One of the world’s foremost wine experts and two of his trusted taste-testers recently decided to decamp from reviewing wines from the U.S. coastlines, focusing instead on what is being made and consumed in America’s heartland.
James Suckling, who spent 29 years as a columnist and senior editor at Wine Spectator magazine, discovered what people in Michigan have known for years, writing that “outstanding wines are now available from just about every state and for every taste. And they deserve your attention.”
Two of the wines that Suckling praised were made at Shady Lane Cellars, a pastoral 52-acre vineyard and winery positioned on the Leelanau Peninsula between Lake Michigan’s West Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Leelanau’s south end.
Suckling awarded Shady Lane’s Blaufränkisch a 91-point score and the winery’s Dry Riesling an 89 on his 100-point scale, which he has used for more than 25 years. Suckling, who published his reviews on his subscription-based website, tells readers that a wine rated 90 points or more is outstanding. He also notes that wines that achieve high scores and are priced between $15 and $40, as Shady Lane Cellars’ are, offer great value.
“Positive feedback and reviews of our wines are always important to our business, but when we can get critical feedback from industry leaders like James Suckling, this levels the playing field,” said Rick DeBlasio, the general manager of Shady Lane Cellars. “Our scores are based on the same system they use to score wines from all over the world, France, Italy, California, so it’s a big vote of confidence both from a wine making standpoint, but also a market standpoint.”
On Shady Lane’s Blaufränkisch, Suckling wrote:
- “This is really delicious with cracked black pepper and hints of almonds with blue fruit. Medium body, light tannins and a fresh finish.”
And on the Dry Riesling, he opined:
- “This is a very harmonious and round dry riesling with some peaches and pears, plus a hint of smoke.”
DeBlasio said the reviews help Shady Lane reach wine consumers who may be new to Shady Lane and reinforce the perspective of those who have already experienced and enjoyed the winery’s catalog.
“Our guests want to know they are purchasing something of value and quality, and these types of tools allow us to communicate that, and being from a respected 3rd party, they lend credibility and legitimacy to our craft,” DeBlasio said.
The tasting review sampled 800 wines, showing “the diversity of these American wines reflects the vast climatic and geological range across America. It is a wine continent just like Australia or Europe.” Suckling, in fact, calls out to the grape-growing and wine-producing region of Northern Michigan in his text, saying:
“In France, the taste of the place is called terroir, and the best wines (come) from places as diverse as the High Plains around Lubbock, Texas, and the Old Mission Peninsula, which extends into Lake Michigan near Traverse City, Michigan, and have that.”
Shady Lane Cellars grows its Blaufränkisch grapes on a 3-acre plot, producing a dark red wine with a big personality. Layers of blueberry, blackberry and mulberry fruit along with a hint of black pepper and cedar spice finish this wine with aged, lush tannins and big mouthfeel.
The Dry Riesling grapes, meanwhile, are grown at the highest elevation of Shady Lane’s estate, creating a fantastic, balanced fruit that is remarkably dependable and consistent. Kasey Wierzba, Shady Lane’s lead winemaker, intentionally selected a yeast to produce intense flavors of apricot, melon, lime zest and honeysuckle.
Wierzba says Shady Lane takes advantage of the region’s cool climate to create varieties that achieve a world-class balance of acidity, aroma and flavors.
Shady Lane Cellars was one of Leelanau County’s first wineries and sits on rolling hills while featuring breathtaking panoramic views. Positioned a short distance from Grand Traverse West Bay and M-22, Shady Lane’s grounds are a destination with a comfortable state-of-the-art tasting room.
The winery maintains a regular tasting room schedule in the off-season, opening from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The winery is also open by appointment by calling 231-947-8865.
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