The days are short, the nights are cold and there’s only one reliable foil to November’s plague of gray. Red wine. Lots of it. As the Traverse Magazine dining department sets us on the hunt for cold weather comfort foods in the November issue, it only follows that our home kitchens will be suffused with the headiness of braised venison shoulder, wild mushroom risotto or holiday roasts. Savory flavors and umami-rich early winter dishes often find their best groove in the company of robust reds like those locally assembled from merlot, cabernet Franc, Lemberger or, heck, Syrah grown in hoop houses.
The added upside of two banner vintages followed by two near-total busts means that what’s left has benefited from a few years of bottle age. It’s true that the realities of our climate zone will not yield the inky, super ripe iterations à la Napa Valley or the Central Coast, but our homegrown vignerons can coax complex, savory and well-balanced wines from our peninsular sand dunes, so check your skepticism and try these local red wines in Northern Michigan.
Bower’s Harbor 2896 Langley 2013
A perennial favorite. Spencer and the winemaking team at Bowers rigorously sort fruit and age it in top shelf barrels to produce this dark and compelling blend of cab franc and merlot.
Black Star Farms Arcturos Merlot 2012
The unsung darling of the local red scene, merlot saw record ripeness levels in 2012, and this bottling from Black Star Farms shows black fruit, cocoa and velvety texture.
Brys Estate Cab/Merlot Reserve 2013
Big red and black berry fruits, tobacco and savory herb notes emanate from Brys’s custom blend of classic Bordeaux varietals.
Hawthorne Vineyards Lemberger 2013
Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch, is an Austrian transplant that finds beautiful expression on the Old Mission Peninsula. Crafted from a cool(ish) vintage, Hawthorne’s 2013 has pretty red fruit and crushed peppercorn notes.
Left Foot Charley Cadia 2013
Stylish and nuanced. Winemaker Bryan Ulbrich describes his Cadia as carrying layers of cherry and raspberry underpinned with cedar and spice.
Verterra Chaos Red 2014
Some serious sorting was required to find enough fruit to make Verterra’s inaugural malbec/merlot blend. Vinified entirely in stainless steel, Chaos is medium-bodied and solidly fruit-forward.
Mari Vineyard Asa Nisi Nasa 2013
Sean O’Keefe calls this his “abracadabra wine” as it’s an atypical blend of Syrah, nebbiolo and malbec ripened under Mari’s impressive hoop houses. Look for strawberry and bramble fruits wrapped in firm tannins and balanced acidity.