Michigan vs. Ohio: No Contest, Or ‘Michigan By A Nose’?

‘Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor’s wine’ is a Commandment that is often transcribed incorrectly using ‘covet’ and ‘wife’, but it doesn’t matter, because Commandment-breaking is the journalistic cornerstone upon which this column has established preeminence in the American Academia of letters.

'Go, Blue'

Likewise, and nearly as prominent, is ‘The Game’.

Why somebody from Toad Suck, Arkansas (35° 4′ 32″ N, 92° 33′ 36″ W) really cares who wins the 2011 U of M/ Ohio State NCAA matchup, set for November 26, is a Sphinx-level mystery—especially considering that this year, all of the traditional pomp and circumcision will be a no-show:

Luke Fickell

1) The game will not determine the Big Ten Conference title, and the only way either of these teams will see Pasadena is on the TV screen-a.

2) There is no legitimate rivalry—nor will there ever be—between lame duck OSU coach Luke Fickell and newbie Michigan coach Brady ‘Les Miles Said No’ Hoke.  Hoke’s from Ohio, anyway, and Fickell is from Toad Lick, Arkansas, or somewhere like that.

3) Anyway, the clash, now in its 108th year, has had nearly all its polish tarnished.  As you’ll recall, the now identity-free, 6-5 Buckeyes vacated their entire 2010 season (including a 37-7 rout of Michigan) thanks to corrupt everybody, from Coach Jim ‘Call Me, Jerry Sandusky; Let’s Have A Drink Some Time’ Tressel to a gang of local, memorabilia-crazed tattooists.

Nonetheless, on Saturday, the regular season finale will be televised nationally by ABC and promises as always to be among the most watched broadcasts of the year.

Note that if you want to actually attend the game, and are willing to settle for the 70th row in an end zone, StubHub! has tickets available for $2,250.

Toad Lickers, Why?

'Drive, drive on down the field, Men of the Scarlet and Gray'

I’m from Michigan, so I care.  Not just because U of M tends to produce luminaries like Nobel Laureate Stanley Cohen, rocket scientist Claudia Alexander and King Fahd University for Petroleum rector Khaled S. Al-Sultan, while those OSU alumni who have not yet traded their sisters for Justin Timberlake tattoos include Gamblers Anonymous candidate Mike Sexton and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

And not because of any  lingering resentment over those south-of-the-border troglodytes who dared challenge us during the War of 1835—unlike the South, I know how to get over a border dispute. Plus, as as a result of that near-nuclear conflict, Congress awarded Michigan the Upper Peninsula while Ohio wound up with Toledo.  Stop by that humid, industrial dump some time and tell me who won…

No, it’s because I dislike neighbors—including those frostback syrup schleppers from Windsor and that shmendrik three doors down whose friggin dog will not shut up—on principle.

If I was, in fact, a sports scribe instead of a plonk pundit, I would go on.

I’m not, so I’ll change the subject.

Ohio vs. Michigan Wine Clash 2011

Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall is a friend from Columbus who will doubtless become an enemy from Columbus after he reads this—even though I will state uncategorically and up front that despite his alma mater he is neither a home-wrecking gambler nor a mass murderer. He is, however, a cheerleader for the wines of the Midwest and he first organized a Ohio wine versus Michigan wine taste-off in 2008, intending it to be a yearly event roughly coinciding with ‘The Game’.

I think that it’s a dastardly clever notion, which is why I am delighted to be a part of it.

Unlike the football rivalry, which takes place either in The Horseshoe or The Big House depending on the NCAA schedule, Hall takes his clash to both Ann Arbor (Vinology) and Columbus (The Twisted Vine).  I was an A-squared judge, primarily because I do not trust non-macho Columbian sommeliers to keep my Michigan license-plated car from getting upended and set on fire.

The contest is patently unrigged, but it is a blind tasting, which sort of gives Michigan the edge because Ohio has no famous blind people and we have Stevie Wonder.  In any case, Hall insists that the competing wines be grown exclusively in their respective states and can show proven track records via wine reviews and other competitions. There are no industry or government sponsorships, and naturally, Hall is way too cheap to offer financial remuneration to us panel of accredited wine professionals willing to sacrifice an evening of wine-drinking to drive to Ann Arbor to drink wine.

Categories were pretty informal: Sparkling, white and red, with grape varietal less a concern than wine weight and flavor profile—an unusual approach.  Thus, Norton (a vitis aestivalis scion little known outside Missouri) and pinot noir went head-to-head; riesling faced grüner veltliner; and strangest of all, a sweet, sparkling chamborcin was pitted against a brut sparkler made mainly from vignoles.

My tasting notes are followed by the contest winners as determined by adding the scores of the vast Army of the North and those of the heavily-tattooed  Pee-Wee League of the South:

Ravenhurst Champagne Cellars Brut Noir, Ohio, NV: Fizzy and fruity if somewhat facile, this red sparkler threw me when I tried to identify the varietal.  With heady notes of violets, brambly blackberry and a bit of mocha, I might have said zinfandel but for a slight—and pleasant—foxiness. But chambourcin it was.

L. Mawby Talismon, Leelanau Peninsula, NV:  Even though I recognized Larry Mawby’s signature yeasty-dry méthode champenoise, I still would have given Talismon the nod in this bubble-off.  Creamy, frothy, dry and delightful, the wine shows brioche, light melon and citrus and a quick crisp finish.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Michigan


Black Star Farms Pinot Gris, Michigan, 2010:  I recognized this one, too, primarily because Lee Lutes’ pinot gris is so true to this varietal that it would be hard not to.  Luscious Bosc pear dominates the nose and character-laden palate, with green apple in the center and grapefruit on the finish.

Burnet Ridge Pinot Gris, Lake Erie (OH), 2010:  Pear is there, but the wine relies heavily on the grapefruit angle.  Gardenia and honey in the middle palate make for full flavors, along with melon and pineapple on the finish.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Ohio


Debonné Vineyards Riesling Reserve Lot 907 2009 Grand River Valley (OH), 2009:  A lovely and easy-going riesling from Northeast Ohio, the wine is juicy with peach, apricot, honey and flint; it’s satiny cream and shivery crispiness are in balance, and the stone and fruit carry though to the end.

Chateau Grand Traverse ‘Laika’, Grüner Veltliner, Old Mission Peninsula (MI), 2009: Bonus points for giving this varietal a shot; grüner veltliner should be a natural grape for Northern Michigan, but wineries need to sell wine, and a lot of people don’t know from Austria.   Spicy and laden with grapefruit, the wine seems to fade fairly quickly (youth of vines?) but leaves a refreshing acidity behind.

Kassel Advantage: Ohio

Team Advantage: Ohio


Ferrante ‘Golden Bunches’ Riesling , Grand River Valley, (OH) 2010:  Striking gunflint notes on the nose with tangy, lime-soaked stones in the palate.  A spicy undertone throughout, but in general, the wine struck me as a bit thin.

Left Foot Charley Riesling, ‘Seventh Hill Farm,  2010 (Old Mission Peninsula (MI):  Dissention among the ranks!  I clearly picked up nose notes of gasoline (odd that this is a positive, but in a riesling it can be—and in this case, it was), but my esteemed colleague David Creighton picked these aromas so noticeably in the Ferrante (I didn’t) that I thought someone had done one of those shell-game scams on my wine glasses.  So I re-poured and stuck with my original opinion.  Wonderful wine; behind Gasoline Alley was candied lemons and a remarkable clarity of stone fruit flavors.

Kassel Advantage: Michigan

Team Advantage: Michigan



Meranda-Nixon Norton, Ohio River Valley, 2010: Here’s an odd one: Nixon does Norton.  But it’s neither Richard Millhouse nor Ed, it’s Tina, wife of Seth Meranda, and a remarkable little berry that most folks have never heard of, despite its role as the only native American grape with sufficient natural sugar to make a decent table wine—and certainly the only one that Riedel makes a glass specifically for.  Norton’s gamut of gusto covers blueberries, huckleberries, black cherries, with some mint and coffee in the background.

Old Shore Vineyards Pinot Noir, ‘Tree Line’, Lake Michigan Shore (MI), 2010:  Michigan’s Krugerrand king Cornel Olivier teams up with David and Dannielle Maki to produce primarily pinot gris and pinot noir in the bucolic bailiwick of Buchanan.  The first bottle we opened was corked, so the contest was officially scratched—but the second bottle was splendid, opening up to reveal a rich and detailed personality ripe with kirsch, violets, crushed stone and spice.

Sudden Death Overtime Advantage: Michigan


The Capitulation

Let’s be adult about these results, shall we?  The ruling on the field stands.  We were unable to come up with a replica of the Appomattox Courthouse in which to accept Ohio’s unconditional surrender,  but we fully expect to be offered a fifteeen year occupation of Toledo—which as a health concern we will graciously decline.  We will, however, accept the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which really should be ours anyway.

According to Hall, Selection alone for this competition is recognition of merit.”

Which, dear boy, also holds true for wearing a football letter and will presumably be of some consolation to you when, on Saturday, we wipe the field with your Buckeyes.

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