April 27 2016 12:22 AM

Taking a look at the best of Michigan’s 2016 wine offerings

The theme for northern Michigan wineries right now is diversification and damage control. Back to back years haven’t been kind to our northern vines: Major frost damage, sub-zero temperatures and a nasty hail storm have all wrought havoc.

So when a winery loses 75 percent to 90 percent of its crop, what is there to do? Two unexpected strategies have emerged: making cider and buying grapes from other states.

Obviously, this not a “Plan A” situation. These moves are all about making it through when there is not enough product to keep up with demand. It is the demand of tourists and oenophiles, after all, that keeps their lights on.

Most wineries are honest about where their grapes come from right now, whether it's Michigan, Washington or California. Frankly, they have no need to be embarrassed about the circumstances. Some wineries are not as forthcoming with these details. This unfortunate pseudo-secrecy can largely be attributed to the uncomfortable nature of selling West Coast wines in an idyllic northern Michigan tasting room.

Honesty always wins in the long run, though, and there are plenty of honest, passionate people making great wines despite the tough luck they’ve had.

Not many wineries were able to produce powerhouse numbers of complex, delicious wines, so many of the finished products are fun, unexpected gems.

Best Values

2 Lads chardonnay, 2013 ($24) — Notes of lemon and vanilla are prominent, but this chardonnay also picks up some nifty butterscotch flavors from the oak barrel aging process.

45 North 45 Bubbly white, NV ($22) — The lineup from 45 North continues to impress. This winery is realistic with what they have, coaxing correct and totally enjoyable flavors out of its grapes and not pricing its wines too high. Its 45 Bubbly smells like lemon blossoms and tastes like blood oranges and tangerines — but never in a dominant way. This is a great party wine.

Bowers Harbor dry rosé, 2015 ($22) — This is 100 percent pinot noir made with grapes from Wind Whistle vineyard, less than a mile from Lake Michigan. The 2015 vintage is bright and juicy right now, fresh as it can be. It’s like biting into a watermelon/strawberry hybrid.

Chateau Chantal reserve malbec, 2013 ($17) — This Leelanau winery regularly produces wine with grapes from Argentina. The grapes for this malbec were grown in Lujan de Cuyo in western Argentina. While not a ferociously complex wine, this malbec is a strong exercise in balance between fruit and earth flavors. Hints of raspberry and tobacco leaf come to mind. Well done.

Chateau Chantal pinot grigio, 2014 ($14) — Pinot grigio is a grape sometimes maligned for being innocuous. But that’s not Michigan’s fault, nor is it Chateau Chantal’s. This may be one of the best harvest-in-a-nutshell wines on the list. Using 10 percent auxerrois grapes to round out the pinot grigio, Chantal makes a inexpensive wine that hits the mark in ripeness. Expect notes of cantaloupe, clementine oranges, green pear and citrus blossoms. At just $14, this is one of the best steals of the bunch.

Chateau Chantal, located on the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City, turns out some of Michigan's top wine values.
Courtesy Photo

Chateau Grand Traverse dry riesling, 2013 ($13) — Easy-breezy aromatics, including peach fuzz, fresh apricots, apple blossoms and tart tree fruits. This wine has established itself as a perennial value.

Very Good Wines

2 Lads sparkling riesling, 2014 ($22) — On the moderately sweet side, this sparkler exudes freshness. Think just-picked raspberries, kiwi and peaches. A terrific wine for sushi.

Aurora Cellars Luminous, NV ($15) — For those who like their wines slightly sweet and with just enough fruit to play along, this is a great option. An approachable blend of riesling, vignoles and vidal.

Blustone chardonnay, 2014 ($18) — This un-oaked chardonnay features crisp red delicious apple taste and precise balance. This is not an empty wine by any stretch. Blustone has done well here to make a fleshy, crowdpleasing chardonnay with no oak influence.

Bowers Harbor Block II riesling, 2013 ($32) — A complex, perfumed floral style wine, this Riesling features jasmine up front with elegant tart apple and stone fruit qualities. Maybe the best overall riesling in the bunch.

Brys Estate dry riesling reserve, 2015 ($22) — Rose, lilac, honey and a bit of that riesling petrol note that so often appears in aged German rieslings. This wine is real treat and a top performer in this year’s offerings.

Brys Estate pinot noir, 2013 ($32) – This layered, smoky cherry pinot falls somewhere between Oregon and New Zealand in style. It features hints of spicy, briary red fruits and subtle oak usage. Brys uses French oak, which has a tighter grain compared to American oak and is more suited to pinot. Considering location, it’s certainly less expensive to go with American oak. But this pinot shows the extra cost of French oak is worth it.

Hawthorne Vineyards gamay, 2013 ($16) — The famed grape from Beaujolais does OK in Michigan from time to time. This vintage boasts a well-measured balance of light plummy flavors against clove, rhubarb and a little fruit punch.

L. Mawby Talismøn, NV ($37) — While pricier than many other wines listed here, Talismøn is a laudable example of how sparkling wine in Michigan can actually be elegant. Expect soft lilac, white pepper nose and a minerality not often seen in Michigan wine, hinting at something like wet rocks one finds in wines from Champagne, Rhone or Loire, France. This style of sparkling wine is a true complement to charcuterie, cheeses or seafood. It’s a fun wine for many situations.

Rove sauvignon blanc, 2015 ($20) — An incredible example of west coast sauvignon blanc, this wine shows lemongrass, honeydew melon, granny smith apples and zippy acid. Is it cheating that the grapes are from Washington? When the result is this good, I don’t care where you get your grapes.

Shady Lane The Project pinot blanc, 2014 ($19) — From the west coast again, but farther south than Washington: Bien Nacido vineyard in Santa Barbara, Calif., to be exact. Pineapple, passion fruit, lemon curd and lilacs all seem very giving here. Full-bodied fruit bomb. Not subtle, but very good.

Verterra riesling, 2013 ($16) - The profile of this wine is just a little on the dry side. It’s a fine example of working with quality grapes at an appropriate ripeness. This riesling features tasty nectarine and peach flavors with a background of something like lime zest. This is a versatile wine for the dinner table.

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