Chris and I, the balsamic vinegar-aholics, spent the weekend in Traverse City for a wedding. We had a great time between the wedding events, wine tasting, cherry-infused samplings, fudge, and the beautiful scenery of Northern Michigan.
We also ate at a fantastic little cafe, The Cook’s House. The subtitle on the restaurant’s awning is “local sustainable cuisine.” I want to move in with these people. Look for a later post with details about our meal.
On Sunday, before the wedding, we did a little shopping in downtown Traverse City. This place has changed a lot since my childhood but some stores are the same: the fudge shoppe in particular. One of the newer stores, Fustini’s Oils and Vinegars, opened within the last year or so, is a gourmet olive oil and vinegar shop. Set up much like an open wine tasting, the small storefront is lined with large barrels of olive oil on one side and vinegar on the other. A salesperson will suggest combinations and assist with mixing a little vinegar with oil in small paper cups. You can dip your finger in the cup or just throw back the tablespoon of flavor like a shot. Our first sample was Olive oil infused with mandarin orange mixed with an 18 year old balsamic vinegar. A little too sweet for both Chris and I. We next tried a Basil Olive Oil mixed with Oregano infused vinegar. Better but they sort of cancelled each other out. Third try was garlic olive oil mixed with Pear Vinegar, a white vinegar. Now that was a winner!
I’ve seen White Pear Balsamic Vinegar in the stores before so we just bought the garlic olive oil this time. It was very garlicky and will make a great dipping oil for bread too: mix some basil, cracked pepper and grated cheese together than sprinkle on top of the oil.
During our weekend, we visited three wineries and bought wine at each. We also sampled a lot of different cherry-themed products including mustards, barbeque sauce, salsa, preserves, fruit butters, chocolates and wine. We also had cherries in both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception meal. Despite this cherry overload, we came home with 5 or 6 jars of stuff in the car. I’m not even sure what all is in there, Chris was more cherry happy than me. We did not buy any cherry fruit wines though.
I made a command decision to tour the Old MIssion Peninsula and its wineries. I had a very good reason for this, my affinity for Winery #1:
My first experience with Bowers Harbor was a Michigan Food & Wine Festival at Meadowbrook several years ago. After sampling many wines that day, my mom ended up buying a whole case of Otis, the estate’s signature white blend. Fastforward to present day, Otis is still popular although its namesake, a Yellow Lab who served as official dog greeter at the vineyeard has since passed away. Bowers Harbor is a family-run winery that started as a family farm. With the passing of Otis, the winery welcomed Cooper, a Bernese Mountain Dog, who soon took on official greeter status and earned his own wine label. Cooper’s wine is a sweeter style than Otis and not quite to my taste.
On this trip, we bought a bottle of 2005 Riesling, an early harvest year so the wine is less sweet. This particular varietal is only available at the vineyard. We also picked up a jar of sun-dried tomato (cherry?) spread.
The second winery on our trip, CGT is the oldest and probably largest winery in Northern Michigan. Established in 1974, they sell wine under three labels, Chateau Grand Traverse, Grand Traverse Select and Traverse Bay Winery. The tasting room on Old Mission offers over 25 varietals for sampling as well as a number of wine-related goods from storage racks to crackers suited for wine and cheese parties. They also sell glasses, decanters and finally a wine aerator. We have been looking for one of these since a friend showed hers off last Christmas. Many a wine shop has disappointed us with perplexed looks and sad headshakes. On Sunday, I stumbled across the Ventar wine pourer with aerator. While not identical to the gadget we’d seen over the holidays, it was only $20 and did the job.
(Later in the day, while in another shop, we ran across the aerator we’d used before, marked at $70! Its cheaper on-line, the Vinturi aerator)
Besides a whole lot of Brownwood Farms products, a wine-food pairing guide, wine crackers and the aerator-pourer, we bought some wine here too!
2006 Chardonnay “Late Harvest” – A sweeter wine than usual, Late Harvest grapes are left on the vine to allow the sugar content to rise. Not quite as sweet as Ice Wines (where the grapes are left on til after the first frost), Chris actually liked this white wine so we decided to buy a bottle.
2005 Gamay Noir “Reserve” – Red wines are rare in NOrthern Michigan and quality reds are even harder to come by. Chris prefers reds so when he came across one that he liked, he bought 3 bottles of it! We had the first bottle last night. And we used our aerator too. THere is a distinctive difference- the aerator definitely helps soften the tannins. Now that I’ve had a full glass of this wine, I have to say I don’t love it. Perhaps with food, it will be better. I felt the pepper flavor came on too fast and blotted out the fruit flavors. First sip was very plummy but then the spice just overpowered everything. The wine won a Gold Medal at the 2008 Great Lakes Wine Judging.
The third and final winery visit wasn’t actually meant to be a wine tasting visit. We’d been given information that they had locally made cheese on site. They didn’t have any cheese there although they do make cheese at their Sutton’s Bay Farm, up in the Leelenau Peninsula. I sampled two wines here but Chris wasn’t allowed. For the second time in 3 months, he’d misplaced his ID (since found) and the host was reluctant to allow him samples without verifying his age. I had to show my ID and I did think it was a little strange to be so reluctant after seeing my age. Perhaps I should be flattered that he thought 33-year old me was dating someone under 21!
I tried 2 whites, the 2006 Sur Lie Chardonnay first. This is a non-oaked Chardonnay and it was very crisp. I thought it too metallic. It seems like a lot of Chardonnays I’ve had recently have had way too much oak so they are heavy and woody. But I took a chance on the the 2006 Arcturos Barrel-Aged Chardonnay and I really liked it. Very buttery and smooth with a nice caramel undertone but you could still taste the fruit. And I bought it, rounding out our wine buying for the day.
Before our stop at Fustini’s, we also visited Cherry Republic and Murdick’s Fudge in downtown Traverse City. And bought fudge and cherry related products, of course.
For more about the wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, please visit: http://www.wineriesofoldmission.com/