Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting with friends

The Michigan vs. Mosel tasting line up

Last Friday (a week ago, I know…) we had our first just-tasting with friends at our place. I have written about my thoughts on doing tastings with friends here. The idea for this tasting was born a while back. Me being the Mosel riesling snob that I am, I have only made small progress into the Michigan riesling scene. Some of them I liked or was intrigued by (see for example here or here or here), some of them, well…Now, two friends of ours got married recently and they decided to spend their honeymoon in and around Traverse City, Michigan’s riesling mecca. While we were talking about that trip, we decided to do a comparison tasting. They had brought some stuff back, and we had some Mosel rieslings to share. We also invited another riesling nut to the tasting, who falls in love with virtually every riesling we serve her, which makes me feel good. And another friend, who was crashing with us, participated as well. To lessen the suspense: We had a blast. We had so much fun, and the comparison went quite well. If we had done that tasting blind, I don’t know whether I would have been able to pick which ones are from there.

Some cork art. It does not get much fancier…

Here is our line up:

1) 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry (Michigan)

2) 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling (Michigan)

3) 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet) (Mosel)

4) 2006 St. Julian Riesling (Michigan)

5) 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling (Michigan)

6) 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett (Mosel)

7) 2009 Hohe Domkirche Trier Scharzhofberger Spätlese (Saar)

8) 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon (Australia)

In blind tastings, it is fun to throw a wine in that not necessarily fits the restrictions on the wines that you imposed prior to tasting. It is something outside the box, to throw you off, and to make the blind tasting even more fun. We usually referred to these as black pirates. The black pirate in this tasting was the Australian dessert wine, which was brought by the friend crashing with us.

But to my thoughts on the wines:

The Michigan line

First up, the 2010 Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling Dry. I do like their semisweet standard wine and their Late Harvest Riesling, so I was excited about trying the dry. Upon opening and pouring, a dark yellow wine showed itself which was bit confusing. Did not expect that from a young dry wine. The nose showed ripe fruit, but not much of it. On the palate, the first noticeable taste was bitterness. There was some slight peach, but hardly discernible. The wine felt quite alcoholic (which was confirmed when we checked the label: 12.5% ABV). The short finish was topped by a burnt taste. In short, it was quite the disappointment. I could never have guessed this was a riesling if tasted blindly, and it seemed way past its prime already.

(Addendum: I received word from the winery in the comments section that the discoloration in the 2010 CGT Riesling Dry indicates that the wine was actually flawed, either by a bad cork or bad storage…I guess I could have guessed that given that I got all the clues: wrong color, bitter notes and burnt taste; I just did not make the connection when tasting.)

Next in line, the 2011 Brys Estate Dry Riesling. The color was lighter straw, with a nose of ripe fruit, peaches and sugar, slightly confusing in a dry wine. The texture was lovely, it gave you a silky mouthful of wine. It had a nice amount of acidity, and first fruit notes I discovered were grapes, yellow apples, pineapple and then citrus. While holding on to my glass and continuing to try, I thought I discerned some vegetable notes in the beginning (maybe squash, maybe zucchini). The wine had a nicely long finish. The 11% ABV were hardly noticeable. In short: This was delicious. It was fresh, and reminded me of German rieslings, albeit not a German dry riesling, it would have been an off-dry in Germany. Very nice wine!!

Up next, the 2009 Karl Erbes Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken (semi-sweet). A tad higher in alcohol content than the Brys wine at 11.5% ABV, I was curious how these two would match up. The color was a light yellow with a nose of sweetness and yellow fruit, with ripe aromas. On the palate, the wine had a quite condensed feel to it. It tasted very ripe, older than a 2009 should taste. It had some apricots and vegetal notes, but I could not get over the fact that it might have been flawed. I did not detect a cork flaw, and if so, it was mild. But the wine tasted off. So I really do not feel like I can rate it.

The Mosel line

The next wine was the 2006 St. Julian Riesling. Our friend had been excited when she found the single bottle of this wine in a wine shop and bought it for us to try. She has been fond of older rieslings, and so we wanted to experience this together. Open opening the screw cap and pouring the wine, we saw a lighter, saturated yellow in our glasses. The nose was …mmmmh…. interesting? To me, it smelled of band aids. Others said glue. It also smelled quite musty. It was very unappealing. On the palate, that continued. The wine was clearly way past its prime, probably had been stored in horrible conditions…this one had been dead for a while.

St Julian 2006 – Stay away!

It was on the 2011 Left Foot Charley Missing Spire Riesling to redeem Michigan. And boy, it did!! Of very light and almost water color, it had a beautiful, beautiful nose of grapes and green grass. The taste was floral and herbal (I also wrote down perfumy, but I know that these descriptions do not really help…), with a wonderful creaminess to it. There were some hints of bitterness towards the end. The finish was rather short, though. I found this wine wonderfully refreshing. Its 43 grams of residual sugar and 9% ABV made it a great sipping wine. In its beauty, it did remind me of Prälat wines, but I might have gotten carried away, especially after the two disappointments we tried before. Nina disagreed with me on that assessment, and I suppose she is right.

By that time, we had brought out the cheeses, and that definitely enhanced the tasting as well. Nothing like sweeter rieslings and cheese…

Up next was the 2011 Karl Erbes Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett. At 8% ABV it had the typical alcohol content of a sweeter Mosel riesling, and I remembered it fondly from our tasting at the winery in June. The color was light straw and the nose had honey and a rather distinct grape note, very fresh. My tasting notes focused on my emotional response rather than the tastes. They read: “refreshing, sweet, honey, warm, nice acidity, deep, not very long, great with cheese”. I admit it, I had already had my fair share of wine, and my tasting capabilities went downhill. The wine just made me smile. It was just so pleasant.

This was followed by my highlight, the 2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese. You can find the review here (I needed more space for that).

We finished off with the 2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon from Australia, which is described here.

The black pirate

Like I said, it was a great experience. My cousin asked me who won. I really don’t feel like I can declare a winner here. The Brys and the Left Foot Charley were both pretty awesome wines, and so were the Erbes Kabinett and the Scharzhofberger. I think the biggest surprise for me was the quality of the Brys and the Left Foot Charley. They definitely convinced me that there is great riesling in Michigan and I am determined more than ever to go and find them.

Has anyone tried these wines or others from those wineries? Please share!!

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27 thoughts on “Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting with friends

  1. Thanks for the good writeup. It in reality used to be a leisure account it.

    Look complicated to more delivered agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we keep up a correspondence?

  2. […] Reds“, “Strange Fruit“, “French and Argentinian Malbecs”, “Michigan vs. Mosel” and others in the past; you can find links to all of them here), and then guests bring a […]

  3. Awesome post! Last year I had an opportunity to be in the region of Traverse City. The wines from the Chateau Grand Traverse didn’t impress me much, with a great exception of two of them: their Gamay and the Botrytis one, which they make only every few years and which I would compare to the best German Trockenbeerenauslese wines. But a wine from the Old Mission Peninsula which I truly love is Gewürtztraminer from the Peninsula Cellars (Manigold Vineyard). It is one of the best wines from this variety I have ever tried.

    • the winegetter says:

      Thanks for those tips! I have to say I have been happy with CGT wines so far…but I simply have to make it up there and try all the wineries. :) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. intoxreport says:

    As a Michigan boy who has written about Michigan wine for twenty years, I take some (welcomed) heat when I suggest that riesling is not ‘our’ grape despite a general consensus that it is. I have yet to try even a top Michigan riesling that I thought could stand ground with a moderate Rheingau, so you were correct in pairing with Mosel. Our rieslings seem almost universally restrained on the nose, and only rarely make up for it on the palate. Varietal character is a mixed bag, for sure. I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve tried most of them, for sure, and all the ones you reviewed above. Late Harvest and the occasional eiswein are by far the most succulent, but these can fall off the quality chart, too. St. Julian’s, reviewed above, and tasted last week at the NWS show, is a good example: It’s the first vintage they ever vinified in this style, and they have some bugs to work out.

    That said, we are doing some remarkable things with cab franc, with blaufränkisch, with fruit wine and, over the past few years with chardonnay. So, plenty more blind tastings in your future, I hope!

    Nice job on the blog. Salud, Chris

    • Thanks for stopping by, Chris, and for your words! That definitely is an interesting pitch on Michigan wines that I had not been aware of. Given how riesling is pushed here, I just assumed they would be their flagships. I definitely have not tasted enough for a really informed judgment.

      It is just as interesting that you seem to prefer the Rheingau rieslings, which in Germany by now have rather bland reputation. Everyone is fretting about how their producers make lazy and not interesting wines. Again, I have not had nearly enough Rheingau wines to make a judgment there. All is know is that Mosel rieslings are really exciting these days, with tons of interesting young wine makers coming up (take Matthias Meierer for example or Julian Haart)…and same is true for Rheinhessen, my home region.

      I do think soil matters, especially for riesling, and I am not sure Michigan offers the right mix of slate…but again, it is hard to imagine when I have not even made it to Traverse City yet…

      Anyway, really appreciate your comment! Your blog is quite phenomenal.

  5. […] final wine and black pirate at our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting came from Australia, and was brought by a friend who had just arrived from Australia. She knows […]

  6. Nick says:

    Great comparison. Michigan vs. Mosel. I would have never thought Michigan Wines could hold up against Mosels. Cool Post!

  7. […] promised to write about this participant in our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling tasting seperately for two reasons. First, I want to talk about the Scharzhofberg a bit more, because the […]

  8. […] what others drink and bring. This bottle was brought by our friends who also attended the Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting. They were the ones that first introduced me to Chateau Grand Traverse wines earlier this year. In […]

  9. kasprhausr says:

    The dark hue suggests you opened a flawed bottle of our 2010 Dry Riesling. Either the cork, or perhaps hot temps are likely to blame.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it. Like I wrote, the color was off putting and not what I expected. The cork seemed fine, so I am assuming it was storage…will give it another try.

      I tried the late harvest chardonnay yesterday and was quite impressed!

  10. I’m amazed at how often liquor stores mishandle wines (and how many liquor store owners don’t drink wine, ever, and know nothing about it). A buyer has to beware.

    • Yes, I guess it is a trade off: You see a good price, but you also see how those bottles are standing upright forever…You just need to figure out whether the experiment is worth it. I am currently contemplating buying a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett from a winery I know and like from the liquor store around the corner. The vintage is 2006, and the price VERY tempting, but I could imagine that bottle has been standing in that heat for a while…will see how that goes.

  11. Sounded like a rather unfair fight, but a fun night! When I get back to the mitten, I might have to drive up to TC! I might need some time away from the family… I will be leaning on you and the hedonist for recs!

  12. talkavino says:

    Even title alone (Michigan versus Mosel) is priceless. I love this type of wine tastings, I discover so much. And the blind tastings are even more amazing in the impact – we did one on Pinot Noir and one on Champagne/Sparklers, and the results are completely mind boggling even for the people who swear by wines they are bringing themselves.

    Glad you had a lot of fun!

    • Thanks for your feedback! I agree, a blind tasting is usually even more exciting, but this was a first, so we just wanted to ease up with each other’s company. I thought it went quite well in terms of exchanging ideas on the wines…

  13. Glad you were pleased with some of the Michigan wines! One day I’m going to get up into that area for some tasting!

  14. thefoodandwinehedonist says:

    Thats good to hear the local wines id well. Brys was one of te places we visited and I’ve heard Left Foot us excellent. Those are probably the tips for that style along with Black Star Farms. 2 Lads is the best up there but not sure they do Riesling. Their Pinot Noir is excellent. Grand Traverse is a nice winery to visit but the wine not so great. Don’t be tempted to give St Julian another try.

    • Yes, I thought both Left Foot Charley and Brys were very good. I have yet to try one from Black Star Farms, but have heard great things. 2 Lads is news to me, will have to check that out. I think some of CGT are good…but thanks for the warning in St Julian…I don’t think I would be tempted to give them another try…:)

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