Spring Exhilaration

Head to southeast Detroit’s scenic riverfront in April, where 2011 vintages are expected to be among the stars at the Michigan Wine Showcase.
Renaissance Center Detroit
Photography Courtesy of istockphoto.com/Ivan Cholakov

In four short years, the annual spring Michigan Wine Showcase has become the premier event to see, and for Michigan wineries to be seen.

Established by master sommeliers Claudia Tyagi and Madeline Triffon in cooperation with the Michigan Wine and Grape Industry Council to commemorate April as Michigan Wine Month, the April 15 event is a triple whammy: an afternoon gathering for buyers, an evening reception for the public and one of Detroit’s top dining destinations, The Rattlesnake Club on the riverfront.

“We created the event to promote Michigan wines, especially in Southeast Michigan,” said Tyagi, who consults for the Rattlesnake and Birmingham’s Forest Grill. “We meet lots of winemakers — California, Italy, France — but a lot of wine buyers don’t get to meet with Michigan winemakers.”

They do at the Showcase.

“We all meet with wineries when they come down here one on one,” said Triffon, “First Lady of Wine” for Detroit area’s Plum Markets. “But to have 20 in a room at one time, and taste the new releases, it’s really exhilarating.”

Tyagi and Triffon are particularly excited about the 2011 vintages they expect to be among the stars at the Showcase, where there may also be some previews of the 2012 vintage. According to Tyagi, 2011 “was the year we’ve been waiting for.” Quality shined in the 2010 vintages, but quantity was limited. Ideal growing conditions in 2011 promise more.

“We had ideal ripening conditions,” she said. “There was no drastic frost or hail or anything like that. We had temperate weather and a very long, warm summer. It was delightful.”

Both master sommeliers also judged at the 2012 Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition, largely composed of 2010 reds and 2011 whites.

“Most of what thrilled me was 2011 vintage,” Triffon said, noting the steady emergence of various wineries with outstanding new products.

Michigan Wine Showcase
Mark the date: On April 15, Michigan winemakers and winery owners showcase their new releases at The Rattlesnake Club overlooking the Detroit Riverfront (rattlesnakedetroit.com). // Photography by Ken Jacoby

She cited Leelanau Peninsula’s Chateau Fontaine Vineyards and Winery among them; Chateau Fontaine won the 2012 competition’s Best of Class in dry white wine for its 2011 Pinot Blanc. Others taking Best in Class included Shady Lane Cellars’ 2010 Blue Franc for dry red; Fenn Valley Vineyards’ 2011 Vignoles Reserve for semi-dry white; L. Mawby’s Blanc de Blancs in the sparkling category; Lawton Ridge Winery for its 2011 Late Harvest Vignoles dessert wine; and Chateau de Leelanau’s Cherry Wine in the fruit wine category. Mawby also took the Judges’ Merit Award for its Blanc de Noirs.

In all, an upwards of 22 wineries from around the state will be on hand for the Showcase, with close to 200 retailers, distributors and restaurants represented during the trade portion of the event.

“This is a place that they can come in and try all of the Michigan wines that are showcased, make their notes and choose the ones that they like in their stores or their restaurants,” said Dan Matthies, owner of Chateau Fontaine.

About 150 attended the ticketed public evening reception last year, and the Michigan Wine and Grape Industry Council’s Karel Bush expects more this year. It all means exposure for an industry that continues to gain attention as it grows. Michigan now has 101 wineries, with double the acreage for wine grapes — 2,600 — over the 1,300 of a decade ago.

“Before, I used to have to suggest Michigan wines,” said Tyagi. “Now I go up to a table and people say, ‘What Michigan wines do you have?’”

Triffon attributes that to the strides in quality that Michigan winemakers have made as vineyards mature and they continue to learn what works and what doesn’t in the state’s cooler climate, with support from research at Michigan State University.

“If there is residual negative perception about Michigan wines in the Michigan market, it’s perhaps people who love California Cabernet, then God love you, you should buy California cabernet,” Triffon said. “But if they’re looking for Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, pinot blanc, sparkling wines, pinot grigio, dry roses, there’s a plethora of Michigan wines.

“Michigan is considered one of the best quantitatively and qualitatively American states making wine,” she noted. “Michigan wines can bear examination by anybody. The quality level is high.”

Rattlesnake Club Salmon Dish
Photography Courtesy of Rattlesnake Club

A Taste of What’s to Come

Detroit’s venerable Rattlesnake Club pairs the best in Michigan wines with bites equal to them.

In Detroit, The Rattlesnake Club’s Executive Chef Christopher Franz opts for local, seasonal and always fresh ingredients to create dishes that members of the trade as well as guests at the public reception for the Michigan Wine Showcase April 15 will be able to taste between wine samplings.

“Since it’s spring, we’ll have asparagus maybe, or peas as far as vegetables,” he shared. “If something goes with lamb, lamb is always good for spring. For the most part, I definitely go with seasonality.”

Beyond that, his mission is to create appetizers and other small bites that won’t compete with the wines.

“What we do is ask them to make a broad range of finger foods and appetizers that are wine-friendly,” said Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, one of the Showcase organizers. “There are extremes to avoid — (foods that are) overtly hot, overtly sweet. What someone going to a wine tasting is looking for — and I mean this in a generic way — is Mediterranean-style appetizers.”

That means small amounts of protein, olive oil, herbs, good bread or flatbreads. Cheese is ideal, but it shouldn’t be overly strong, or peppered.

“It’s walk-around style,” Triffon said. “People get a glass and program booklet and go around tasting as much or as little as they want. And when they feel their blood sugar waning, they go over to the food station.”

Learn more at michiganwines.com. Freelance writer Kathy Buzzelli lives in Traverse City.

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