Barb, our hostess, decided that we would have "comfort food" for our potluck and that instead of having wine guide Dick bring all the wine, we'd each bring a bottle of something we enjoyed or wanted to try to share with the group.
This post is in two parts -- this one focuses on the wines. They were all good and there were some fun surprises.
(In the next post, I'll show you some of Barb's great decorating skills -- there are a lot of good ideas there!)
Our first two wines were an extra special surprise for me -- they were both delicious and they were both from Michigan!
Michigan has a lot to offer and it kills me seeing our state take such an economic hit. The wine producing industry has not, to date, impressed me (apart from its beauty and the fun of taking a wine tasting jaunt in Northern Michigan).
But the Michigan whites, I learned, have much to recommend them. The first wine we enjoyed was a Pinot Grigio.
It was a 2009 Pinot Grigio from Chateau Grand Traverse on Michigan's Mission Peninsula. It was crisp, fresh, and totally delightful. Serve it nicely chilled and you will indeed be a happy sipper! Price: $10.99
Next, Dick brought another Michigan wine -- a Semi-dry Riesling 2010 from Grand Chateau Traverse. Price: $10.99
Rieslings are a tad sweeter than I like, but nevertheless, it was quite nice. I could see sipping it on the beach on a hot summer's night! Apparently the 2010 growing season offered one of the finest quality harvests in the past decade -- we had a moderate winter in 2010 and a great spring. This wine certainly brought the best of Michigan to the palate.
Note to the wise -- if you are in Michigan and like whites, these are well worth trying. Michigan can grow the white grapes, but don't look for them in the red department. You'll be sorely disappointed. In the days before I knew this, I made the mistake of buying a Michigan red to take to Rick's dad and stepmom when we visited. It was pricey, but when we tasted it, I was embarrassed. Stick with the whites. They're just fine.
We always drink whites first, then reds. So, we had another white -- Menage a Trois Chardonnay, provided by Pat.
This is the house white at one The English Inn, one of our area's best. The 2009 Chardonnay was fruity and fresh. Price: $8.99 on sale; $10.99 regular.
Roger and Meredith had been to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, during the holidays and brought one of their red table wines. It would have been good no matter what; for a boutique "souvenir" wine, it was very good, worthy of the Vanderbilts themselves!
At Biltmore, the wines are grown on the estate. Cardinal's Crest is named for a ceremonial hanging vine. Biltmore started making wine in 1971 and this one, a nice table red, would be nice with roast or lamb.
Rick was up next with a very nice French Cotes-du-Rhone, a full-bodied red, by Delas Freres Winery. The price at World Market was $13.99.
The web described this as "perfect for a fearless wine lover," but I don't think you have to be so fearless to enjoy this 2009 Cotes-du-Rhone Saint Espirit which is made from a mix of Red Syrah and Grenache grapes. The wine is a mixture of aging in stainless steel vats and 30 percent aged in oak to provide a "touch of wood" to the blend. It was fruity but not sweet and had a lasting finish.
Mike was next, offering an Italian red -- Monte Antico Toscana, 2007.
This 2007 Tuscan wine was a mix of Sangenovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and had wonderful color and an equally delicious flavor. It is a stelvin (or screw top) cap. While this may bring to mind the inexpensive and in retrospect, relatively revolting wines of our youth, our winey friends say it is the most airtight of the seals -- and if you happen to have leftovers, you want to keep the air out!
Then Clayton offered a 2005 Gnarlier Head Old Vine Zin.
This was our most expensive wine at the day, weighing in at $19.99. It's a dry red Zinfandel from the Sonoma Valley (Sommers Vinyard). It was spicy and quite tasty. My notes included the words "seriously good finish." I liked it!
The bad news on this one? The 2005 vintage is no longer available. Too bad. We'd be there!
Interested in having a wine tasting? Here are a few of my favorite hints to make your event great!
Have food available. Especially if it's prior to dinner. Pat (in blue) always brings the best breads and cheeses -- a Stilton or two, a good Gouda or Swiss, a cheddar -- a nice mix of soft and hard. In addition to cleaning the palate and testing as to how they go with the wine, they provide a nice base to offset the alcohol!
Believe me, it saves the day!
Drink water. Often. Rinse your glass from the previous wine, but drink what you rinse -- keep hydrated!
Decant your reds. Letting your reds breathe for any amount of time will help them -- the longer the better.
(Truly, we have had wines that are so-so when you drink from the pour; let them sit a bit and they're quite nice!) Plus it's fun to watch in anticipation as you see the deep red wine in the decanter! Waiting. Just waiting!
Spit or Swallow? Feel free, if you don't like the wine, to give it a toss. We, on the other hand, rarely have one we don't like (or would like seconds of!) so we tend to swallow, sip, swallow again and yes, savor!
Swirl and check the color. There are scientific reasons for this. I just do it because it's fun. And because we're wine tasting, so it looks cool, like we really know what we are doing and why! (Truth be told, you can also see how dense the wine is, if it has "legs" -- those drips that slide down the side of the glass -- and swirling aerates the wine and really releases the fragrance.)
Smell it, too. Because really, it smells great! We try to pick out the scents and match them to things like "berries," "grapefruit," "pepper" or "spice." Sometimes we'll then check the back of the bottle to see what odd things they might mention -- "smoked bacon" (?!) or "kerosene." (Really.) And again, observe the color. Is it clear, dark, golden or lighter. Sometimes you can guess the wine from the color. I just love how it looks so darned pretty in the light!
Temperature: Red wines are served at room temperature (and don't forget to decant or at least open the bottle to let it breathe) and whites are chilled. Champagne takes longer to chill, so consider that when planning your event.
Pouring Etiquette: When someone is pouring for you, don't get overeager and pull your glass out for a sip before they are done. Unless you're outdoors or on tile. (Last night at dinner at a restaurant, I almost did this. I should know better! Fortunately, the hand on the bottle was a quick as my slide of the glass!)
Invite Fun People! Make sure you have fun people involved. We enjoy those who can laugh, tell a story and savor the moment! Avoid the snooty! (Unless you happen to be a tad snooty too!) Faux-snooty, however, can be very good for grins!
Don't Drink? No Problem! I might add, drinking the wine shouldn't be a requirement! One of our regulars skips the reds. Now and then folks are on meds and can't drink. No problem, so long as they have a jolly sense of humor! Stock up on an alternative they'll enjoy and sip along! If you're over-sipping, don't forget to have a designated driver!
Add Potluck! It's fun to do a wine tasting as a cocktail party, but we love our wine-followed-by-potluck method. Often, the dinner is related to the wine, but just as often it's not. Everyone participates and the camaraderie is warm, the conversation spirited, and really -- isn't that the best?
Pick a Theme: The wine tasting in this post was "bring a favorite" but in general our wine guide, Dick, chooses a theme. It may be related to someone's travels (Australia or France) or a type of wine (our next meeting looks at Pinots -- Noir and Grigio); we've done sherries and ports, "wines for a summer's night" and "wines for Thanksgiving."
Unexpected Guests? If you have additional and unexpected guests, make sure the food is either guarded or suitably placed!
And smile. Because really, wine tasting with friends is certainly something to smile about!
I hope you'll try some of these. And savor! If you're new to The Marmelade Gypsy, check the label list on the sidebar for others titled "Cork Poppers" and "Wine." You'll find a variety of posts on wine, ranging from French, German and South American to those of the Amalfi coast, sherries and more.