A Night in Traverse City

Every now and then I am the omniscient writer of these pages, as I get the information second hand, but I still try to show how wine adds or betters the moment. My Bride had to go to Traverse City where we had just been to in the last month or so for a day conference. It is a long drive, about four hours at least, but she was lucky and hitched a ride with a couple of others that were going to the conference, as I opted not to go for one night. If the conference had been for a couple of days, I think that I would have gone as then there would have been some free time and we could have done some additional winery visits.
The conference was at the historic and towering Park Hotel in the downtown area of Traverse City, actually when you are in the city, you can’t miss it, as it is the tallest structure there. She has stayed there often and enjoys the quaintness of this older style hotel and I unfortunately have never had the pleasure. This last trip for my Bride was not pleasure as the shower was not working and when she complained the staff was not able to correct the issue, needless to say, she was not a happy camper over the accommodations.

The evening dinner was a version of Surf and Turf and knowing my Bride, I am sure that she attempted to swap her filet for another piece of salmon. After the dinner, her and a couple of friends were going to play Euchre, which is a card game that is very popular in Michigan and in Ontario, but they could not find a fourth. The three of them decided to walk around the downtown area and quench their thirst away from hotel.

During the dinner portion of the evening there was an open bar for the conference attendees, but my Bride went for a white wine. She did send me a photo of the wines being offered and they are the usual suspects that one finds at group outings. There was Canyon Road White Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio and Merlot all of the 2016 vintage. I have written a couple of times about these popular priced wines. She tried one of the two wines from another winery and one that I had not had before at an event like this and she said the Chardonnay was decent. They were offering two wines from Redwood Creek, the Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, and they were both of 2016 vintage as well. The label kind of reminded me of a cigar wrapper and all of these wines carried the California AVA and were bulk made and priced that way as well. She did not try the Cabernet Sauvignon, as she was happy with the Chardonnay. Redwood Creek was owned by the Frei Vineyards, but is now part of the Gallo Group with their own distinct name. I shall look for this label at the next time that I am at a function, though I was surprised that the hotel was not serving wines from the Traverse City area.

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A Prayer

This morning as I got out of bed and went to turn on my computer, I also turned on my cell phone and got a test message that no parent wants to see. I had planned on an easy day of catch-up on a day off and I read “…I’m praying your kids and their families are all safe in Las Vegas with this shooting that went on…” So, I immediately went to my newspaper as I usually do in my morning routine, but instead of going straight to the paper I started to read the headline blurbs to see what I had missed from the night before. A horrible incident had occurred and I thought about my two children and my five grandchildren that live out there.

My first thoughts as I was reading, is that my children do not work at Mandalay Bay, but I have taken the families to the Shark Reef there and we have eaten at a couple of restaurants there with them. I also thought that, because it was an out-door concert, perhaps they might have gone just for fun and an outing, but I also know that they are not country music fans, but you never know. I thought of how my Bride and I have dined at Alain Ducosse’s Mix and at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. I was devouring the news and hoped that there would not be a problem. I called and left messages and also left text messages and just let the minutes tick by. It is hard to concentrate or to even enjoy simple pleasures until I knew the truth. My son works at one of the shops at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace which is quite away from the incident, but my son-in-law works at one of the restaurants one property removed. My son was fortunate in that his area was not in lock-down mode, and my son-in-law was off that day, otherwise he would have been suffering under a lock down mode, and as I write this he would still be under that situation; I say this because my daughter told me that one of her cousins had just left three minutes prior to the problem and another cousin was still sequestered one of the casinos.

I am just devastated by the news and I think that I have been enjoying Las Vegas since the early ‘70’s and I have thankfully never encountered such an event. I still lament that Vegas is no longer the Vegas of my youth and yearn for when it was a “family” owned city that would have never tolerated all the garbage that now proliferates on The Strip. I came to write this article, not that I would mention food or wine per se, but to allow it to be cathartic for the emotions that I dealt with this morning. My little blog is my safe haven from the craziness that seems to be the norm in today’s world and I am not looking forward to the potential politicizing that will occur from all avenues and agendas. Las Vegas used to be glamorous, now it is just as grungy as the rest of the world. I pray for the souls of the innocents that died and I also pray for all of those that have been shot or injured and for all of their families.

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Opening and Closing

The city of Plymouth, Michigan was celebrating their 150’th Anniversary so off to celebrate. A young lady that is an alumna of my old Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Detroit was one of the featured artist entered into a special art exhibit at The Joanne Winkleman Hulce Center for the Arts and the theme was “Small Town Living in Plymouth.” The exhibit featured art, photography and mixed media compositions all capturing many of the landmarks of the city. My friend entered a piece of pointillism featuring the fountain in the center of the town. Pointillism may have been mocked in the early days of the Impressionist movement during the early days of Georges Seurat, but no longer. My Bride and I both got to the exhibit after the grand opening that evening, because we were both coming from different engagements. We took in all of the art and I introduced my Bride to the artist, as this was the first exhibition of her work that I had the chance to attend, but hopefully not the last.

As the exhibit was winding down we decided to go into Plymouth to have a bite to eat, at least I was hungry, my Bride had already dined elsewhere, but we wanted to stop at the famous Box Bar which was downtown and in the last days of existence as they had been bought and the future cuisine is left to be seen. The Box Bar had been there longer than I have been around and they were famous for their burgers, but the menu was much more extensive than what one would expect from a bar. They had a spectacular selection of beers way back before craft beers were in vogue and the selection was always international in scope. It was rather sad to see all of the unique beer steins and other memorabilia that had been on display on the walls had almost all disappeared by the regulars who were buying keepsakes of this popular watering hole. My Bride even took a couple of pictures and sent them to Ms. Yoga as this was one of her haunts back in the day. As for the dinner selection, it had to be a Cheeseburger with Fried Onion Rings, just for old times’ sake.

I also forgot to mention that we had a devil of a time getting into the city as the whole downtown area had been converted into a carnival with a mid-way and all the purveyors of what purports to be carnival food. We ended up parking about seven blocks away and we had worked up a thirst in the heat of the Summer evening. My Bride went with a “frou-frou” cocktail, but I went with a chilled wine. Even though I knew that I was going to get a Cheeseburger, I ordered a white wine. Actually, it was a new wine for me and one that would not be expected in a bar setting. The Sandford Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2014 was just a smooth and relaxing choice, as it was not too oaky, but very easy to drink after the heat. Sandford Winery and Vineyards was a pioneer in the Santa Ynez Valley, which is part of the much larger Santa Barbara County back in 1971 and their wines are estate grown either from their Sandford and Benedict vineyards or from their La Rinconda Ranch. They are now part of the Terlato Family Winery who have been in the wine business for around seventy years. The Santa Ynez AVA was granted in 1977 and the Santa Rita Hills AVA was granted in 2001 and then formally changed to Sta. Rita Hills in 2006 to allay protests from the large Chilean wine producer Vina Santa Rita. It was a full evening and the fountain would have been seen from the Box Bar if the carnival rides had not disturbed the normal vista of the city.

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Monterey Shipment

I recently received three new wines from my wine club A Taste of Monterey and I am looking forward to trying them. In fact, I think they may be part of the wines that we have this Thanksgiving, because heaven knows that sometimes I am impatient and other times I can cellar forever. We went with the club membership that comes four times a year, as they offer finer collectable wines instead of the two wines a month that are more popular priced.

The first wine was from a winery that hasn’t disappointed me yet. The Wrath Grenache Alta Loma Vineyard 2014. Wrath is a small site-driven winery of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc either grown on their estate in Santa Lucia Highlands or from nearby select vineyards, as in this case, as Alta Loma Vineyards which is just south of the AVA and the wine carries a Monterey AVA. There were sixty-nine cases of this wine produced and the aging potential is suggested for six to seven years.

The next wine is a new winery for me and I look forward to trying it out. The Alexander Smith Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay 2015. This wine is entirely made from Old Dijon clone Chardonnay grapes and grown on their estate. There were three-hundred cases of this wine made and the aging potential is suggested for five to six years.

The last wine that was in the carton is another old friend of mine. The Pelerin Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2013. This wine is un-racked and is a blend of fruit harvested from the following Santa Lucia Highlands vineyards; Tondre, Fairview, Rosella’s and Sierra Mar. All the fruit was hand-picked and aged for over fourteen months in French Oak with a production of four-hundred-thirty-two cases and an aging potential suggested of five to six years.

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Savoring Summer

As the summer season slowly turns over to autumn I guess everyone likes to extend the moment when possible. This happened very recently when everyone was called for an impromptu get-together at one of the houses. This sister has an inground pool and they wanted to use it once more before they would have to winterize it. That is the problem with a pool in Michigan, the season is a bit shorter compared to other states. My Bride was all for it, and as for me, my physique looks better in clothes than in a swim suit.

There was a whole group and my Bride went and got some of the typical foods for a barbecue. She also brought some sides as well, and so did the sister that was furnishing her house for the day, and the other sisters also brought some dishes as well. There was not a shortage of food, from the time the first game of cribbage with cheese, crackers, vegetables, dip and potato chips; but is it just me or has chip dip seemed to disappear from the horizon? There were several different types of salads and of course the entrée dishes. There was chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs and brats. Afterwards there was cake and pie and cheesecake, just like an organized picnic, in a much more hospitable situation.

Since I looked at this as a potential last hurrah of summer, there were a couple of wines that I wanted to try and this was the right type of day to try them. The first was Chateau Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé 2016. Chateau Thivin has been around for about six-hundred years and is in the heart of Brouilly in the Beaujolais region. This wine naturally is made from Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc and after the grapes are macerated the juice is left with the skins for a natural coloring and this fruit is from vines averaging fifty years in age. After the one day, the juice is fermented in Stainless Steel to maintain the fruit. It may have been the best Rosé I have had all year and my only complaint is why I didn’t learn of this wine sooner. The other wine that I wanted to try was a wine that we had just recently purchased at the winery and I was curious if it was the setting that made the wine so good, or if I really did enjoy it, as much as I had earlier. The Boathouse Vineyards Merlot 2012 from the Leelanau Peninsula was still absolutely right on. As much as I enjoyed the ambience of the winery and a chance meeting with the owner, the second time tasting this wine was still perfect. This wine almost single-handedly made me change my position that red wine is second to white wine in the Leelanau Peninsula. That is not to say that I have not enjoyed other reds, but here was a wine that I thought could easily compete with a Merlot wine from other parts of the country, it was that finely crafted. It is quite a gamble for a new winemaker to take twenty-one acres of land and devote all but one percent to vinifera, and of that property half is devoted to Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The eighteen months in French Oak really allowed all the love in the growing to become apparent and we were both happy with the finished product. Here is hoping that we have a long “Indian Summer” here in Michigan before the weather changes for the next season.

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Compari’s on the Park is one of three restaurants in a row, right on the main drag in downtown Plymouth and they are all owned by the same man. We just decided to go have a quick dinner and to walk around the area afterwards. When my children were young, the only really fast food that I approved of was pizza, and who doesn’t like pizza? There was an excellent carry-out pizzeria near me at that time and it was called Paisano’s, not only did they make great pizza, but their barbequed ribs were awesome. Later on, Paisano’s opened up a sit-down restaurant and they even had a comedy club in the lower level. Why pray tell am I rambling? The original owner of Paisano’s now owns the three restaurants in Plymouth, including the one we were sitting in. Compari’s is the more casual of the three eateries, not in attire because very few people dress for dinner anymore, but in the menu offerings.

I wanted a pizza and every once in a while, I have to cave in to my desires. We were lucky, because we got to the restaurant just before the crowds. It seems that everyone wanted pizza or pasta that evening. My Bride went with a Caesar Salad with Salmon, and that is her choice, but I can never understand it, because truthfully, she makes the best Caesar Salad and she makes Salmon that is wonderful, and this from a guy that never had Salmon, until she made it for me one night when we were dating. As for me, I had the pizza and when I go out, I like to have something that we usually don’t make at home. With all due humility, I never order pasta with a Bolognese sauce, because I feel that my recipe can’t be beaten. I had the Compari’s Special with Italian Sausage, Pepperoni, Ham, Bacon, Green Peppers, Mushrooms and Onions or what we used to call the “Super” back in the day. It was an excellent pizza and I am sure that it is made with the same ingredients and the same dough, but maybe it was the anticipation of opening up that box after driving home that made the pizza so much more memorable, or maybe I was just being nostalgic. Either way, I would have it again, of course the next time I will mention to add the anchovies, which I can’t believe I forgot to mention.

The other great thing that made the pizza more enjoyable was having some wine with it, years back when we would enjoy a carry-out, I usually didn’t have wine with it, but at a sit-down establishment, it is so proper. My Bride had Caposaldo Pinot Grigio 2016 with the Delle Venezie IGT designation. Since the Veneto area is famed for Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave and Prosecco, all other wines get the IGT rating. Caposaldo is known for their hand harvesting of fruit and aging wines according to the best for the fruit, as this wine is aged in Stainless Steel. I went with a bit more powerful of a wine to go with my pizza, but I did not go with an Italian wine, since there was so much meat on the pizza I went with Diseno Old Vine Malbec 2015 from Mendoza, Argentina. I am sure that most wineries can claim “old vines” as Malbec is the king of wines in that region and they have been growing them for some time. Diseno is probably an easy wine to find as it is part of the large Constellation Brands. It worked for me, and it was just a nice quiet evening out.

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MWWC#35: Eclipse

“Charleston was once the rage, uh huh
History has turned the page, uh huh
The minis skirts, the current thing, uh huh
Teenybopper is our newborn king, uh huh”

A musical introduction for the latest Monthly Wine Writing Challenge and this is the thirty-fifth entry, but somehow, I missed one, so it is my thirty-fourth entry. Erik of “Red, White and Cru” had the honor of winning the last time and his award is to pick the theme for the newest challenge and his word is “eclipse.” Now last month the eclipse was one of the hottest topics in the media, as well as Social Media, so it makes sense.  How does one link eclipse to wine? I went to my dictionary that is a focal point in the library and looked up the word, yes, I could have just used Google, but I predate Google and when I wanted to research something I started with the dictionary. Beyond the mentioning of the lunar and solar eclipse, which is what most people think of, there is another meaning “to leave out, pass over, to forsake, to cease, to be eclipsed.” There was my starting point and it was great to let me relive some of the earlier days of wine enjoyment.

The first big push that I could remember in wine, trying to get new drinkers from the cocktail crowd and the beer crowd was from a winery in Portugal and that was Mateus Rosé in their very unique shaped bottle. The advertising campaign was extremely successful and people were considered very trendy and cosmopolitan for drinking this wine. It was everywhere. There were a few other major wine campaigns that began, because of it. Dean Martin and his “Little Old Wine Drinker, Me” kind of paraphrased the Swiss Colony Winemakers of California slogan and it was also a big hit with Robert Mitchum. Orson Welles many years after his Citizen Kane began touting “We will serve no wine, before its time” for Ernest and Julio Gallo. Mateus held their own, until they were eclipsed by a charming character in a white suit, Aldo Cella, for Cella Lambrusco and the world was enamored with Lambrusco, and I think that this was the start of the trends in the wine industry; and it has been going on ever since.

In those old days, people did not eat out as much, not like today, so going out was a treat. French cuisine was rather imposing, but Italian food became the leading restaurant for something different than what was being made at home. Chianti was one of the first wines that most people could pronounce and ventured to try, to be chic, when having a plate of pasta or a big pizza pie. Most Italian eateries back then had as part of their decorations fiascha bottles everywhere. Fiascha bottles were these squat green bottles that were wrapped with wicker and they were very cute, the wicker-works probably cost more than the wine, but people were discovering wine more each day. It didn’t take long for the fiascha to be eclipsed by Chianti in a real wine bottle, and then there was Chianti Classico which even became more prevalent and accepted. Brolio and Ruffino became power houses and to this day, I am sure that the majority of the wine drinkers can identify these brands and would still order them and they would have a fine bottle of wine, especially if they were Riserva. Then Chianti and almost all other Italian red wines were eclipsed by the “Super Tuscan” wines that emerged. Here was a case of French grapes that were grown in Italy, by some rebels and renegades and the rebellion won. Wines with the names of Ornellaia and Sassicaia became famous, in fact so famous that Bolgheri Sassicaia went from a Table Wine designation to having Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC. The world was moving at a much faster pace.

White wines were not left in the dust either, back in the early days for most of the population there were wines called California Chablis, which had no relation to the Chablis wines of France, in fact it was even made from different grapes. The world was looking for a white wine and I think the marketing genius of Jess Jackson emerged with his Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay took off and it is still, I am sure, the largest Chardonnay brand known to the public and it is always a safe bet to order. Then there was a curious backlash and a new movement began, as the wine drinking public discovered a new rallying cry “ABC” or “Anything but Chardonnay,” and while Chardonnay was not totally eclipsed it was getting more competition. The public was getting more savvy and they started looking for other white wines and some growers in California, Australia and New Zealand hit the gold mine with Sauvignon Blanc a white wine that was not buttery and had a fruit-forward taste that became accepted. There was also an Italian varietal that captured the imagination of this new group of wine drinkers that became much more accepted than even its French cousin. Pinot Grigio was easy to say, and I think sounded nicer than Pinot Gris and another wine front was created. While all of this was happening, there were other wineries that were making crisp Chardonnay wines and eschewing the oak barrels for a totally different taste.

After 1976 the French were totally eclipsed by this area of the world that at one time was not taken seriously called California. There were a group of winemakers that have been endearingly called the Rhone Rangers and they were growing to that time some unknown grape varietals that were famous in France, especially in the Rhone Valley and while not all of them are using grape for grape versions this concept has taken off and it has allowed more of the population to try even more new wines and sometimes at considerable savings to the wines that they are emulating across the pond in France. It is just not the Rhone Valley that is getting attacked, the famed and beloved Clarets of Bordeaux are feeling it as well. A new group of wines emerged with fanciful proprietary names that really didn’t evoke anything, but they were Bordeaux blends and a society was formed to further entrench this concept, and the society has stringent rules and the wines are now called Meritage. In fact, some of the early “Meritage” wines were made by the French who opened wineries in Napa Valley; think of Dominus and Opus One.

There is one triangle of grapes that are always eclipsing each other and for an amusing take on this, Gundlach Bundschu Winery has made a delightful mini-film about the constant cycle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. These three varietals are always in the forefront and always attempting to gain the limelight from the other two. Cabernet Sauvignon is king and it has always held that position both in the Old World as well as the New World. Merlot is the one waiting in the wings for the new crown, as it is more mellow and not as feisty as a Cab to a lot of drinkers. Pinot Noir the most finnicky grape to grow has its steady army to back it up as well. These three always seem to be in a perpetual ebb and flow of solar and lunar eclipses amongst themselves. I am sure that this triangle will continue long after I have stopped drinking the nectar of the Gods.
There will always be a new region, a new country and a new varietal that will attempt another eclipse and they will have their moment in the sun. As for me, call me an old diplomat in my spats, striped pants, vest and cutaway coat; but I will always find the occasion where one will be chosen over the others, as I have had the good fortune to watch the rise and fall of all of the wines that I have mentioned, as well as watching the horizon for new stars. Just watch me go “gaga” if I see a Cabernet Franc on a wine carte while having dinner. The only constant is change, just like the eclipse, though the eclipse phases are good sports and actually do them on a set date.


“And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain.”

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