Category Archives: Good Food Deserves Good Wine

What Wine to Buy? Go Taste It!

One of my favorite ways to spend a vacation is wine tasting, so I have made a point to visit three major wine producing areas of the U.S.: Sonoma, California; the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York; and Northern Lower Michigan (both Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula). No matter what region I buy wine from, I tend to gravitate toward the wines I know because I’ve tasted them.

Living in Michigan, it’s easy to buy Michigan wines. I love supporting our local producers and Michigan’s economy. Some of my favorites from Leelanau are Good Harbor Red and L. Mawby Blanc de Blancs. Our closest vineyard, Fenn Valley, makes a Capriccio that serves as one of our favorite red table wines. During my birthday weekend in Traverse City last fall, Bill and I enjoyed a yummy bottle of Pinot Noir that really suited our palates from Brys Estate on Old Mission Peninsula.

When I stand in the Michigan Wines section of our local wine retailers I find I’m always grabbing the same bottles, when there are many more to choose from. That’s partly because I had never been to the wineries in Southwest Michigan, along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Bill and I finally had the chance to go this weekend.

We started at Contessa Wine Cellars because it was close to the Chocolate Garden, a truffle shop I had heard about for years. (It reminds me of growing up in New Jersey and never going to the Statue of Liberty until I moved to Michigan—so close, yet so far.) I really enjoyed both the Tre Tenores and Lago Rosso. The latter was also an ingredient in the truffles I bought at the Chocolate Garden. And, the winery has a spacious deck with a beautiful view of the vineyard.

Contessa Wine Cellars

The Chocolate Garden

From there we zipped down to Tabor Hill, since the winery also has a restaurant on the premises and we were already hungry for lunch.

Tabor Hill Winery

Tabor Hill Winery

We each started off our meal with a glass of Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine. Blanc de Blanc at Tabor Hill

After a light lunch overlooking the vineyards, we tasted several reds and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the Syrah, since it’s not one of my usual varietals.

Next on the itinerary was Round Barn Winery, which I knew I just had to see because it’s in a round barn. Not only did we love the wines there, but they also distill spirits and brew beer. Bill and I found another Pinot Noir that we really enjoyed, plus a Nouveau Noir—made in steel barrels. It was also surprisingly tasty. Round Barn is hip and fun, and a unique setting. I hope to go back for some winery events this summer.

Round Barn Winery

The next closest stop was Domaine Berrien Cellars. Don’t let their modest tasting room fool you. We really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc as well as the Vignoles, a sweet white that is pretty tasty in summertime weather.

Domaine Berrien Cellars

There are 14 wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail and we only made it to four in one day. That means I’ll need to plan another outing soon to try the others, but at least now I’ve expanded my list of Michigan wines to know what to buy from local retailers.

Oh, and if you’re a beer drinker, you must visit our state. Grand Rapids was chosen as this year’s Beer City USA. Craft breweries abound in Michigan!

Bellini Baubles

White peach juice is what makes a Bellini a Bellini. That plus Prosecco, and you’re golden. So last summer, when white peaches were in season, I pureed a whole bunch of them and froze the puree so Bill and I could enjoy Bellinis year-round. The problem was I put too much puree in my freezer containers and didn’t have enough Prosecco to balance it.

This year, the light bulb went off: Why not freeze the puree in ice cube trays so we’d have serving-size blocks of puree? I decided to call them Bellini Baubles.

I used white Saturn (or Doughnut) peaches from the market. Just remove the pits, peel them, and puree them in a juicer or blender. Then fill as many ice cube trays as you can.

Once they’re frozen in the tray, you simply dump them all into an airtight container and store them in the freezer.

Now, whenever I’m in the mood for a Bellini, I just open a bottle of Prosecco, put a bauble in a champagne flute, and pour Prosecco over it.

Our favorite brand is Zardetto.

Bill says he likes how cold the bauble makes the Prosecco. I like the simplicity of this drink. Sometimes we add a few raspberries.

You could also try Bon Appetit’s White Peach Summer Bellini recipe if you want to make the drink with a more subtle peach flavor. And, if you don’t have white peaches, you can use yellow peaches, or even peach nectar.

If you’re not baker or jam-maker, this is a great way to preserve the summer harvest in your freezer and have a delicious refreshing drink any time of the year. We like them for breakfast with oat cakes on Sunday morning!

On a Mission for Hard Cider

I’ve been drinking hard cider ever since I lived in London two decades ago. After that, I lived for a short time in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I was happy to find hard cider on tap at a place called Three Dollar Dewey’s. Ever since, I’ve had a taste for it, especially in the fall. Now, Michigan is my destination for hard cider. Nothing beats buying your happy hour drink from a local producer!

Douglas Valley Organic Vineyards

When I went with my friend Sandy to Leelanau County last month, one of the places I wanted to visit on the way was Douglas Valley Organic Vineyards, a new winery and cidery in Manistee, Michigan that opened in July, 2008.

It’s in the middle of an apple orchard, of course.

Thanks to Kirk, we enjoyed their roster of ciders.

And we bought a bottle of the Stone House Semi-Dry Cherry Apple Cider, which we enjoyed with dinner one night at our campground in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

I was thrilled to find a place that focuses so much on cider and uses organic fruit!

From there, it was on to Leelanau County….

Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard & Winery

Sandy and I have done our share of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association Wine Trail but it seems every time we visit Leelanau County, there’s a new winery on the list. That was the case when we stumbled upon Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard & Winery.

They certainly have an array of hard ciders as well as Gerwurtztraminer and ice wines.

We enjoyed several ciders and wines, and were really pleased with the Sunset Peach hard cider, which tasted a lot like a Bellini. So it was a nice accompaniment to a breakfast frittata!

Tandem Ciders

Kirk, from Douglas Valley, had recommended we visit Tandem Ciders while we were in Leelanau County. So on one of our treks across the county, we stopped in to see Dan Young, who–along with his wife, Nikki–rides tandem bicycles. Hence, the name.

Dan says a trip to England is what inspired their cidery, which has a definite British pub feel.

Although it’s not an organic cidery, Tandem supports local farmers and uses organic apples whenever possible.

They had a great selection of ciders to taste.

So if you’re looking for some new places to sample local produce, why not check out these wineries and cideries? Michigan has so much to offer, from apples to grapes!

Eight Things to Know About Organic Wine

From the Organic Wine Journal via the Huffington Post, Adam Morganstern offers eight secrets about organic wine–wine that is made from grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. 

1. Nothing’s missing.
It’s got alcohol, just like other wine, and it’s made the same way wine is made–sans chemical residues.

2. The government owns the word “organic.”
Standards are decided by each country’s central government so the definition of organic can vary around the world.

3. Wines in the U.S. are certified two ways: Organic and Made From Organic Grapes.
The difference is sulfites, which are used to keep wine from oxidizing. If a wine is labeled organic, it has no added sulfites.

4. Many organic winemakers don’t advertise.
It’s not part of their marketing strategy; they’d rather be known for their wines than their methods.

5. Organic wines are great.
While growing organic produce has become a trend, many wineries follow organic methods simply because they think they lead to producing the best fruit.

6. Organic wines are terrible.
Just like conventional wines, quality is based on the grapes, vineyards, and winemakers, so there are good organic wines and there are bad ones.

7. Vineyard practices are different than winery practices.
While they grapes may be organic, the vintner can alter and add to the wine by adding oak chips, for example, or using packaged yeasts. None of this affects their organic status. However, most organic winemakers practice minimal intervention.

8. Sustainable doesn’t mean organic.
The definition of sustainable varies, from reducing waste to using green energy to eliminating chemicals. If sustainable practices are important to you, check out the wineries individually to see what they do.

Celebrating the Season with Regional Specialties

One of my favorite activities in the spring and fall is going camping in Northern Michigan with my friend Sandy. And part of our ritual is to take a little roadtrip around Leelanau Peninsula  Wine Trail to buy wine for the weekend. We drink it, we cook with it, and–sometimes–we bring a little home.

The first stop is usually Good Harbor Vineyards to pick up one of our staples–Harbor Red–and always several bottles of Moonstruck, their sparkling wine. It’s always good. But you don’t have to go up north to get it–I’ve found it at G.B. Russo’s in Grand Rapids, too.

So, for Christmas Eve, Bill and I popped opened a bottle of Moonstruck to enjoy with some Bill-friendly sheep’s cheese my friend Cathy sent us from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Even though ours was David Major’s Vermont Shepherd, Zingerman’s does make their own cheeses as well.

Technically, we’re not supporting our local farmers and vintners with these choices. But can the next best thing be regional? At least we’re supporting the Michigan economy, which–as we all know–needs lots of help!

It All Began with a Bottle of Brunello: Spaghetti and Meatballs for Two

When my friend Sandy brought us a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino wine from Italy, we saved it for a special dinner that would complement the wine. It’s not every day you get to drink Brunello, which is my favorite Italian wine. And out of my price range for everyday table wine.

We decided to make spaghetti and meatballs.
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Roast Duck for Turkey Day

I’ll admit, I was slightly intimidated by the idea of roasting a duck after watching the scene in “Julie & Julia” where Julie attempts one of Julia Child’s duck recipes. And, in the days leading up to today, everyone’s been saying, “Boy, ducks have a lot of fat!”, which means—what? A smoky oven? Overcooked, undercooked, or inedible duck? So I planned for lots of side dishes as a back-up. And I made dessert first thing this morning so we could at least count on chocolate cake, if all else fails.
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