Michigan Wine Country: Unexpected and Beautiful

I was looking forward to visiting Traverse City, Michigan and exploring the neighboring areas but little did I know my timing was going to be SO good.  You see, that weekend, the Leelanau Peninsula Spring Sip & Wine was taking place (check here for other events!).  Over 20 wineries participated and the ticket included a small appetizer and several tastings of wine at each participating winery.  Heaven!Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting

I did have to mind how many places I visited as I only had one afternoon and I would not want to rush just to score more wineries!   (<- crazy talk)  Plus, it was my first time in the area so I wanted to also admire the scenery.

Upon entering Leelanau Peninsula, our first stop was the Ciccone Vineyards.

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

If the last name sounds familiar, it is Madonna‘s last name:  it is her Dad’s winery.  I don’t know the full story but I know at some point (and maybe still) they are not close.  The “savor” part at this winery was the homemade chili by the owner.  It was delicious and perfect given the rainy weather at that point in the day.  We enjoyed chatting with the staff!

Michigan, wine, Leelanau Peninsula, Traverse City, Sip and Savor, wine tasting, Ciccone, Madonna

The grounds of the Ciccone vineyards

My partner-in-crime, er, fellow traveler and I moved on to Blustone Vineyards which stole a piece of my heart…  Why?  They were serving CUBAN PERNIL (pork)!!!!  As a 100% Cuban-blooded human being and cook of Cuban pork myself I was impressed with the quality of the pork.  The pork was from Georgina‘s in Traverse City (I looked at their menu online and I immediately started salivating!!  Next time in TC, I will HAVE to visit!).  Kudos!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Plus, the wine at Blustone was the most impressive of the whole lot I sampled on this visit.  I also did love the space:  modern, spacious, and well lit with natural light.  It got quite packed after we arrived but there still was plenty of space to hang around.  Good job, Blustone!

Michigan, winery, vineyard, Traverse City,  Blustone winery, Leelanau Peninsula, wine tasting, wine tasting room

Random driving led us to encounter 45 North winery.  “What’s with the name?,” you may say?  Well, it is near the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole!

45 Parallel, Michigan, road sign, halfway

The place was festive on the inside and out as you can see!  We enjoyed being served our tastings there and watching the “hat scene”.  Good job, 45 North!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau

The tasting area and the bottle tree that greets visitors – pretty cool!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, food, white wine

What greeted us upon entering the testing room!

Michigan, wine, vineyard, winery, 45 North, wine bottle, Leelanau, hat, clever

One of the cleverest hats I saw!

It was time to keep on trucking along and we decided to go to Old Mission Peninsula to try a winery that was recommended, Brys Estate.  I enjoyed their reds – and the view of the east bay.  Though there was a great outdoor seating area with Adirondack chairs, because of the slightly weather, we did not partake of the outdoor.  But that was fine because we enjoy chatting with our server and some of the other visitors.

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

Brys, Estate, winery, vineyard, Old Mission, peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan

A view of the east bay

So, after this Saturday spent driving around these and other Michigan wineries, I can safely say it is a GREAT way to explore the beauty of Michigan – and enjoying delicious food and wines!  I do hope to return as there were many wineries I did not get to check out.  I love having a reason to go back to places I like!

When the Winery Comes to You – Frog’s Leap Wine Tasting

Normally, I write about going somewhere but Frog’s Leap winery just came to me instead of me going to it – a phenomenal wine tasting with friends and good food!

Since 2001, I have been part of a wine tasting group of friends.  Some have cycled out when they moved out of town but the group has mostly been the same since 2003/2004.  It makes for a great night of tasting wines, catching up, and getting a little silly.  And usually, discovery of some good wines.  This past weekend we had one of these tastings.  And that night was not to be different!

The Setup

Our friends J&J were in charge of the tasting and it was held at my house.  Being in charge meant they picked the theme,  the wine to go with the theme, and munchies to go with the wine (cheeses, chocolate, fruits, etc.).  In 11 yrs we have done “new world” vs. “old world” wines, blind tasting of reds with high typicity (how well a wine represents the grape varietal’s “agreed-upon” traits), wines of country X (“Italian reds”), wine X across several wine regions that make it (“Cabs from Australia, California and Chile”), and so on.

This time, our hosts decided to do wines from one winery.  We had never done that!  They picked Frog’s Leap as J1 is a
Fellow of the Frog“.  I have had Frog’s Leap before (Rutherford!!) and liked it a lot but had not tried, for example, their whites.  So this was going to be a new way of sampling wines for our group.  I linked their site above and it will take you to an intro.  Normally, I skip intros but this one is playful!  Ribbit.  (But don’t go there now – finish reading this and THEN go.)

Frog's Leap wine cork

Cork by Frog’s Leap, Fingers by Schmitt

The Food

As part of the tasting, we have munchies.  Partly so stomachs don’t empty throughout the evening (most people eat a light dinner beforehand), and partly to help the tasting of the wines as some foods help highlight the flavors of the wine (whereas others can make the wine flat; that is part of the learning to do in a wine group!).

What was served?  Well, here, let me tell you…

  • Camembert and Chevre from Calyroad Creamery in Sandy Springs http://calyroadcreamery.com/ For the apricot/chevre, dried apricots were diced up with the chevre in a food processor.
  • Cheddar – Cabot Reserve Aged Cheddar
  • Prosciutto rolls from Costco
  • Savannah Bee’s Honey from Whole Foods for the cheeses or the prosciutto rolls
  • 3 types of Ghirardelli chocolates
  • Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and dried cherries
  • Baguette from Breadwinner Cafe in Sandy Springs, GA  http://www.breadwinnercafe.com/index.html
  • Cucumbers and parsley were from Split Cedar Farm from North Georgia (bought at the Sandy Springs Farmers’ Market)
  • Maine Lobster Dip was from Costco and it was served in cucumber slices!
Lobster dip from Costco served in cucumbers

The Maine lobster dip

Cheese and crackers always good for a wine tasting

Cheese and crackers couldn’t be absent!

Pistachios served while enjoying a wine tasting of Frog's Leap wines

Pistachios and other items ready for the tasting

Ghirardelli dark chocolate awaiting the start of a wine tasting
Delicious chocolates await us…

The Winery

Briefly, Frog’s Leap was founded in Napa Valley about 30 or so years ago at a place known as Frog Farm.  It is claimed that frogs were raised there for sale to the big city (San Fran).  Don’t worry, that’s a long time ago and the vines are free from any frog-smell!  It produces – organically – both whites and reds, with an annual production as of this writing of about 60,000 cases.  Besides the wine, the next best thing they have is their motto:  “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”

The Wines

The moment we have been waiting for:  the wines!  The stars of the evening were:

  • 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2009 Chardonnay
  • 2009 Zinfandel
  • 2007 Merlot
  • 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon


Bottles of Frog's Leap red wines

Half the stars of the show! Let the games begin!

Both Sauvignon Blancs were well received by the group.  Clearly one being 2 yrs younger than the other would translate into more of an edge on the younger one but everyone felt that fit well if you are wanting to drink a white wine outside on a hot day.  It felt more refreshing than the 2011 and someone said it sort of popped on your tongue, alluding to a slight sense of effervescence without actually being effervescent.  The 2009 had nice acidity and stronger fruit flavors – it paired very well with the raspberries but not with the blackberries, something we couldn’t quite understand.  I feel I could drink these on a summer day but also other times of the year with certain dishes, especially strong-flavored fishes (e.g., salmon) as it would help counter those flavors.

The Chardonnay was a pleasant surprise as it wasn’t as oaky as many of us expected – which was good in our book.  It almost had an old world style which explains at least why I liked it as I generally do not like California Chardonnays but do like French ones.  It had a buttery sensation to it but it was not too strong along with good fruit flavors.  Very mineral and crisp.  We noted the pistachios went well with it.

We moved on to the reds at this point and first in line:  the Zinfandel.  It had a nice bouquet and light tannins.  While it has a spicy start, it was not overly spicy.  We found out it went well with the raspberries too.  As with the prior wines, it had a short finish.  I really enjoyed this Zinfandel.

On the Merlot, I can tell you it was the one wine the majority said was their favorite of the group because it felt well-balanced.  It went really well with Ghirardelli’s Cabernet Matinee which we kept calling Cabernet Manatee (initially, someone WAS really confused!).  It had a strong scent of grapes and probably the strongest finish of the group.  Probably the extra years helped make it the favorite – wine, after all, gets better with age!

Finally, we hit the Cabernet Sauvignon.  It had strong flavors of cherry and wasn’t a full-bodied red which pleased most in the group though a couple of us gravitate towards full-bodied reds.  It was well-balanced like the Merlot and a pleasure to drink.

What struck us all was how good the wines were across the board.  One cannot go wrong choosing any Frog’s Leap wine, it seems, and that is good to know!  Now we all think we are fellows of the frog (lower case as it is unofficial) and continue to be best friends with the Fellow of the Frog in the group, J1, for having chosen well and introduced us more fully to this winery.

And the Non-Sensical!

Oh, and what is a wine tasting with this group (or others, I am sure) without the non-sensical things that are said or done.  OK, not all are for this blog, and not all do I remember why they were said (except I jotted them down in my handy notepad) but they are part of what makes a wine tasting with friends so much more fun than one at another venue.  A very small sample to keep this blog from being banned… and to protect the innocent:

  • Reminiscing about a wine someone had had elsewhere, the descriptor was “sweaty sock” – wish I knew what wine that was to not try it!
  • Overheard:  “Can you pour some honey on my prosciutto?”
  • Overheard:  “Come from the backside”
  • All fun and games until someone breaks a chair…

The main explanation of the non-sensical:

Before and after at a wine tasting of Frog's Leap wines

Before and after…


If you are interested in starting a group like ours, feel free to drop me a note here or in my Facebook page www.facebook.com/ilivetotravel

Mendoza Wine Tour

As I said in my previous entry about Mendoza, wines are the other good reason to go to Mendoza – the capital of wine in Argentina.

Wine tasting in Mendoza

I had Saturday to play around so I opted for a tour of several wineries as I didn’t feel like renting a car and driving around solo in unfamiliar territory.  It was a great choice.  The wine tour I chose was offered with Trout and Wine.  The tour cost about $135 lasted from 9AM until 5PM and covered 4 different wineries.  At one of the wineries we were to have a 5 course lunch paired with different wines.  The tour was a great idea as the wineries were guaranteed to be open and ready to receive you (though I sensed that would not have been a problem in this season).

Land around a winery in Mendoza, Argentina

At one of the wineries

All the wineries offered us a tour of the facilities as well as a tasting either by sitting down at a pre-set table or by standing around a bar or table (except for the lunch one where we sampled wines paired with the various lunch courses).

Wine barrels in Mendoza wineries in Argentina


Wine tanks in Mendoza wineries in Argentina

Heaven, part dos!

We visited Terrazas which sat us down at a table and where we felt we were just having a chat with a knowledgeable friend about wines.

At Belasco de Baquedano, we were treated to the aroma room where you can walk around and try smelling different scents to train your nose.  I actually tried to do the smelling blind to see if I could detect the aromas.  I didn’t do too well, I must admit…  But the concept was phenomenal.

Aroma Room at Belasco de Baquedano winery in Mendoza, Argentina

Aroma Room at Belasco de Baquedano

Our tour guide, Cecilia, had worked at one of the wineries in the past and knew a lot about wine.  That, combined with the on-purpose small size of the tour group, made for a great day.  Along with me were a Danish father and son, and a California couple.  We enjoyed talking throughout the day and exchanging travel stories.

I had asked Cecilia about a good parrillada place for dinner (meaning, a good local place) and she recommended Estancia La Florencia on Ave. Sarmiento which was really a building away from my hotel.  The California couple and I decided to go together for dinner and we had a fabulous dinner in a mostly-locals only restaurant with great atmosphere.  It was the perfect place for a piece of Argentine steak!

Wine tour ends – Cross back the Andes!

As I flew back Sunday, I got to see Mt. Aconcagua (tallest mountain in the Americas, north of 22,000 feet).  Unfortunately, it was on the opposite side of the plane so I could not get a good picture of it but I did manage to get a few good pictures from my side of the plane.  Enjoy!

Crossing the Andes by plane - view of the mountains!

The awesome Andes



Crossing the Andes by plane - view of the mountains!



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