small bites meant to be consumed before a meal (or as a meal) along with an alcoholic beverage!

Finding Portuguese fare isn’t the easiest, but I knew that Bay Cities Deli & Market in Santa Monica is where I should start. Bay Cities specializes in Italian foods, but they also have a strong representation of products from many European countries. More accurately I should have called this blog post “Iberian Night in LA” as I didn’t quite find everything Portuguese that I wanted, but was able to fill in with some Spanish products to round it all out.

We visited Bay Cities and, first things first, enjoyed a Godmother sandwich, which is the mother of all sandwiches in Los Angeles. It is their signature made with Prosciutto, Ham, Capicola, Mortadella, Genoa Salami and Provolone Cheese - best with the works, plus mild or hot peppers. We then walked up and down the aisles and grabbed some chorizo, cheese, cured meats, and small bites. I had packed a cooler with some ice packs, so luckily we were able to keep everything cool while we enjoyed our day, which started out at Venice Beach. We rented bikes for a couple of hours and rode up and down the boardwalk from Marina del Rey up close to Pacific Palisades. It was a bit chilly and overcast, but the tradeoff is that it was much less crowded than it would have been on a hot, sunny summer day. You gotta love Venice, it's such a hodge podge of people and things, that it never gets old. After the chilly bike ride, we stopped a Deus ex Machina for a perfectly hipster cup o’ joe and then home for the Portuguese feast!

This wine, which inspired my meal, is produced by Symington Family Estates. Grapes are sourced from Dow’s same vineyards in the Douro Valley that are used for their acclaimed Vintage Port. The blend includes: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and a field blend of indigenous varietals. This wine was originally only made for the family to enjoy, but after receiving many compliments, they decided to make the wine for consumers.

Dow’s 2015 Vale do Bomfim ($13) 13.9% ABV
10,000 cases produced
Deep purple in color, this wine was tight upon opening. On the nose I got black fruit (blackberries, plums), bramble, and black pepper. Same flavor characteristic on the palate plus cedar and tobacco. Medium + rustic tannins. This is a textbook Portuguese wine with a dark and brooding sensibility plus a decent amount of complexity. Quite pleasing, especially at the $13 pricepoint. 

As I say time and time again, you can get so much more interesting wines at the under $15 price point if you venture outside of the lake of cheap, crappy grocery store wine (usually says “California red wine” on the label). Go to anywhere else but a grocery store and try something from Portugal, Spain, or Italy. It will be much more interesting.

This Vale do Bomfim wine worked famously with my Portuguese Petiscos. Menu below:

Paper-thin sliced Italian Prosciutto

Omorro, a Portuguese soft cow’s milk cheese

Manchego aged 6 months

Moliterno al Tartufo (a hard cheese with truffle veins running through it)

Vacherousse (a delicious soft cow’s milk cheese)

Marcona Almonds

Lupini Beans

Tuna Filets with Garlic in Olive Oil


Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

Steamed Crab Legs and Drawn Butter, Garlic, & Lemon

Grilled Chorizo on a bed of Grilled Onions

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Event Recap: New Zealand in a Glass

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is as ubiquitous as Napa Cab. You can find it at any store and on any wine list. Now I love New Zealand Sauv Blanc as much as the next girl, but the style does get a bit homogenous. That “Marlborough Lift” (which I speak about HERE) gives you big aromatics, big green flavors, and big acid. Hey, in the summer, give me a bottle of it with a straw…I’m good! But I usually like something a bit more interesting and not as predictable. Though I discover that New Zealand does have much more than a sea of indistinguishable Sauvignon Blanc.

Last October I had the pleasure of attending a tasting and Masterclass “New Zealand in a Glass: Los Angeles” at The Wine House. The tasting brought together 64 wines from 12 wineries, exploring seven varietals/styles across five regions. In the Masterclass we tasted anything but “run of the mill” New Zealand Sauv Blanc. We tried interesting whites, including Sauvignon Blancs as well as a smattering of Pinot Noir.

The main theme of the day was: sustainability. 94% of New Zealand vineyard area operates under independently audited sustainability programs. All the wines showcased were produced in accordance with Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand.

Masterclass Wines Tasted:

Te Mata Cape Crest 2014, Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
I described this as a “richer” Sauvignon Blanc in my notes. This wine is barrel fermented with some Semillon blended in to add texture. It’s not as herbaceous, nor does it have as much acidity as a typical Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoyed the stone and tropical fruit plus lime zest notes.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2013, Marlborough ($24)
This wine is a winner. Super funky, which means it’s not for everyone, but wine geeks will love it. Greywacke is the fundamental bedrock of New Zealand. The wine is fermented in barrel (70% of which is new) with indigenous yeasts for a full year (it’s dormant in winter). ⅔ of the wine goes through malo, which adds weight and texture. Medium acid, medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, and medium + finish. A strong wine. The predominant note is green/vegetal, including asparagus, pea, and tomato leaf.

Astrolabe Taiho 2015, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23)
100% old barrel fermentation with wild yeasts. This wine is slightly perfumed with citrus notes, plus tropical fruit (lychee), and a green/vegetal note of tomato leaf.

Nautilus The Paper 2016, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23)
This is a fun one; unusual. It is fermented with a non-wine yeast. A creamy texture yet a strong acid backbone. It has a very unassuming nose, yet the palate is full of bright citrus (grapefruit), plus stone fruit (apricot/nectarine).

Dog Point Chardonnay 2014, Marlborough ($25)
An incredibly interesting nose with a spice character. This wine spent 18 months in barrel with 100% wild yeast fermentation and went through 100% malo. This wine has green fruit (pear plus tart green apples), tropical fruit (pineapple), plus a cream/yogurt note.

Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2016, Marlborough ($20)
Pinot Gris is a mere 6% of New Zealand wine production. This is a lovely wine that is on the ripe Alsatian spectrum. It’s a bit steely up front. I get citrus (orange peel) that moves into tropical fruit (sweet melon) with a bit of RS (residual sugar) on the finish.

Framingham Old Vine Riesling 2015, Marlborough ($25)
This wine is why people who know about wine LOVE Riesling. Off-dry, incredible purity of fruit, good texture and body. The requisite petrol/smoke note. This is a 100% wild yeast skin fermentation. The vines are 30 years old, which is an anomaly in Marlborough since most all vines were lost in 1990 due to phylloxera.

Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling 2016, Central Otago ($25)
This Riesling is from Central Otago’s vines in a continental climate, which is New Zealand’s only inland wine region. It’s got 63 g/L of residual sugar that is masked quite well with its acidity. A very well-balanced wine.

Martinborough Vineyard Home Block 2014, Marlborough Pinot Noir ($40)
Lovely nose; feminine yet assertive. So many descriptors: floral/potpourri on the nose, including red fruit, pepper, forest floor/wet leaf, and leather both on the nose and palate. Light, yet elegant tannins. A very understandable Pinot Noir. Would be good in a BTG (by the glass) program.

Mahana “Woolleys Corner & Cornelia’s Nine”, 2014 Nelson Pinot Noir ($65)
An earthier and funkier Pinot Noir than the previous one. Old World style fruit plus a chewy texture.

Villa Maria Reserve 2009, Marlborough Pinot Noir ($36)
Sweeter, New World fruit. This is a Pinot to please the people.

Mount Edward 2011, Central Otago Pinot Noir*
An unexpected herbaceousness on the nose: eucalyptus? Red fruit, spice, and earthiness/forest floor.
*I am not listing a price here, as there are multiple Pinot Noir’s in their range and I am not 100% sure which one we sampled that day.

After the tasting we enjoyed traditional Haka dance

Thursday, April 5, 2018

That's Amore: Pizza Night in LA

While there are many things currently dividing the country, there is one thing that the majority of us can agree on: pizza! Who doesn’t love a good slice of pizza…..and what better to go with pizza than a glass of wine. Many people get very confused and insecure about wine and food pairings. Is a wine food friendly? What do I drink with what food? What if I want to eat a steak but I don’t like red wine? There are many many wine and food pairing “rules”, but at the end of the day, YOU should drink and eat what YOU like. Don’t let some stuffy sommelier tell you that one thing will not work with the other. In the end, it only matters that you are happy.

With that being said, I have one tried and true rule to share in regards to food and wine pairings. Even if you know nothing about wine, you can still “Up Your Wine Game” by embracing this takeaway: like goes with like. This is whether you’re talking about structural elements (i.e. acidity, creaminess, etc) or place of origin. For example, if you’re eating something creamy (i.e. fettuccine alfredo), a nice creamy Chardonnay would generally work. Eating something tomato based or with a tomato sauce, go for a wine with higher acidity to match the acid in the tomatoes. And perhaps the easiest wine and food pairing trick? If you’re eating cuisine of a region, then drink the wine of that region! It’s not an accident that food and wine grown and made in the same area work well together.

Earlier this week I invited some friends over and tried my hand at making pizza and enjoying some Italian wines to go with the food. It was a perfect pairing!

I chopped up and prepped a ton of topping options: sauteed wild mushrooms, sauteed collards, sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto, ricotta, mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, onions, etc. Because we are in Los Angeles and ain’t nobody got time for carbs, we opted for Trader Joe’s cauliflower crust, which was delicious! The Cusumano wine worked perfectly with the pizza. I explained my “like with like” wine and food pairing philosophy with the group, and they thoroughly enjoyed the pairing. We also enjoyed a few other Italian reds with the pizza such as Lambrusco (a sparkling red served chilled), a Primitivo, and a Valpolicella Ripasso. 

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2015 Sicily IGT (Retail $8-$12)
Good fruit plus structure makes this a homerun for pizza. On the nose I got black plus red fruit (mostly berries), bramble, black pepper, and violets. This is a rustic wine that is perfect to enjoy casually on a weeknight.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

London, Here I Come!

I just received the results from your January 9, 2018 WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam. Congratulations, you passed the exam.

If you can't already guess by the title of this post, I passed the final exam I needed in order to secure the WSET Diploma sommelier certification! I just got news yesterday and have been basking in the glow since then!

Not much else say except that I am still in a bit of shock, yet a huge wave of relief has passed over me. This two and a half year journey through the Diploma certification has been an arduous one, but I am SO glad that I challenged myself to this level.

What's next? Who the heck knows. I have many possibilities in front of me and am in a great place at the moment. I am wildly happy, working for myself, and have many friends and family alongside me for the ride!

More to come! Cheers.