A Soft Opening

We were invited to a “soft opening” of a new restaurant location for one of the chains.  Our nephew got a job there and he had invited his parents for the “friends and family” offer of free dinners, and they invited us to join them, as they figured that I might be able to offer some suggestions about his wine service techniques.   We had to drive for almost an hour to get to the location and his parents only live about three miles away; naturally we got there first.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I am not partial to this chain, but my Bride doesn’t mind them and she is much more allowing compared to me.  She thought that our nephew needed a curmudgeon to keep him on his toes.  While we were waiting for his parents to arrive, I was amazed at the number of people that were trying to get into the restaurant that evening, since they obviously didn’t pay attention to the signs posted that there were not open yet for the public.  Add to that, that the staff that was guarding the front doors were all masked, as restaurants here are still only partially open, so I give the company kudos for opening a brand-new building in this environment.  The greeters or guards also told us the rules, before we went in, that all of the dishes that we ordered were complimentary as well as soft drinks.  If we wanted alcoholic beverages, we would have to pay for that, but all the proceeds of the hard drinks were being donated to a local charity.   So, we put on our masks to be led to our table, so that we could take the masks off after we were seated.

We were actually kind of goaded to order appetizers, under the guise that the kitchen needed to experience in the trench battlefield operations.  We ended up with the four of us, splitting an order of Toasted Ravioli and an order of Classic Shrimp Scampi Fritta.  Then out came salads or soups and bread.  I was appalled when I heard that there were groups that were taking advantage of the “friends and family” and were ordering two entrée orders per person, I guess when it is free, some people become gluttons.  My Bride ordered the Herb-Grilled Salmon and I went with the Shrimp Scampi.  We were told to order desserts and we had those boxed up, as we were going to the other couple’s home afterwards and desserts would not go bad there. The food was much better than I had anticipated, and that is important; and a fun evening.

This was the same young man that I had given a lesson of using a Waiter’s Cork Screw on a Zoom session and he was still nervous.  Though he did come by as our waiter and offer us a glass of complimentary wine, and it was so good, that we ordered a bottle for the table, but the wine had a screw cap, so we had to order a second bottle and we found a bottle that had a cork, and one of the bartenders was giving him a “hands on” lesson on using the cork screw.  Then I gave him a quick lesson in wine service about the cork and finding out who will do the taste of the newly opened wine; with a screw cap there is way less pomp and circumstance.  The wine with the cork was Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2018.  Chateau Ste. Michelle is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wineries in the State of Washington.  They are known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, but are famed for their Riesling.  It was founded as the American Wine Growers in 1954 by the merger of two that companies that followed the repeal of Prohibition; the National Wine Company and the Pomerelle Wine Company.  The National Wine Company had planted Vitis vinifera grapes in the Columbia Valley, and under the consultation of Andre Tchelistcheff they planted even higher quality grapes in 1967.  These were under the name of Ste. Michelle Vintners and the first wines released were Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Semillon and Grenache.  In 1974 in a blind tasting their Riesling came in first place over Germany and California.  In 1976, they changed the name to Chateau Ste. Michelle.  The wine is aged Sur Lie for six months in a mix of French and American Oak, with ten percent new, and then blended with Chardonnay that was aged in tanks, so that there is a blend of crisp and oaky wine combined.  This is always a charming bottle of wine and I think it is very food friendly.  The wine that had a screw cap, that I was unaware of, and the wine that we were offered a free sample of was Meiomi Pinot Noir California 2018.  Later that evening, our nephew mentioned that the wine was the most expensive wine on the carte and he thought we would like it.  Meiomi Wines is a California winery that was founded in 2007 by Joe Wagner, the son of Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards.  The winery started with Pinot Noir, then a Chardonnay and finally a Rosé.  Meiomi means “coast” in the language of the Wappo and Yuki tribes of the region.  The Pinot Noir is a blend of three coastal regions; Sonoma County, Monterey County and Santa Barbara County and hence the California AVA.  Their first vintage of the Pinot Noir was in 2007 and they produced ninety-thousand cases and quickly became one of the most requested wine labels for restaurants.  In 2015, Joe Wagner sold Meiomi Wines to Constellation Brands for $315,000,000, and he stayed on as a consultant for the 2016 and 2017 vintages.  This was the first vintage not overseen by Joe Wagner and the wine was a classic California wine that was jammy and velvety with a good nose and nice finish, that even appealed to our in-laws that are not really red wine drinkers.   Afterwards we helped our nephew with getting the wine bottles into specially designed self-sealing bags, as Michigan several years back started allowing unfinished bottles of wine to go home with the patrons, just like left overs in “doggy bags.”  Though one of the bartenders came by and redid our handiwork, as there was supposed to be a copy of the restaurant receipt in the bag as well, and the bartender realized that the none of the staff, especially the new trainees were taught this, so we helped out again.  We tipped our waiter for a job well done, left with all the leftover food and desserts and went to his parent’s house to play some four-handed cribbage.                                                                                                                                                            

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Where Did All These White Whites Come From?

One thing about retirement, all that free time you thought you were going to have, is just not there.  On top of it, I have my Bride home every day, even though she is an essential worker, she is working remote and now we both seem to have less time.  You would think that with the elimination of the rush-hour travel time, she could get more time for herself, because the roads haven’t been fixed, but she just seems to work more.  As for me, I just keep giving myself more projects and some of them have been pretty labor intensive.  It all started because we couldn’t go out for dinner anymore, and I started to raid the cellar; and this seems to be a rather common phenomenon among other wine writers as well.  I finally got the majority of the red wines inventoried and I can also look at a chart and know exactly where the bottle is.

The white wines were placed in cartons to be sorted and I decided to finally make use of the wine vault, we have placed in the family room.  Supposedly, one can get two bottles per wire grid cubicle, but that is not always the case.  Some bottles have little or no punt, the indentation at the bottom of the bottle that can help you pour the wine; so some bottles just barely make it, and then other bottles that have long sloping necks can only get one bottle per cubicle, and I think I looked rather strange to my Bride as I would take two bottles at a time to see if they would fit, before I would make a new wine tag and also enter it on my map of the vault.  Also, some of the bottles are heavier and the circumference of the bottles are larger than the cubicle was designed for, so I had to place them on top of the grid work, and it may not look nice, but it works for me.  I was also going to try to get the wines by grape variety, but that didn’t work out to well, so I am glad that I have a map to help me find the wines.  As a side note, there are still white wines that I found still in a couple of the racks that I have not inventoried as of yet.

I have written some articles about some of the wines that were rescued and were still drinkable twenty years later, which is not as big of a deal for plenty of red wines, but the white wines have been dicey as we have been trying our luck.  In the old days when I was a kid, it seemed that more of the white wines were in colored glass bottles, like amber, blue or green, but it seems that most white wines are now in clear glass bottles.  I am not sure if that is a “green” thing or a “marketing” thing, but lately I have seen a couple of articles attacking clear glass for white wines, but I am not going to make any calls one way or the other.  As I was looking at some of the bottles, I cannot remember their provenance and others make me recall how they were our favorite wines and then another favorite wine usurped their position.  Other wines were placed in the cellar and just forgotten about, and some never had a tag made out for the wine initially.  And some were considered too dear for an occasion and then we acquired other wines that were also too dear and wines were put aside and eventually forgotten about.  I am sure that there will be some more surprises and some sad tales in the ensuing years as I try to get it all in a more logical order, but then there is human nature that may bollix everything up again.   

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September 2020 Fine Wine Source Club Offerings

The month is almost over, but to help continuing my birthday celebration are two more wines from my local wine club, The Fine Wine Source of Livonia.  Even though, none of my wine clubs are aware of my birthday, they all added to the inventory in my birthday month.  The wine shop has had some physical changes as they are adapting to all the new regulations, especially if and ever they can really offer wine tastings again, which was a definite part of the charm of the shop.  Some beautiful wood racks have been dismantled and put in storage for the moment to allow for “social distancing,” even though wine tasting is best when it is a social event; as in the more the merrier.  They have been doing their best to keep up with their customers and have been doing a major personal delivery campaign.  Though I guess as a former merchant, I just enjoy the store experience and the comradery with the customers and even the sales representatives that always seem to populate the shop as well. 

The first wine offered by the club is Donati Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Paicines AVA 2016.  The Donati family started arriving in the Paicines region of the Central Coast in 1998, when they purchased the land that would become the family estate and vineyard.  Since then they have planted the vineyards and built a state-of-the-art winery.  Paicines is the southern most AVA in the San Benito County and in the 1980’s and 1990’s the area was associated with the production of bulk wines, but a few wineries are attempting to correct that image.  To this day, much of the fruit is grown and then sent to wineries in other parts of California.  It is still home to the five-hundred-acre Vista Verde Vineyard that was previously owned by Almaden Vineyards, before the company was sold and split up in the 1980’s.  The sandy soils of gravel and limestone have forced the vines to develop deep root systems, because of the good drainage and has strengthened the vines.  The wine is ninety-one percent Cabernet Sauvignon with four percent Merlot, four percent Malbec and one percent Petit Verdot.  Initial fermentation was done in Stainless Steel and then it was aged for twenty-one months in a mix of French, American and Russian Oak, with some new in each category.  The wine is said to offer aromas of red fruits, with medium tannins with notes of cedar and mocha, with a long finish that even offers some cranberry notes. 

The second wine from the club was Podere Ciona Chianti Classico 2017.  I was reading the history of the winery on their website “Franca and Franco Gatteschi were looking for a place in the countryside to retire to, after many years of working in Italy and abroad, when they came across a small, beautiful, albeit run down property: 100 acres of land, mostly wooded with 10 acres set aside for cultivation, of which 2.5 acres already had vineyards; a house from the 18th Century, abandoned for more than 40 years; and, above all, a view without equal on the Chianti hills, with Siena in the distance.”  It really sounds idyllic and makes one ponder how this property was neglected and ignored for years.  “They purchased the estate at the beginning of 1990 and they immediately started the reconstruction work on the main house (it took nearly three years). They also set up a small but well- equipped wine cellar for making wine. In 1996 they permanently moved to live on the estate and the following year, the great 1997 vintage, saw the birth of the first “official” wine of Podere Ciona: A Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva.” The winery is in the Chianti Classico region Gaiole in Chianti which allows them to feature the famous Gallo Negro or Black Rooster, one of the earliest area recognition labels in Italy. This is the winery’s basic Chianti wine and they still maintain their desire to only produce one bottle of wine per vine.  The wine is eighty-nine percent Sangiovese, nine percent Merlot and two percent Alicante Bouschet.  They still maintain hand harvesting and initial fermentation is in Stainless Steel and then aged in French Oak.  The wine is described as a classic Chianti with red fruit notes and a velvety texture from the Merlot.  I have had their Chianti Classico Riserva, as well as some of their other wines, so I know that this will be a nice choice with a dinner.

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De Tierra Russell Estate Merlot

I am going to write about the third bottle of wine from the September shipment from “A Taste of Monterey.”  This was our first wine club that we ever joined and it has to be around eighteen years from that first day when we entered into their shop and tasting room.  So that means roughly two-hundred-sixteen bottles of wine have been delivered to us, and it was very exciting for us to find out that they were legally able to ship the wines to us in Michigan, because at that time Michigan was considered a felony state and one of the past governors was sued in a legendary court case for wine drinkers and she lost, which benefitted all wine drinkers in the state.  So, we have been enjoying the wines from Monterey County for some time, and it was all by accident, because we were having lunch at the famed Sardine Factory in the Cannery Row district in the city of Monterey.  We also bought a major piece of art that is featured in our living room, front and center; so that trip was rather monumental for us, in many ways.

Monterey County is a relative newcomer according the AVA as it was only awarded status in 1984.  It is a long and narrow region that follows the Salinas River, and the area was immortalized in the writings of John Steinbeck long before wine was a genuine crop for the area.  De Tierra Vineyards began in 1998 as an organic grape growing operation by Tom Russel, an agriculture professional from Phoenix, Arizona.  He had transitioned his crops from conventional vegetable operations to organic farming in the 1990’s.   He was very successful and tried his approach to winemaking in the Salinas Valley and he teamed up with Lucio Gomiero of Italy and they developed a forty-acre farm and De Tierra Vineyards was established.  The vineyard is now owned by Dan McDonnal and Alix Lynn Bosch and they strive to maintain the name which translates to “of the land.”  They grow eight varietals and they also make three different blends, but some of the fruit is sourced beyond the estate.  They maintain a tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Over the years we have received many different wines from this winery and we are looking forward to opening the De Tierra Vineyards Russell Estate Merlot Monterey 2017.  Maybe I am more excited of the two of us, because I have always had a love for Merlot, since my days as a student, because the Merlot based wines of the Bordeaux region were more affordable for the most part compared to the Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, they were also more delicate if that is word that I will use, but back in the day, because the wines were softer, they were referred to as the feminine wines of the region.  Even after that movie Sideways, I still was a strong defender of Merlot, right, wrong or indifferent. The Russell Estate Vineyard is located deep in the Corral de Tierra at the foot of Mount Toro, between the Santa Lucia Highlands and the Carmel Valley in Monterey County; “the pastures of heaven” penned by Steinbeck.  There are five varietals grown on the estate and they are one hundred percent organic and sustainable practices in the farming and husbandry of the land.  The vineyard is run entirely on solar energy and hand farming practices are used whenever practical and possible.  There was no information on the fermentation of the wine, but there were tasting notes.  “Bright aromas of pomegranate, raspberry and orange rind meet with lively pinches of wild, dewy herbs and the hint of green peppercorns on the nose of this bottling.  The palate offers ripe cherry alongside the snappier cranberry flavors, with herbs and strong acidity throughout.” There suggested aging potential is six to eight years.  I am never sure when I may get a strong desire to try a new Merlot, but it does seem to go in cycles and I will write about it, and I am sure that I won’t use their descriptors, but it works for them. 

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August West Pinot Noir SLH

The joys of receiving wines through a wine club, is that one never knows what to expect, and it might not be what one was thinking about.   The second bottle of wine that I unpacked from “A Taste of Monterey” would have made my ears perk up and piqued my curiosity.  A Pinot Noir wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County definitely would make me happy.  It is just always interesting to find out about a wine, especially from a new winery, and trust me, there are plenty of wineries that are new to me. 

August West Wine produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah wines from their partner’s vineyards at their winery in San Francisco.  Wines are typically released in January, April and September of each year, and one must be on their allocation list, normally to get the new wines.  One of their partners is the Graham Family Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation, in the sub-appellation of Green Valley and the vineyard was founded in 2001 by Howard Graham.  John Peterson is their second partner and he owns two distinct vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  Cortada Alta and is the highest vineyard in the appellation and was planted in 2014.

August West Wine Peterson Vineyard Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 2014 exemplifies the fruit from John Peterson’s first vineyard started in 2010.  It is just shy of ten acres located in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands.  2014 was a very tricky year as California was in the midst of its third year of drought.  Part of the vineyard was trimmed by deer who because of the draught discovered the vines as they were near the Salinas River.  The crop ended up sixty percent down from 2012 and 2013, but quality of the vintage was still the same.  The fruit was destemmed for fermentation and then aged for eleven months in French Oak, of which sixty-seven percent was new.  The wine is said to offer the classic appeal of Pinot Noir from the appellation and with all of the new oak, there will be extra “toastiness” and spice to savor.  There were one-hundred-forty-six cases of wine produced and six to eight years of aging potential.  This is definitely a wine that I would not have encountered on my own.  

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Stokes’ Ghost 2016

Just because my birthday is in September is the not the reason that all three of the wine clubs send us wine.  I wish they were gifts and then I could claim that they are samples, but they are not.  We just received a package from our oldest wine club membership “A Taste of Monterey” and we always get some amazing wines, but I think that it helps that we belong to the Private Reserve Club, which means pricier wines and we get three bottles, four times a year.

In 1833, British sailor James Stokes jumped ship in Monterey with a booty of stolen medicine. He opened a downtown pharmacy and launched a thriving medical practice as “Dr. Stokes”. Despite a knack for killing his patients, he landed a commission as the personal physician to California Governor Jose Figueroa. Within a year, the governor was dead.  The phony physician was astonishingly successful for someone so poor at his job. He grew wealthy, married the widow of one of his patients, and served as mayor of Monterey. Eventually the gig was up. According to legend, Stokes’ sons confronted him of his devious deeds and he ingested poison, falling lifeless at their feet. His former home still stands and to this day, is haunted by the ghostly figure of a man dressed in 1800s garb. This, is the legend of Stokes’ Ghost for all its glory.

Stokes’ Ghost Wines is part of the Scheid Family Wines group.  Stokes’ Ghost Petite Sirah Monterey 2016 is the fourth vintage of this winery.  All of the fruit for this wine is from the estate vineyard in the Hames Valley in Monterey County.  The fruit was night harvested, crushed and fermented in small lots to get the full benefits of this varietal.  Petite Sirah or Durif is a black-skinned grape variety and goes by the name of Petite Sirah in the Americas; it is becoming more common for the rest of the world to start referring to it as Durif, named after its discoverer, Dr. Francois Durif. The wine was aged for fourteen months in a mix of American and Hungarian Oak barrels. I cannot state for a fact of the current issue, but the for the 2014 vintage there was less than two-hundred cases produced and the aging potential is for seven to eight years.  The tasting notes are that the wine is brimming with black cherries, blackberries and cassis flavors.  With notes of violets and white pepper and balanced tannins and a lingering finish.  All of that sounds great for that inky, jammy enamel staining wine that is known to be velvety in its finish.  Who knows when it will be opened up and enjoyed, which is the true joy of a cellar?

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Chateau du Glana Saint-Julien

I guess I have stretched my Birthday celebration as long as possible, because we went out to formally make a date-night of it.  I think that I am worse than a little kid at times, but actually, it is my Bride that has been spoiling me all of this time.  It started with the September Birthday party and then went on for several days at my birthday.  Life is good.  She made reservations at The Earle in Ann Arbor, which is definitely one of the Old-Guard restaurants in the city and they haven’t tried to become trendy or frou-frou and depending on the students of the university and their parent’s wallets.  The Earle favors classic French and Italian dishes and is still located in the basement of the building, and yes, we still had our table in the French Room and I really think that we are the only people left in the world that like that room, but it is OK with us.  Though they now have some tables street side, but call me old-fashioned, but having hordes of students and the occasional pan-handler walking past the tables is not my idea of a romantic evening, but all the tables were occupied on the street, when we left after dinner.  Also, in the basement we also got a chance to listen to the music of another era, when people wined and dined and listened to Sinatra, Martin, Cole and others that could actually carry a tune and enunciate the words to the lyrics.  In fact, since we were the only diners in the French Room, we even danced a bit.

It was kind of fun watching my Bride go up and she was taking photos and studying the old wine maps that were on the walls, as for me, I just like looking at all of the dead soldiers or great bottles of wine that were now empty and just adding to the décor of the room; of course I enjoy looking at wine labels.  The wine list and the menu were still being read off our phones, and I guess that is why they are called smart phones, because I would never figure out how that works.  We started off with an order of Roasted Garlic, crostini and with assorted sides.  Then my Bride ordered her now favorite dish, that I first had there, but somehow, I knew she was going to get it again.  She had Coquilles St. Jacques al crème de Xeres, or Sea Scallops sauteed with mushrooms and garlic, pan-sauced with Sherry and cream and sauteed Brussels Sprouts.  I had their Steak au Poivre or Beef Tenderloin rolled in coarsely ground black pepper sauteed in a Brandy sauce with wild mushrooms, redskin potatoes and sauteed Brussels Sprouts.  We finished the meal by sharing a bowl of House-made Vanilla Ice Cream with White Chocolate shavings and Grand Marnier.

Don’t ask me how it happened, but I forgot to photograph the wine, but I did have the bottle that I took home with us, as the bottle becomes a Muse to me, as I write these articles.  One of the most basic tricks I try to tell people about wines, is to just remember areas and not to try to remember actual labels.  Some labels and names become almost second nature, but I am sorry that I have to admit that I can not recite all the listed growths of the Medoc, though when I see the name, it usually will register with me.  We are hardly wealthy, so one of the tricks I use, is to look for the Commune in the Medoc that is listed with the wine.  If you can afford Chateau Latour, then you don’t have to remember Pauillac, but I am realistic.  Since we were going to share our two entrée orders and have our own version of Surf & Turf, I was looking at the wines of the Bordeaux region and there was a listed from Saint-Julien, probably one of the least seen of the Communes, and there is no First Growths from there.  Saint-Julien is located between Pauillac and Margaux, both Communes that have Growths, but Saint-Julien has eleven ranked chateaus, which account for seventy-five percent of the wine output from the there.  I ordered a bottle of Chateau du Glana Saint-Julien Cru Bourgeois 2008.  The estate was built in 1870 and was built across the road from Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou and originally had twelve acres.  Over the years it has changed hands and increased its acreage.  In 1961 it was purchased by Gabriel Meffre and now his family is running the estate and they now manage one-hundred-six acres.  The wine is sixty-seven percent Cabernet Sauvignon, twenty-seven percent Merlot and six percent Cabernet Franc.  Each plot is managed as a unit, with cold maceration in concrete first and then French Oak, of which forty percent is new for twelve months.  The wine kept opening up at the table, and the next day, we had it as leftovers and it was still excellent.  I guess my celebrating is done for the year, until we find other things to celebrate.

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L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot 2000

I am not going back to school, but that is the first wine that I had since I made it to the ripe old age of 66.  Some people I know try to fudge their age or forget a year, just like this year could be forgotten.  I had a customer that was a funeral home director and his favorite quote was “it is better to be seen, then viewed.” Actually, most days I don’t feel any older, but I sometimes have trouble recognizing the guy in the mirror when I shave in the morning.  Life goes on, and even in this crazy year, my Bride and I are thankful that we are living as well as we can, and we really have no complaints, which is good.  She may get rid of me, when we are both retired, but I guess she is getting used to me, as she seems partially retired, because she, like everyone else is working remotely from home.  Her profession is considered essential from day one, and for years she had the capability of working from home, but I think she liked the change of scenery, but she did detest rush-hour traffic.   Alas, it is good that I retired, because my profession is unknown to the current generations, though there will always be a market for a quality clothier, just not for the pajama wearing workforce on Zoom. 

We had just gotten back from a week in Louisville, with stories to be written about the wines, but I thought I would go out of sequence a bit, just because I can.  We came home and there was actually two weeks of laundry to be processed, plus there was a trip to the grocer that was in order.  My Bride was working non-stop, even though she was on “holidays,” she was still checking her voice mails and her emails, and to boot, she had to attend a webinar for two days to maintain her continuing education credits and in the old days, she would go in person and if it was close enough she would just have breakfast and lunch and drive home and have dinner with me.  Now there are no classes, no board meetings, and no conferences to attend, everything is done on Zoom.  Our plans were to have a fast meal for my Birthday, since it was on a Monday and quite a few restaurants close on Mondays.  She wanted to get a carry-out dinner from a Middle Eastern restaurant near our home, so that it would still be warm when it arrived.  I also like this location, because I think the owner/chef must have grown up or worked in the Armenian section of Beirut, as some of the dishes are more Anatolian, rather than Arabic.  The servings are so large that we just have to get one order to sate the two of us.  We start with the House Salad which tastes just like the salads we used to get at home growing up.  Then my Bride likes Hummus, which is Arabic and I can take it or leave it.  The entrée is always for us, an order of Lamb Sautee with Mushrooms and a side of Pilaf, that is made very similar to the way my Bride learned to make Armenian Pilaf, only they don’t add garlic to the recipe. 

I wasn’t sure what I was going to choose for the wine, when I went into the cellar, but since it is now neat and easily arranged, I looked for something that I thought would be fun.  We had a bottle of L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Columbia Vallely 2000.  I have always enjoyed Merlot based wines, and when I was first learning about wines, in Bordeaux the wines on the other side of the river became my favorites, because they were softer and I always thought lusher, and as a student, they were also more affordable.  L’Ecole No. 41 is a family-owned winery in Lowden, Washington, just west of Walla Walla.  The estate was established in 1983 and in an old schoolhouse, hence the name. The winery has eighty-five acres and the balance of the fruit that they use, either comes from contracts in Walla Walla Valley or from the much larger Columbia Valley.  The wine was seventy-six percent Merlot with fourteen percent Cabernet Franc and ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was aged for eighteen months in a mix of French and American Oak, and was bottled unfined and unfiltered.  This was a magnificent bottle of Merlot, it had a great nose, especially after the first hour, it promised dark cherries and it delivered, because the fruit was full bodied with some terroir and a nice long finish; the next day it was still a solid wine.  It really impressed us, and the sad part is, that I don’t even remember getting this bottle of wine.  And for the me, for the rest of the year, I will be singing along with Nat King Cole that” I will get my kicks on Route 66.”

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Black Star Farms from Both Peninsulas

I hope that it is a good omen that we received a delivery from our Black Star Farms wine club.  It is interesting that this time two of the wines came from the Leelanau Peninsula and two came from the Old Mission Peninsula.  Black Star Farms is rather unique in that it has vineyards and tasting room facilities on both peninsulas, so that they are kind of surrounding Traverse City which is kind of the focal point for all of the wineries in the area.  In 1998 Black Star Farms purchased Sport Valley Farm which was a one-hundred-twenty-acre equestrian facility, and the stylized black star was part of the architectural décor in the main house.  In their Twentieth year, they were honored to receive the 19’th Annual Canberra International Riesling Challenge (CIRC) -Best Wine of the 2018 Challenge and only the second time an American wine came out on top.  There were 567 Rieslings from six countries (Australian, New Zealand, USA, Germany, France and the Czech Republic).  The Black Star Farms Arcturos Dry Riesling 2017 scored 98 points, in addition to taking home Best Dry Riesling and Best American Riesling.  In fact, all six of the Riesling wines that Black Star Farms submitted took home medals, showing a consistency across vintages and styles.  The fruit is sourced from both of the proprietor’s vineyards and from local grower partners in both the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula.  The winery has three series; the premium Arcturos, A Capella and the Leorie Vineyard labels for sparkling and fruit wines.

There was an interesting newsletter from the winemaker and how he is maintaining his sanity during this highly unusual year of rules and regulations, because of a virus.  He is making an early guess that it may be a banner vintage year for the grapes, because it was a great growing season, even if the tourist and business season faltered.  They now have tents erected that can be heated, which in Michigan can be a given for tasting facilities on both peninsulas, as the populace must keep socially distanced, but it doesn’t seem to apply to the governor and a presidential hopeful that were photographed at a private club and all without masks.  The winery has been attempting to work within the guidelines to do business in this fluctuating period of rules.  The winery is also processing eighty-thousand pounds of cherries for their new Cerasus, barrel-aged cherry brandy, which also sounds like a great excuse to enjoy “Pure Michigan,” the real successful advertising campaign that was scrapped before the virus.  The winemaker was also touting a special pre-release offering of “Grace” 2017 as an homage to Sallie Campbell.  The wine will be a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Gamay from a single vineyard in the Old Mission Peninsula. 

The first of the two wines shipped was Arcturos Gamay Noir Leelanau Peninsula 2018.  This is the second bottling that they have done of Gamay Noir, which is the principal grape in Beaujolais.  The accompanying notes says that the wine drinks like “a Pinot Noir with bramble fruit notes, spicy oak and subtle earthiness.”  They are touting this wine as a perfect wine for spicier dishes.  The second wine is the Arcturos Pinot Noir Blanc Old Mission Peninsula 2019.  The third time for the winery to produce this wine, using Pinot Noir to make a white wine.  The wine has an apricot shade that comes from the skins of the grapes breaking and not from skin contact after the grapes have been pressed.  “The wine is floral on the nose and it is bright on the pallet with pleasing flavors of apple, citrus and melon, and is very creamy with bright acidity.”  This wine is being touted for scallops and seafood, and almost any cheese you can think of.  Two distinct wines that I don’t normally think of, for Michigan, but I try to be a booster of wines in the state, when I can.  So, I am looking forward to trying both soon. 

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Bellflower and Gruner Veltliner

We recently tried a new restaurant that opened in Ypsilanti. Michigan.  Ypsilanti is a rather unique city that lives in the shadow of Ann Arbor, even though there is a university in Ypsilanti as well.  The name is pronounced as “ip” thought some people still pronounce it as “yip.” It was originally a fur trading post established in 1809 and eventually merged with a nearby community named for a Greek general Demitrios Ypsilanti, and the name stuck and in 1829 Woodruff’s Grove became Ypsilanti. Being in Michigan the city shares some automotive history like the ACE car of Apex Motors, the Tucker automobile of the Ypsilanti Machine Tool Company, the Kaiser -Frazer cars and the home of the last Hudson Motor Car Company showroom, which is now an automobile museum. 

The Bellflower Restaurant only opened a couple of weeks ago and they are seafood oriented with a Southern influence, as in New Orleans influence.  What I didn’t realize is that they have two different menus, one for the lunch trade and the other for dinner.  We went in the afternoon and the menu was several “Po-Boy” sandwiches on house made bread, unfortunately by the time we got there, they were completely sold out of the sandwiches, which says something for their popularity.  All that they could offer us was either Red Beans & Rice or Lamb Gumbo; we opted for the Lamb Gumbo which was braised lamb, local collards and tomatoes with Basmati Rice.   The heat from the Gumbo was quite intense and our waiter stopped by and asked if we needed any addition hot sauces and we demurely declined, but eventually by adding the rice in, the heat gradually diminished, but it was very tasty.   We will have to go back to try the dinner menu and I look at some of the options that they were preparing for that evening; Roasted Oysters with Garlic, Chilled Shrimp, Assorted Raw Oysters, Red Snapper with Okra, Scallops, Chicken Leg quarters and Pork Collar.  Some of the dishes were Gluten-free and some were Vegetarian. 

The Bellflower also had a bar that had liquor, beer and wine.  They had thirty-eight wines, four dessert/fortified wines and three different offerings of Sake; of which eighteen were offered by the glass, and they also offered a 25% discount on a bottle of wine, if purchased with a carry-out order.   I found it interesting that they had two different offerings of Austrian Gruner Veltliner, one still and one sparkling by the glass, so I thought it would be an interesting tasting for us.   Gruner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria, and the most widely planted grape as well.  The finest examples of this grape are usually cited as coming from Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal.  The first wine that we tried was Weingut Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner Kremstal 2018.  Kremstal is found in the Niederosterreich wine district and a DAC appellation was created in 2007 for both Gruner Veltliner and the dry Riesling wines.  Weingut Stadt Krems has been making wines since 1452 and they are located in the center of the city of Kremstal with their own unique micro-climate vineyard.  The second wine that we tried was Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Osterreichischer Sekt Brut NV.  Peter Szigeti took over his parent’s wine trading business in 1991 with the concept of focusing on the characteristics of the grapes involved.  He emphasizes that the fruit is hand-picked and sun-ripened grapes predominately around the Lake Neusiedl in the Burgenland district of Austria.  Burgenland is on the eastern border of Austria near Hungary and this area is known both for its white wines, but also for its red wines and the region along Lake Neusiedl is also known for sweet, botrytized wines.  The Szigeti sparkling wine is produced using the Methode Traditionelle, with bottle fermentation.  You could really tell that both of the wines were related with the crisp, green and flinty taste and the high acidity that makes you want another sip.  We weren’t expecting the degree of heat in the gumbo and the wines that we had, were very refreshing.  We were discussing a return trip for the dinner menu in the near future. 

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