Michigan’s Rieslings: Quality on Ice

Among the endless ‘doh’ moments experienced by Michigan’s frost-bitten, hard-scrabble winemakers is that the grape they grow best, riesling, accounts for less than two percent of retail wine sales nationwide. Consumer ignorance is perfectly excusable since riesling is vinified in a variety of styles, from bone-dry to semi-dry to dessert-style sweet wines crowned by highly-touted riesling ice wines.

Ed O'Keefe

According to Sean O’Keefe, who along with his brother Ed was among the leaders in the establishment of a global federation of riesling producers known grandiosely as the “International Riesling Foundation’, points out, “This range of sweetness levels can make it challenging for folks to identify riesling’s character. The work within the Foundation, led by respected wine writer Dan Berger, is meant to help consumers find the styles they are seeking when they shop.”

O’Keefe, of Chateau Grand Traverse winery, is among a slew of such Michigan vintners being recognized for the quality of their rieslings.

Following are notes taken from a cross-section of these, tasted blind and in no particular order.

Dry/Semi Dry:

2010 Dry Riesling, Brys Estate, OMP, around $20:  A classic cool-climate riesling nose of wet stone and peach leads into a lively palate filled with evergreen and citrus; the acidity is well-balanced, the wine is silken on the tongue with a long finish touched with lemon zest. 

2008 Dry Riesling, Pentamere, No Appellation Listed (Michigan/Ontario grapes), about $18:  Pineapple and ripe apricot dominate the nose, but the flavors themselves underperform a bit; the palate is warm, with an apple/ almond on the finish reminiscent of a dry Reinhessen riesling.

Wine people say 'petrol', not 'gasoline'. Any questions?

2009 Braganini Reserve Riesling, St. Julian, Michigan, around $15:  A pleasant but not particularly lush offering; petrol and mineral driven rather than fruity; also, there’s a hint of barrel-like flavors unexpected in the varietal.   Simple overall, but not necessarily flawed.

2010 Arcturos Dry Riesling, Black Star Farms, OMP, about $15:  A bright, lively honeysuckle nose saturated with apple skins and white peach; quite complex and opulent throughout; big, bold and nicely balanced with apricot and peach notes and a refreshing pettiance as an added bonus.  A good ‘go-to’ wine for difficult food pairings.

2009 Dry Riesling, Chateau Grand Traverse, OMP, around $12.50: Tart and well-defined with vibrant green apple and lime in the bouquet;  beautifully balanced and exotic in the mouth with pine needles opening to tropical pineapple and lemon mousse.

Adam Satchwell of Shady Lane

2008 Dry Riesling, ‘Estate’, Shady Lane, LP, about $15:  A brooding riesling tinged with dusky sulphur and earth notes; the wine requires a few minutes of air time to revive itself, whereupon it shows some nice grapefruit and a moderately long finish.

2007 Riesling, Gill’s Pier, LP:  Nice tropical notes on the nose along with hints of beeswax and petrol; simple and markedly one-dimensional mid-palate with a little honey and papaya through mid-palate and a quick, if surprisingly supple finish.

2010 Riesling ‘Old Orchard Vineyard, Left Foot Charley, Leelanau, about  $16:  A light but lovely nose of honey and hay; juicy red apple on the palate with a bit of petrol playing in the background. Mouthfeel is lush with some lime acidity to balance the sweetness.

Ice Wine (Prices given are for .375 ml, or half-bottles)

Black Star Farms ‘A Capella’ Riesling Ice Wine, OMP, 2008, $92.50: It was good enough for Obama to serve at the White House and good enough to take Gold as Best Dessert Wine at the 2011 Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition, so it’s good enough for you.  Ripe apricots, peaches, pineapple, exotic flowers, and subtle spices (cardamom?) make for such an ethereal delicious wine that you might just forget about the price tag.

Brys Estate ‘Dry Ice’, OMP, 2008, about $ 75: Layered with bracingly bright notes of grapefruit, apricot, pineapple and passion fruit Coenraad Stassen’s frosty ferment has proven a winner in the past, and literally, having taken home a medal in the prestigious 2010 International Wine & Spirits Competition held in London, England.  Called ‘Dry Ice’ because of its relatively high alcohol content of (13.9%) and lower-than-most residual sugar content (6.8%), the wine should age beautifully over the next two to five years.

Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Ice Wine, OMP, about $70:  Aromas of ripe peach jam lead into a sweet palate front-loaded with fresh tropical fruit, honey and hints of white pepper followed by an eruption of pineapple, apricot, floral honey and guava. Lemon drops, oak and Bartlett pear linger on the finish.  

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