Exploring MI with Wine Battleship in Mind

Last week, I discussed the concept of wine battleship and how it opened my eyes to examining beverages.  More importantly, it made me think about not being ‘structured’ in my tastings but to look at the overall picture.  All beverages are consumed for two major reasons:

  • Hydration to stay healthy, or
  • Enjoyment in some way.

We all need hydration.  As a former culinary school instructor teaching beverages, I’m very structured in my approach on how I look at beverages.  While that aspect will not change anytime soon, I now look at enjoyment as a key part of tasting.  That being said, it was time to look at other Michigan Vineyards.

The Trip

Over two days, I went to Traverse City and towns surrounding the area to explore.  Since Fall is around the corner, Leaf turn was on my list to see, and it did not disappoint.  Even though only 20% of the trees were turning, the colors were indescribable in beauty.  Hopefully, I can get one more trip up there this year to see full turn.

While that was important, I’ve always wanted to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes and that was breathtaking as you can see in the pictures.  I realized that I need to be a bit fitter, but I made it to the top of several dunes to overlook the lake.  BTW, these pictures are not edited.  This is the actual color of Lake Michigan and it’s a blue I’ve never seen before.

The goal, however, was to check out new wineries.  On the Old Mission Peninsula, I’ve visited numerous wineries and enjoyed them all. It was time to explore other areas.  Leelanua Peninsula was on the list for a few reasons:

  • Great wines that received awards this year from TEXSOM,
  • Beautiful views and towns to explore, and
  • A new place to visit so why not.

I focused on two wineries for today’s article but there are plenty more that are on my list for visiting in the future.  Again, I’m going to use the format from the last article and approach my thoughts from the winery’s focus, as a sommelier, as a chef and the general public.

Ciccone Vineyards & Winery

This was the first stop so mentally it was setting the benchmark for the area.  I needed not to worry.  If they won awards from TEXSOM, the winery would be doing something great.  Did I mention that there is something about sitting outside sipping on wine when it’s 70 F in the fall that makes life wonderful?

Projecting the winery’s focus, all of the wines sampled were nicely balanced with great structure and fruit.  They won an award for the Dolcetto, and this was a great showing.  I loved the wine along with their Cabernet Franc Reserve (which I purchased a bottle).

As a Sommelier, I loved the Cabernet Franc.  I strongly believe that more wineries in the area should focus on this variety as it shows well in Michigan.  The wood integration in the wine was great allowing it to showcase the fruit and depth.

The Chef Side of me wants to enjoy this bottle in a few ways.  I was thinking about Beef Short Rib Lasagna every time I sipped on it as the structure, fruit and acidity would pair amazingly with this dish.  Heck, anything Italian with a good red sauce (not spicy) would most likely work well.  I also thought of the fruit being more strawberry like than cassis.  Cold smoking some strawberries to use as a base for BBQ sauce for pork or chicken would be another great idea for pairing.

As for the general public aspect, the view of the vines was perfect (and I’ve never seen a Hosta that big).  They open at noon so arriving just after, there were not a lot of people there.  It started to fill up slowly showing that they had a good draw.  The staff were amazing and helpful and just fun to talk with.

Overall, this is another winery that I’ll visit to hang out one afternoon when I’m not attempting to get to multiple places due to time.

Bel Lago

This is another great award-winning winery that I decided to visit.  This is a beautiful area with an insane number of sunflowers growing everywhere (one was about 10 feet tall).  This one was on the list to visit to taste their Rivalee which is their rose.  I loved the dryness of this wine, as it was refreshing.  This was well balanced with great fruit and acidity. 

However, my standout was the 2018 Auxerrois Reserve.  If you have never heard of this variety, you need to check it out.  Just a great showing of the variety with beautiful acidity and hints of tropical fruits, sweet apples, and a hint of spice.

Projecting the winery’s focus, I was happy with the quality of all of their wines and their passion for making red wines.  Everything I sampled was excellent.

As a Sommelier, it would be fun to showcase both the Rose and Auxerrois ( I purchased both) during a dinner or on a list.  The price point for both would be affordable and a great talking point to showcase Michigan wines. 

The Chef Side of me wants to play with both of these wines.  The rose with its notes of watermelon and tarragon reminded me of a watermelon / feta salad.  The Auxerrois had me craving a roasted honey turkey and melted brie sandwich on focaccia or ciabatta.  In either case, these would match the flavors, body, acidity, and aromas.

As for the general public, this winery was definitely steady.  One car would leave, and another would pull right in.  They do great business there and sitting outside on the patio would be amazing to enjoy the staff’s helpful presence.

Overall, this is another place to visit to explore deeper and enjoy.

Final Thoughts

I did not have a lot of time on this trip to fully enjoy the area but will be going back soon.  I think the best part of the trip was finally relaxing just to enjoy.  I normally have a list and time everything out to be at such location at such time.  This trip was free flowing to fully relax and absorb everything. 

The food from the Original Flap Jack Shack and Farm Club (freaking onion rings – Wow) were fantastic with rich portions that I could not finish.  The drive around the Peninsulas – relaxing.  The wineries – relaxing and great.  Walking Traverse City was enjoyable.  The best part?  I used the wine battleship concept to full effect and now will incorporate it daily.

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