Wine & Friends

 

This past week, I attended several wine events including VINO 2017, an Extraordinary Italian Wine Grand Tasting. 150 wineries, wine makers, and distributors brought hundreds of some of the finest wines and spirits to Manhattan. Along with many others, I enjoyed hours of tasting these great wines and engaging passionate people about their wines and the industry.

Marolo Grappa and Wine

Mid-day, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the folks at Premium Brands discussing a line of distilled drinks known as grappa. Grappa is a beverage that is produced using the seeds, skins, and stems of grapes. Premium Brands distributes grappa from Marolo Distillery out of Alba, Italy. Marolo produces their grappa from Nebbiolo, Gewürztraminer, Moscato, and Sangiovese grapes. The highlight of our time together was tasting their aged Barolo grappa (9, 12, 15, and 20 years old). The discussion was fun and the drinks were very interesting including their Barolo Chinato. Grappa is not necessarily a drink I’ll look for often, but at the right time and place…who knows.

Barolo Grappa

My time with the folks from Premium Brands brought to mind how much wine (and spirits) is like friends and acquaintances. If you’re like me, you have friends of all varieties. You have friends that you spend a great deal of time with on a regular basis. You also have friends that you only get to see on occasion. You may even have a few friends that are perfect for certain occasions. Similarly, you probably have a few wines you return to over and over. They’re enjoyable. Perhaps comforting. Maybe exciting. You probably also have a few wines that you only go to on certain occasions. It may be rare – but these wines are still friends.

Barolo Chinato

The other interesting thing about friends…you never really quit looking for new ones. At least I don’t. It’s not really an active search. I rarely go out planning to find a new friend. However, I’m always open to the possibility. The right person at the right time may just be a great new friend. Similarly, we should be open to finding a new wine that we like. Perhaps, a great new, bold red wine. Or, maybe a subtle white that is outside of our normal preference. It might become one of our new favorites. Or, it might just be a wine that we know will be right for the right time. Maybe that’s what I like most about tasting wine…a new friend might just be a taste away!

James

Oregon Wines in Albany

Oregon Wines in Albany, NY

Oregon has certainly gained a reputation for producing some of the best Pinot Noir wines. Of course, they also produce other excellent wines such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and others. Last week, I had the opportunity to taste several great wines…with the Oregon winemaker…in Albany, NY.

Last weekend was the annual Wine and Dine for the Arts in Albany, NY. The event features wine, beer, food, and a number of amazing events and tasting. Thursday night, Angelo’s 677 Prime hosted Jim Bernau, Founder and President of Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) for a very special wine paring meal.

The evening started with some delicious appetizers paired with WVV’s 2015 Willamette Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir Whole Cluster. This beautiful wine had a body that some may find unusual for a rosé. From there the chef had a special meal planned with some gorgeous wines:

1st Course – Charred Octopus served with 2014 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris

2nd Course – Caesar Salad and 2012 Willamette Valley Estate Chardonnay

3rd Course – Burrata Raviolis with 2014 Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Noir

4th Course – Pinot Noir Lacquered Chilean Sea bass & Tournadoes RossiniCreme served with 2012 Willamette Valley Bernau Block Pinot Noir

5th Course – Espresso Pots de Crème, Orange Ricotta Bombolotti with 2007 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port

The winemaker, Jim, was very entertaining. He shared stories of the vineyard along with historical background that painted a picture of his Willamette Valley vineyards. Additionally, he walked us through each wine and helped to us to enjoy the custom pairings created by the chef at Angelo’s 677 Prime.

If you live on the west coast, or plan to visit Oregon, I’d certainly recommend that you visit Willamette Valley Vineyards and take advantage of the custom pairing they offer their visitors. However, if Oregon isn’t in your future, then make it a point to look for pairing opportunities at your local vineyards. Several of the best Michigan vineyards regularly schedule special lunches or dinners. These events offer you the opportunity to enjoy your favorite wines in the context of a great meal. Additionally, you’ll get a chance to learn more about the vineyards, the wines, and/or the staff.

In the months to come, I look forward to sharing details from some Michigan’s finest wineries!

Cheers –

James

2016

2016 Wine: Year One

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When Jimmy and I started this blog in August, we were just two guys that were relatively new to wine – and wanted to share our experiences, tastings, and thoughts with others. To be clear, other than a couple restaurant tastings, 2016 was my first year coming to know wine – and it has been an amazing year. While some of the more popular magazines and blogs have done a great job recounting some of the great wines released in 2016, I wanted to focus on some of my moments in 2016.

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People
The first thing I learned in 2016 was that wine is best enjoyed with other people. Sure, there are times when we all enjoy a quiet moment with a beautiful cabernet, or a powerful zin. There are times when it facilitates a nice meal or a private moment. But, in large, it goes with friends and family. I’d like to share some examples:

Some of my best moments were shared with friends at The Wine Gallery at Villa Macri. In 2016, we shared several great meals pairing fabulous food and wines. We also enjoyed blind tastings, holiday tastings, and weekly themed wines from around the world. However, the best part was the time spent with friends (new and old) and Jason and his staff. We laughed. We shared our experiences. We drank great wine together.

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Wine has also been the meeting point for people. In 2016, I had the good fortune to interact with folks that were able to share their thoughts and expertise while enjoying some of the best wines from around the world. Some were folks that I was familiar with because of their expertise in wines, while others were brand new to me. Some ran restaurants, others wine bars, and others worked the tasting rooms at wineries. Some represented large organizations, while others were writers willing to share their experiences end thoughts on the industry.

Of course, some of my best times have been the moments shared with my brother, Jimmy. While family, we’ve not shared too many experiences over the years. Yet, our love of wine has resulted in hours upon hours of discussions, texts, filming, car rides, and time together enjoying some great bottles of wine.

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Places
I’ve already mentioned The Wine Gallery, but 2016 has also been a great year for visiting stores, tasting rooms and wineries in seven states. Each has offered it’s own unique experience. For example, we enjoyed a great visit with the owner of Broad Run Vineyards outside Louisville, KY. During our time there, the gracious owner walked us through each of the wines on his current tasting menu with stories of their creation and the history of the grape varietals. He also wrapped up our time with a great 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.

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We’ve also enjoyed some great times visiting tasting rooms across Michigan. We loved the wines and people of the Old Mission Peninsula. If you follow our blog, you know we enjoyed meeting the folks at Mari Vineyards, 2 Lads, and all the rest. We’ve spent hours crossing the highways of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and on to the wineries in and around Jackson, MI including Chateau Aeronautique. However, we’ve spent the most time in the Baroda area and at the Union Pier tasting room for St. Julian. This winery has some great wines representing the best grapes of the Lake Michigan Wine Trail. Throughout the year, they also offered events designed to educate and entertain. Of course, it is their staff that makes the difference. Folks like Linda and John take the time to interact with visitors tailoring experiences and tastings.

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Now, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the amazing times in Washington State. I had a great time trying to visit the more than 130 tasting rooms in and around Woodinville Washington. From the large Chateau Ste Michelle to the intimate Northwestern Cellars. We also had a great time exploring the new options in the Sodo district including Sleight of Hand. If you have any time available to visit these tasting rooms, or the wineries of Prosser, Columbia Valley and the rest of Eastern Washington – do it. These wineries and tasting rooms bring the wine to life.

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Changing Tastes
Of course, 2016 also saw my tastes change. Like many wine drinkers, I started off enjoying strictly sweet wines like Moscato, Rieslings, and perhaps even the occasional…white Zinfandel. Over time, I came to appreciate the drier whites like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Perhaps not surprising to other wine lovers, the evolution continued into the reds. Initially, this journey included the tastes of Pinot Noir (I fell in love with the wines of MacPhail). Then I experienced the spicy pleasures of great Zinfandels (7 Deadly Zins or Fiddletown) and many of the Australian Shiraz wines of Mollydooker. And of course, there’s nothing quite like a great steak and a great Cabernet Sauvignon from the likes of Silver Oak or Trinitas Cellars.

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2016 was a great year. I tried many great wines and visited some great locations. I spent time with loved ones and met new people that would become dear to me. I learned more than I could have ever expected. It wasn’t necessarily all about the wine – but the wine sure helped.

Can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring!

James

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Mari Vineyards

Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail – Part Two

Mari Vineyards

Visiting vineyards, wine cellars, and tasting rooms around the Old Mission Peninsula Wine trail can provide a few hours of fun or extended vacation including tours, tasting and other special events. While each location includes a bar and a collection of wines for sampling…each also carries it’s own personality that can be seen in the staff, surroundings, and…in the wines. My recent visit to the Old Mission Peninsula included all ten wineries but I’d like to share more about my visit to Mari Vineyards (https://www.marivineyards.com).

The first thing that jumps when pulling into the vineyard is the set of large wooden doors set into the hillside below the chateau-like structure. The view from the street is beautiful – but it is nothing compared to the view from the winery itself. A huge tree stump table and fireplace on the patio outside the main doors to the tasting room greet visitors as they arrive.

Inside, the room is decorated with a large stone bar on one side of the room and a fireplace on the other.

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While some visitors have certainly taken the time to learn about Mari Vineyards before the visit…I had not. The only thing I read was that they had some exciting grape varietals that seemed unique for Michigan. To my surprise, our host, Rob, did more than just offer our choice of wines for tasting…he walked us through the history of Mari Vineyards and shared about their distinctives including: the amazing caverns where the wine is aged, the Nellaserra growing system allowing a longer, warmer growing season, and of course the grape varietals available at Mari. While these include the classics like Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Mari also grows some unique grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and others.

Of course, the highlight of the visit was the tasting itself! We enjoyed their Mari Vineyards Riesling – it was a crisp, clean example of Michigan Rieslings. We were not, however, prepared for the amazing reds. We enjoyed them all…but we loved the last two: The 2013 Bel Tramanto was an amazing 50/50 blend of Merlot and Sangiovese. The star of the show was the 2011 Ultima Thule: 45% Nebbiolo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Merlot. Barolo wine from Italy (Nebbiolo grapes) is considered the wine of kings and the king of wines. However, there are few areas in the U.S. trying to grow this grape. Mari Vineyards is growing them and has created a great tasting, powerful wine!

Michigan has many vineyards worth your visit. Traverse City has more than 30 great vineyards and tasting rooms within a matter of minutes. However, no trip here is complete with spending some time with the folks at Mari Vineyards!

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