THE Franc

I was in Marquette, Michigan trying to keep myself occupied and out of trouble. I guess I really couldn’t get in too much trouble as I did not have a car to explore the area, so I was left to discover on foot. The downtown area is about six to eight blocks of shops, restaurants and bars and very attractive waterfront with marinas, so this Raconteur was afoot for something interesting. I ended up in Marquette just to keep my Bride company as she had some business up there and then later in the week we had more business elsewhere. I had breakfast in a most charming and eclectic restaurant that was established in 1914 and still going strong. Donckers is a confectioner, a home-made ice cream parlor and a restaurant with the old-fashioned counter on two levels with tables on both floors as well, interspersed with all sorts of gifts. I was more interested in breakfast and I ordered their Corned Beef Hash with a couple of poached eggs and rye toast to get me started. The hash was very tasty, but quite a bit different from the more Kosher-style that I am used to back in Detroit, but I would have it again, and maybe the next time stop there for some home-made chocolates and of course some ice cream.

My Bride had touted me on Donckers and she had also suggested another restaurant that she had been to on one of her previous trips without me, and that was Vierling. For over one hundred years there has been a restaurant open that was established by Martin Vierling, it has had different owners, but the name has carried on. Vierling also was home to Marquette Harbor Brewery, but as you can surmise, I was not there to sample beer. I was there to have lunch and I was placed at a nice table with a great view of the waterfront. Since I was by myself, I wasn’t going to have anything fancy and picked out a personal size pizza with three different meats; I guess that I am pretty predictable. I might also add that Marquette establishments do not believe in small quantity when it comes to food, except for in the hotel that I was staying at.

Since I knew what I was going to have for lunch, I had to figure out what sounded interesting for a beverage to quench my thirst, because we all know that water can only go so far. I had found a wine that piqued my curiosity from Cosentino Winery from Lodi and it was a Cabernet Franc and I am very fond of that varietal. THE Franc 2015 was a charming wine from this winery that began in 1980 and they were one of the first designated and licensed Meritage wineries and that wine was called The Poet which began in 1989; I had years ago their 1998 vintage and hadn’t seen the wine offered since. In 1990 Cosentino Winery began THE Series based on a single varietal from their estate and THE Franc was a continuation of this series. The wine was aged for twenty months in a mix of French and Hungarian Oak and had that nose and color of Cabernet Franc that I have learned to enjoy and favor over the years. It was also a wine that I could really savor, in kind of a twisted way as I know that my Bride adores Cabernet Franc as well, but she left me in Marquette to do my own thing. After this wonderful lunch, I proceeded to walk back to the hotel and plan our dinner.

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Casa Calabria

We are on another adventure, albeit a minor one, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the city of Marquette. We have been there before a couple of times and my Bride even more often, which is quite an achievement considering that it is almost an eight-hour drive and we never left the state. I am just along for the ride as the saying goes, but after a grueling pace last week and I have to admit that I have lost my “retail legs” this is a nice get-away. We were both amazed at the traffic jam at the bridge crossing over from the lower to the upper, but the traffic going south was even worse. Marquette is known for their iron ore and the shipping of it to other points and it has the largest population in the Upper Peninsula and it sits on Lake Superior and I have no desire to ever go swimming in that lake, as I am sure that it barely melts all of its ice floes, before they return for the next season. It has a quaint downtown area and that is where we stayed.

My Bride wanted to dine at Casa Calabria, because it was highly recommended by one of her contact people, so off we went. She wanted to walk there from the hotel, which after a long drive was fine, but there are a couple of steep hills in the downtown area compared to where we live. I also mentioned that she must have wanted to take me on the scenic route as we passed three funeral homes and after the hills, I inquired if my life insurance policy was paid and up to date and I was informed that it was; just checking. Casa Calabria is one of twenty-three restaurants owned by a family and they are scattered throughout the Upper Peninsula and the Milwaukee area. The restaurant was quite packed when we got there, and looking at the food, it was definitely a grade or two above the national chains that claim to sell Italian cuisine. We were both a bit tired and didn’t feel like over-eating and since we are getting to the age of being Senior Citizens we opted to share a fourteen-ounce filet mignon and we ordered a plate of pasta with meat sauce to accompany the meal. My Bride started off with a bowl of Minestrone and I had their Antipasto salad, which I was a little disappointed in, as it was a chopped salad with a couple pieces of salami, pepperoni and some provolone cheese, but it was better than just having a chopped salad. The filet was done to perfection as we had ordered it, though instead of a Zip-sauce there was a pat of butter on the filet, and I guess that worked as well.

Most of the people at the other tables were drinking wine from carafes of the house wine and our server seemed a little surprised that we were ordering a bottle of wine, and the bottle was uncorked at the bar and brought to us, which is OK, but no chance to check on the cork’s condition, so we basically just dived in and tasted the wine. Since we were having filets I passed on the Italian wines and chose a Malbec from Argentina, and even a lighter Malbec would be fine with dinner. The wine was Ruta 22 Malbec Mendoza 2015 and the winery also makes a Ruta 22 Malbec Patagonia, but this was not on the wine list. Ruta 22 is the name of the major route in Mendoza, and the winery was established in 2010, so it is new, but the fruit for this wine came from three different areas of Mendoza, namely Uco Valley, Agrelo and Easter Mendoza and the winery ages the wine up to two years in a mix of French and American Oak depending on the vintage. The wine had some excellent body and flavor and paired very well with our dinner, in fact the wine must have evaporated as there was none left to take home.  The winery is part of the much larger umbrella company of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.  Malbec, Mendoza and Argentina are almost synonymous with each other, as Malbec is the leading grape of the area and it has been planted there from the mid-Sixteenth-Century by the Jesuit priest that initially came to the area. We had a nice dinner and I knew that the way home was going to be downhill, so I was safe to pass the funeral homes again, and we could still work off our meal.

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MWWC#34: Memory

“We met at nine,” “we met at eight,” “I was on time,” “no, you were late.”
“Ah, yes I remember it well.”
“We dined with friends,” “we dined alone,” “a tenor sang,” “a baritone.”
“Ah, yes I remember it well.”

If you are of a certain age, you will remember this charming duet that was captured on film of Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the Lerner and Lowe musical Gigi. The theme of the Monthly Wine Writers Challenge as proposed by the last winner Kent of “Appetite for Wine” is “Memory.” For a theme like this, most will automatically think of Memory from another play, but I guess that I am a different soul.

Does a wine lover need memory? Nowadays one can pull out their “smart” phone, punch in an app and get all sorts of information about a wine. Boring! A wine lover should have memories of wines, both good and bad, that he or she carries around in an old tattered portmanteau and hopefully the good memories far exceed the bad. Can an app convey the ethereal emotion of that taste or that nose of a wine? Of course, it can’t, it can give you the descriptors and terminology of others, but only a memory will remind you of what you should expect from a varietal in the hands of a craftsman. For years I rather cavalierly mistreated most Pinot Noir wines, because in my very early days I had the fortune to experience a Richebourg 1921. Was it fair and just of me, no it wasn’t, but there was always something in the back of my brain that reminded me of what a stellar Burgundy wine tasted like and by extension, what I expected from all Pinot Noir wines.  It may be the same reason that I didn’t go ga-ga when I had the chance to try Screaming Eagle.

My brain is a maelstrom of memories and only a small percentage finally get to these pages. I think most of the wine lovers have the ability to remember the taste of a wine that they may have had years ago, though some only seem to have the ability of savoring of the moment. My Bride is always telling me that there are “left brain” people that are fully functional in society, but they are number oriented and not emotionally driven. Then there are the “right brain” people who are creative and probably emotional and driven by whimsy at times. Even memories, I guess are treated differently. Some can remember wines and vintages like grade school math by rote, but cannot gush about the wine except in descriptors that they know should be applied to the particular wine.

For me wine is a messy memory, because not only is that ethereal quality of taste and smell, but an attic full of matchbooks, menus and vistas. My greatest memories of wines are intricately woven with the moment. I think that is why I can smile about a bottle of Boones Farm NV with friends at the park when I was way underage to having a Chateau Latour 1961 that was too young when it was forty years old. As I look back in retrospect, wine was a part of the moment, albeit a delightful part. Some of the wines were awe-inspiring and some could be bought off the shelve at the corner market or party store. Can you remember that first bottle of Claret that changed your outlook of what wine could be? Can you remember that first real Chianti that didn’t have straw wrapped around the bottle, and if you can’t, then you missed the early days of wine.

One of my great memories of wine, didn’t even include wine, but my wine memories exploded after I met my Bride and that night was only cocktails and some great coffee. Most wine tastings are not nearly as memorable as the moment that everything just clicked, the food, the ambience and sometimes the wine was just ordinary, but it tasted wonderful and will forever have a higher score than what a wine magazine gave it.

“You wore a gown of gold,” “I was all in blue.”
“Am I getting old?” “Oh, no, not you.”
“How strong you were, how young and gay.”
“A prince of love in every way.”
“Ah, yes, I remember it well.”

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Ms. Yoga Touts

One of my dear cast of characters has sent me a couple of wines that she has enjoyed and that is why I say she touts. I should further add that tout means to suggest, and isn’t used that often, think of the colorful characters in the opening act of Guys and Dolls and the very melodic “Fugue for a Tinhorn.” Ms. Yoga is a very old friend of ours and the rumor has it that she will be in town in the near future. We have dined with her at The French Laundry and many other various eateries down the food chain. In honor of her forthcoming visit, I thought I would mention the two latest wines that she has sent to me, that I should try.

The first wine that she touted was De Proprio Gravitas 2014 from Bonny Doon Vineyard. This wine is basically a White Bordeaux blend with a twist. The wine is a mix of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc with just a dollop of Orange Muscat for a touch of sweet, as most white Bordeaux wines that I have had are on the dry side. The wine carries a California AVA, but the vineyards are listed by the winemaker and the wine was aged for five months in Stainless Steel before bottling, so I would venture to say that it should have a bit more of a crisp taste. Ms. Yoga did not elaborate other than to see that she enjoyed this wine and that it wasn’t sweet and very reasonably priced.

The other wine that she touted and enjoyed was Jax Vineyards Y3 Taureau Red 2013. Jax Vineyards is in Napa Valley and the fruit was harvested in Oak Knoll and Calistoga, and the fruit for this wine is a mix of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. Her very terse remark for this red wine was “this is good.” If anyone can add, I would be pleased to hear.

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Two Wines on a Humid Day

I look out at what is normally a busy main street that has been closed off to traffic for the Wyandotte Art Fair. I am not sure how art fairs thrive in other states, but Michigan is very pro-art fair, though this one is more slanted to crafts as compared to main-stream art, which is fine and it is one of the largest in the state. I of course, for the most part am working inside of the store instead of contributing to the street fair for the store that I help out. Even semi-retired I have retail in my blood and am working a bit more to help them out. The first two days were very humid and we even saw some rain on the first day, and thankfully for all concerned it only rained before the actual show (and store) officially opened up and in case you are curious I have refrained from eating at any of the street vendors and prefer dining in any of the established restaurants in the downtown area. I worked a little later, but I knew that I had some free time before I would see my Bride, so I decided some wine was in order.

The first wine that I tried was Luis Pato Maria Gomes 2014 from Barraida, Portugal. Luis Pato is considered an innovative winemaker and he is also credited for bringing some fame to the Barraida district of Portugal, he is known for his use of Baga and Maria Gomes. Maria Gomes is the Portuguese name for a grape that is also known as Fernao Pires and this was a first for me.  This wine is basically Maria Gomes with a touch of Sercialinho (Sercial) and is fermented in Stainless Steel and bottled young. As one who shies away from describing wines, since this wine was out of my realm I will mention a few personal observations. The wine had a beautiful golden hue, a very soft nose, a touch of lemon and some spiciness and a very short finish, but it was just what I needed on a humid day, no reds for me at the moment.

The other wine that I tried was Azur Vineyards Rosé 2015 from Napa Valley. The winery was named after the Cote d’Azur where the three top Rosé regions of France are located. The winemaker Julian Fayard trained at Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild and his first bottling was released in 2009. The wine is pure Syrah and he produced eight-hundred cases of this wine and Napa is not considered a Rosé area and the fruit was harvested in Yountville and the Sierra Foothills. This wine was a bit more refreshing with a pretty soft pink, a soft nose and a decent finish, just what I look for from a Rosé wine.

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Ford’s Garage

My Favorite Daughter was in town for a few days and I got to spend some time with her on two days, and I guess that was enough of Dear Old Dad. Actually, we had some great times, we spent some time on Sunday with our son and part of his family and we went to the Plymouth Art Fair, but alas I was out-voted and we had food from trucks that were servicing the fair, though I did get a chance to try a pizza from the Bigalora Food Truck with their built-in wood burning pizza stoves, but we did not have any wine as we ate in a communal picnic area.

The next day my Bride and I picked her up to take her out for lunch to a restaurant that is brand new in Dearborn and she had tried the first night with some of her cousins and friends to go there, but the wait was way too long for them. We had the good fortune to get there when there was some immediate seating. Ford’s Garage is officially licensed by the Ford Motor Company and is on a strip of land that is part of the Ford Motor Company land in Dearborn, the original restaurants are all located in Florida, so this was the first in Michigan. The restaurant has been designed and built to look like an old-fashioned gas station from the 1920’s and has some vintage cars and gas pumps on the premises. The door handles are gas pumps, and as a side note, when I had to use the facilities, I had to laugh because the urinals were made from recycled Anheuser-Busch aluminum barrels retrofitted, and the wash basins were tires that a basin was fitted into and the water was fed from more gas pumps; very cute. The burgers were made with signature buns that had the logo of the company branded on the top. The basic burger was Black Angus, which could be substituted with a Portabella mushroom, chicken breast or turkey or could be upgraded with American Kobe, Sushi-grade Ahi tuna or open-range bison and all of the burgers besides having house names, also had tag names of local celebrities or famous people from Detroit in past days. My Favorite Daughter had the Estate Burger, named after the Fairlane Estate and home to Henry Ford, and it had smoked Gouda, sweet red onion marmalade, arugula, fried onion straws and white truffle bacon aioli. My Bride had a Patty-melt with Baby Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and 1000 Island dressing, while I had the High-Octane Burger with guacamole and fresh jalapeño peppers. A friend of mine, actually is enshrined with a burger named after her, but it was served on a bed of lettuce and I wanted to see the branding on the bun, so perhaps the next time I will have the honor of seeing how she is immortalized. As a side note they also offer the “Henry Ford Hubcap” which is a ten-pound burger the size of a Model-T wheel and a brioche bun the size of a seat cover, the burger is priced at $125.00, but is free to any individual that eats the entire burger in two hours or less time, and I was not inclined to attempt it.

Ford’s Garage is more oriented towards craft beers, the current vogue and wines are a much distant third runner, I am sure after the cocktails. As is my norm when I order a glass of wine, I ask to see the bottle, so that I may photograph the label, the waitress returned with the wine orders, but she said that the wines are on tap, but that the manager said that I could go and take a picture of the wine taps. We were sitting out on the veranda and it was a rather warm day so my Bride had ordered a Chardonnay and I had ordered a Pinot Gris, while my Favorite Daughter had a Labatt’s Blue as she claims that she cannot get a good Canadian beer in La Vegas. I went over to where the wine taps were located and took my picture. They were serving Acrobat Pinot Gris 2015 from the King Estate Winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Two-thirds of the 1,112-acre estate is Pinot Gris, but they also use grapes harvested in the Columbia Valley and throughout Oregon. The St. Francis Winery & Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 is from Sonoma County and the wine spends six months in French Oak. The winery is part of the much larger Kobrand organization. The Hahn Family Wines Pinot Noir 2015 had a California AVA, though Hahn was founded in the Santa Lucia Highlands in 1979 and I feel that some of the greatest Pinot Noir wines come from that area of Monterey. The last wine was the Concannon Cabernet 2014 from Paso Robles and their slogan is “discover America’s oldest ongoing winery under the same family label and stewardship since 1883.” While the wines that we had were fine and fresh from the tap, I was a little disappointed in the serving size, so after a glass of wine, we both switched over and had a Margarita.

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A Pinot and a Meritage

While I was still wandering around the wine department, I did some more exploring, after all who doesn’t like shopping for wine? I mean, not to boast, but if we drank a bottle a day, it would take about four years to deplete the cellar, but it is fun to find something new. If I left it to my Bride who enjoys wine as much as I do, but she tends to buy conservatively and safely. I want to find that new wine that can be our go-to wine. If that makes sense. So, I was at Costco to grab a couple more wines and then a couple of her already go-to wines as well.

I grabbed a bottle of Jean-Claude Boisset Pinot Noir Bourgogne Les Ursulines 2015. Boisset began as a family owned estate in 1961 within the walls of the historic Ursulines Convent in the Nuits-Saint-George area. They have since prospered and grown and have an extensive portfolio of Grand and Premier wines, as well as village-level and Bourgogne wines, and they were the first negocient to go on the big board with the stock market. This wine while on the basic level has a lot of good people behind it, and it was aged for fourteen months in French Oak on the lees, before bottling.

The other bottle that captured my curiosity was Kirkland Signature Rutherford Meritage 2015. Rutherford is almost the center of Napa Valley and the largest AVA within Napa, so a Meritage can’t be all bad. This wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. When I went to do some additional research on this bottle, there seems to be no animosity on the regular Kirkland Signature wines, it seems only the “Series” wines get wrath. The only thing that I did notice was the lament that this wine is now made with Merlot as the major varietal, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, but that is understandable as they are trying to keep the cost more affordable. As they say, the proof will be in the pudding.

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