A Wine to Remember
How a bottle can take you back to the best days of your life
Some drink to forget. Some drink to remember.
If you’re a wine aficionado, it’s inevitable that there will be at least one bottle that lines up so serendipitously with a life event that it’s burned into your memory.
For me, it’s Black Star Farms' Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc.
I was sitting alone at what was then Northern Lakes restaurant in Bloomfield Hills in October 2013, eating a generic salad, sipping a generic Pinot Noir, and basking in the aftermath of my certified exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Just an hour before, I'd walked away from the exam with a purple pin attached to the lapel of my black blazer, among a handful of hopefuls to pass the exam. Preparation was rigorous: Months of wine theory study, blind tasting drills, and service practice had preceded it.
Up until the moment Master Sommelier Ron Edwards, the exam's primary proctor, read my name, I was sure I had failed. As I fidgeted outside the conference room, waiting for the results, I relentlessly relived the missteps of each segment of the exam: a written theory test, a blind tasting challenge, and most of all, the service test. The brutal latter portion requires serving a master sommelier as if you were the sommelier in an upscale restaurant and he were a guest — while simultaneously answering a barrage of questions about wine, cocktails, and food pairing.
A Special Occasion
Celebrating solo at Northern Lakes afterward, I was so giddy that I might as well have been drunk before I even started drinking. So entrenched in my own little world of purple pins was I that I was almost startled when a decanter full of deep ruby wine was plunked down in front of me. I looked up to see Edwards and Master Sommelier Jesse Becker, who had administered my nerve-jarring service exam, standing beside my table.
I wish I remembered verbatim what Edwards said. In essence, he congratulated me and said that he’d ordered the Leorie so the other masters who were in town for exam administration could experience the great reds Michigan could produce. But they had to take off, so would I like the rest?
I already knew the Leorie as one of my favorite red wines in the state: smooth, rich, complex. But it tasted especially delicious that day.
I have several bottles in my cellar. I don't know if it's the same vintage, but it doesn't matter. Just seeing the long, tapered neck of the bottle and the plum label brings me back to that day and an unparalleled feeling of pride and accomplishment.
For Jean Cartwright of Novi, Chateau Grand Traverse Reserve Chardonnay holds a special place in her memory. Determined to serve Michigan wine at her daughter's 2012 wedding, Cartwright was pleasantly surprised to find a respectable selection on the venue's menu.
“The chilled wine went perfectly with the beautiful sunny day and the chicken dish we chose,” she recalls.
Mike Certain of Lake Orion says he and his wife, Julie, “have had so many memorable bottles, it is hard to choose.” Among them are Hawthorne Vineyards Gamay Noir, sipped in a rainforest, to mimosas made with 2 Lads Sparkling Riesling and enjoyed on Christmas morning.
But “it always comes back to Brys Estate's Pinot Noir,” he says. “(It) was our first favorite Michigan wine, and has been the center of our important celebrations since we began drinking Michigan wine in 2010.”
Now, drinking the Pinot takes Certain on a virtual return trip to Disney’s Aulani Resort on O’ahu, where he and his wife savored a bottle they’d stashed in their suitcase.
Black Star Farms' Arcturos Pinot Gris will forever remind Liz Luth of Newport of the moment when her best friend — also in attendance on a memorable northern Michigan wine trip — asked Luth to be her maid of honor by presenting her with a bottle.
“I guess our loyalty to Michigan wine is almost as deep as it is to each other,” she says.
Share Your Memories
Which Michigan wine has been most memorable to you? Comment below and tell us about it.
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township and Royal Oak. Contact her at email@example.com.