Monday, August 15, 2016

In Search of the Great Michigan Red Wine: Villa Mari

For many years, I have had few good things to say about Michigan red wines. As I see it, the climate is well suited to brisk white wines like Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Vignoles and Pinot Gris but not warm or sunny enough to produce big, bold reds. For years, many of the reds I tasted from Leelanau or Old Mission were almost pink in color with smells and flavors of celery and green bell peppers.

Brys estate on Old Mission Peninsula was started with the express purpose of demonstrating that world class Cabernet and Merlot could be produced from vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. With all due respect, I have never been a fan of the reds from Brys estate. They are dark in color from time spent in barriques, and they don't show celery or bell pepper...yet. But they are too oaky for my taste, and I suspect those green elements will start showing up once the oak starts to integrate.

Mari Vineyards has found an intriguing way to produce the Great Michigan Red. The owner planted varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and then made sure they ripened fully by constructing temporary greenhouses around some of the vines--a process the winery calls "nellaserra."

The 2011 Ultima Thule I tasted at Villa Mari is a blend of 45% Nebbiolo, 35% Cabernet Franc and 25% Merlot. The grapes were grown at the northern-most tip of Old Mission, all with the extended growing season provided by temporary greenhouses. The color is impressively opaque. And, yes, I can find the captivating scents of Nebbiolo--dark cherry, cassis, flowers. Powerful yet Nebbiolo should be. The flavors are big and bold--perhaps more like over-ripe New World Merlot than Italian Nebbiolo. Barolo gets its power from a combination of acid and tannin; this wine is all tannin, mostly from the oak. By the time I finish the glass, I actually feel a bit tired. At least at this stage, the wine is overwhelming. Too ripe, too big, too oaky. At $69 a bottle, it aspires to be the Great Michigan Red. But, for that price (and a lot less), I can find hundreds of more enjoyable red wines from France, Italy or Spain.

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