Brian Cain

GR Wine, Beer and Food Festival Keeps Getting Better!

Brian Cain
GR Wine, Beer and Food Festival Keeps Getting Better!

Continued Improvements at the GR Wine, Beer and Food Festival

I’m not sure if it’s my imagination, but, prices seemed to be lower this year for the wine samples


In the past, this event seemed to be a little over priced.   This year while tasting our way from the entrance through the exhibition hall to the parking lot exit, the prices for the wine tastes seemed lower than in past years.   For four or five tickets ($2-$2.50), one can get a taste of some very nice wines and at the Elite Collection booths, for 10+ tickets (over $5) one can get a taste of some of the finest wines available in West Michigan.   So, unlike years past, this year $20 worth of tickets offers an opportunity to taste many interesting wines.   Also, continuously, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, seminars and tasting sessions are presented every half hour at one of the three stages presented by noted wine experts, chefs, brewers, winemakers and spirits producers.   Several of Grand Rapids top restaurants also put on splendid meals with wine pairings.   Not cheap, but the food and wines are superb.  One could easily spend a few days here and never get bored.   The main challenge is prioritizing and limiting oneself to what can be taken in without sensory overload.


Another feature this year, was a reception by the Traverse Wine Coast consortium.   The forty plus wineries located on and around Grand Traverse Bay on both the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas have gotten together to promote the special quality wines produced in what we previously simply referred to as northern Michigan.   We tasted a few very nice wines from the Traverse Wine Coast that I had not experienced previously.  The ratings are mine alone.


2016 Shady Lane Leelanau Peninsula Franc n’ Franc ($20) This might be my favorite wine of the entire event.   I love wines that are vividly fresh with bright, still nervous, edgy red fruit and spice.  Wow! This blend of Cab Franc and Blaufrankisch is what I call a desert island wine; one that not only doesn’t become boring, but actually becomes more and more interesting with every taste.  95 points

2017 Rove Estate Leelanau Peninsula Ragaire Rose ($22)  Being one of the more substantial roses I’ve tasted this year, it can pair up with a wide variety of flavorful foods from cured meats and savory cheeses to salmon, seafood, poultry, and even meats.   Big powerful melon, grapefruit, and pineapple smells and flavors meet crisp citrus-like texture making this lovely rose ideal.  90 points

2016 Leelanau Cellars Leelanau Peninsula Late Harvest Riesling ($14)  The nose is full of floral, mineral and yellow fruit scents with a very dense ripe mid palate of star fruit and citrus that gets bigger, richer and sweeter as it glides across the tongue.  90 points

2016 Mari Vineyards Old Mission Peninsula Merlot ($36)  Here is a very fine ripe expression of fruit purity and balance.  Stylistically, the Bordeaux-like substance and density is not at the expense of freshness and fruit intensity.   89 points

2016 Ciccone Vineyards Leelanau Peninsula Pacentro ($26)  The skillful semi sweet blend of Pinot Blanc and Golden Muscat delivers a wonderfully aromatic nose with just enough of the Golden Muscat to highlight bright Niagara-like fruit and maraschino-like spice.  The native grape flavors are just right too.   Pasted on the backdrop of fairly neutral Pinot Blanc, the best things about native fruit (bright vineyard fresh grape scent, Michigan terroir and citrus-like crispness) come through without overdoing it.  88 points

2016 Shady Lane Leelanau Peninsula Gruner Veltliner ($20)  Although water white in color, the big floral/mineral nose suggests that this is no lightweight.   Plenty of clean honeydew and juicy white grape flavors carry into a delicately crisp finish.  88 points

2016 45 North Leelanau Peninsula Cabernet Franc ($45)   With good fruit purity and soft lush easy to drink texture the fine balance carries through to the long softly tannic finsih.   You’ll enjoy this with lighter fare.  87 points


After tasting several more wines at the Traverse Wine Coast reception, we wandered through the main exhibition area to taste several more wines from other parts of the US and world.   There are thousands of wines to taste, so, what we tasted in an hour or so is a very very small sample of what is available to taste.   I would recommend planning on a few hours at the very least to get even a glimpse of what is there.   Besides all the wines, there is another entire floor of beer, cider and spirits.    The setting was just a bit too hectic to sit down with a paper and pen and take careful notes.   But, here are a few that made us take notice.


A few 90+ point wines we encountered while walking through the main exhibition area.


2016 Moniker Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon CA ($19)  Really interesting green forest, evergreen-like notes in the nose combine with leather, black currants and pepper spice.   Tastes like a much more expensive wine.

2015 True Grit (Parducci) Reserve Mendocino Petite Sirah ($18)  It does my heart good to see that the Parducci winery is still making wines that John Parducci would be proud of.   This is a substantial Petite Sirah by any standard with mouth filling ripe fruit flavors with hints of anise and cracked pepper.   The Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon was as good as I remember the wines of the 1980’s being and today’s Pinot Noir is actually much better with much more opulent fruit flavors than one normally expects from this lighter varietal.

2015 Vina Cobos Bramare (Paul Hobbs) Lujan de Cuyo Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)  Wow, this is a monster.  Big fat chocolate infused berries in the nose and long long silky finish make this a stunner.   Their Malbec was  no less impressive.

2016 Volunteer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)  Blackberry and fudge dominate the nose with rich mouth filling ripe black fruit on the palate as well.   It stays with you!


Want more info?   I guess you’ll just have to attend yourself next year.


Enjoy in Good Health,

A. Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner