Rachel’s Michigan

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This Monday 18 April 2016, starting at 5pm, and lasting as long as the weather cooperates – probably the most important wine event ever to happen at Mudgie’s. I say that because nothing else we’ve ever done had the potential to transform so much jaded wine thinking and to expand and perpetuate all of the humane virtues associated with wine drinking and agriculture. And it is timed to coincide with a common service industry off-day. $15. Package deals available for restaurant and retail teams.


Michigan Wine

Are you like me? Did you want to love Michigan wine? Did you try and try and try? Did you find one or two interesting things along the way? I remember drinking a Mawby Vignoles blend under a lighthouse back when Larry still made still wine. And I consider Dan Matthias, Warren Raftshol and Jim Lester brilliant artisans, perhaps moreso due to their perilous grip with Quixote’s ghost.

But then there was the formative experience of touring the tasting rooms and leaving with a trunk full of wine. When I got home and began opening bottles I wondered what had come over me! Trillium? Really?! (It’s tourism bias, and it can happen in any region.)

I grew tired of getting beaten up by civic-minded wine educators for not jumping on the Michigan bandwagon. I even developed a response to the perpetual question: what do you think of Michigan wine, Putnam?

My answer: Michigan would be a perfect place to produce hard cider. (I used the conditional because this was 2004. Now we know.)


Rachel Van Til

Rachel Van Til is the sommelier at the celebrated Hazel Park restaurant, Mabel Gray, where her list includes daring and brilliant selections from all over the world. (The 2014 Chateau Simone Rosé was un-effing-forgettable!)

Rachel is also my oracle for Michigan wine.


Rachel embodies a rare combination of independence, intelligence, and experience. She worked at Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and at Bowers Harbor where the Black Label series of wines is produced. When she tastes them she allows herself to be rigorously critical without any cost to pleasure and sentience.

This is how a fertile mind drinks wine. I depend on such people, though I am not sure I can find an equivalence in this case.

On 18 April Rachel will guest-curate a selection of meaningful Michigan wines for Mudgie’s Detroit Deli. There will be about eight wines and we will meet on the big patio beginning at 5pm.

Prepare to have your mind blown. I’m talking to you, orange-wine-drinking slavophiles!


Know Your Importer/Curator

There is a theme developing throughout the series of Mudgie’s wine events. Of course we focus on the usual quality variables – the farmers, the microbes, geology, history, etc. But one of the most crucial variables is the act of selecting, assembling and delivering the wine. This is a creative process; if one wine has meaning, then a set of wines can have the potential to tell a story.

I probably wouldn’t drink much European wine if it weren’t for the curatorial brilliance of importers like deGrazia, Kermit, Dressner, and de Maison. And with Rachel’s help, I can finally love wines from my home state.




Reputable Rosé


Whither Rosé?

Rosé wine emerged from a near-death experience in the 1990s. Back then it was stigmatized by its association with White Zinfandel, a category embodying the race-to-the-bottom mentality which characterizes price-driven, low-information markets.

Something similar had happened to pizza before it got better.

But pockets of resistance survived, mostly in Provence in southern France. Vineyards groomed over centuries to produce great rosé wine simply continued doing so. Prices were stagnant, but what could a farmer do? Those with the weakest claim on quality jumped on other trending categories – like Merlot, and Chardonnay – and that had the effect of raising the average quality of the remaining pink-colored wines.

Smart drinkers with access learned to seek out these rosé wines and even make them a major part of the household diet. The booming sommelier culture eventually caught on, and then the journalists, culminating in a famous cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2006, “The Summer Drink to Be Seen With.” Link here.

In the past ten years the pendulum has swung to a certain degree in the other direction. With a robust and expanding market for rosé wine, there is suddenly a supply without end. And it turns out there are all kinds of obnoxious ways to produce rosé. We are currently surrounded by harsh, manipulated pink wines, many of which result as a byproduct of complacent red wine production.

So has the circle closed? Are we back to an era like that of the industrial White Zin?


Two Hands

On the one hand, obstructing the decline is the fact that unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the average consumer has access to much more, and much more accurate information.

On the other hand, the dumbing down of rosé is intrinsic to the spirit of rose itself. Rosé when it’s great is inherently fun, beautiful, and humorous. This is just as true for Chateau Simone and Viña Tondonia as it is for Vin Gris de Cigare. How can the prosaic considerations of soil drainage and vine selection compete with the immediate euphoria of drinking the wine, with good company, and fresh food?

Essentially this is a question of markets. We are in an era when price differentiation is crucial to sustaining the production of the best and most interesting rose wines. We are also breaking away from the idea that all things called “rosé” must strive to resemble Domaine Tempier.


Drink and Decide

Tonight at 6pm at Mudgie’s we taste six exceptional pink-colored wines of diverse style.

These all come from a warm band of climate which promotes physiological ripeness. For these wines to be balanced the grapes must be harvested at a degree of ripeness that would be inappropriate for red wine production. Without support from skin tannins, they must have a certain degree of natural acidity.

A note about tasting order. You might notice that these are graduated from the most robust to the most intricate and delicate. You might expect the order to go in the other direction. However, for this lineup I am banking on the importance of pedigree. Always drink up the hierarchy, it’s the only way to fairly show all of the wines.

Here they are:


2015 A Proper Pink, Bonny Doon. $13 retail – $11.70 tonight only
Made with Tannat and Cabernet Franc, A big mouthful or berry flavors and just a hint of grapefruit. This is a brand new wine from Bonny Doon. more here

2013 Lake Michigan Shore Rosé, Marland. $18 retail – $16.20 tonight only
Cabernet Franc made by local hero and vin savant James Lester of Wyncroft. This wine has been groomed and extracted to function almost as a light-textured red wine. Don’t serve it too cold or you’ll miss the exuberant and sublime red fruits and spices. more here 


2014 Etna, Cottanera Barbazzale. $16 retail – $14.40 tonight only
Farmed on the northern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily and made with indigenous Nerello Mascalese grape variety. It is full-flavored and polished, and appropriately paired with southern Italian foods including spicy chiles. more here

2014 Toscana, Fattoria Sardi. $19 retail – $17.10 tonight only
Mostly Sangiovese, Merlot and Ciliegiolo. Sometimes it takes the resources of a big wine company to take the risks necessary and deliver the rewards possible with very good rosé. Notice how it charms your palate, requiring very little attentiveness to enjoy it. But go ahead and examine the flavors, they occur in layers exquisitely proportional and balanced. more here


2015 Tavel, Domaine Mejan Taulier, Canto Perdrix. $17 retail – $15.30 tonight only
Grenache, Cinsault, and other traditional Rhone grapes. This wine is kind of a secret still. The property had a very good reputation until 2007 when the second generation of the Mejan-Taulier line passed away. As sometimes happens in such transitions, quality and direction sometimes seemed questionable. Now a new winemaker has suddenly and dramatically put it back on track. The market will eventually realize this and both price and scarcity is likely to increase. This is quintessential and very youthfully fresh Tavel. It makes me laugh when I drink it. more here

2014 Côtes de Provence, Clos Cibonne. $26 retail – $23.60 tonight only
This is the darling of Detroit rosé wine drinkers. A small estate in Provence farming the heirloom grape variety known as Tibouren, the wine is aged in large wooden vessels and under varying degrees of fleurette, which is a naturally occurring aerobic microbial culture. This is a fascinating combination of delicacy and complexity. more here