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Four of us decided to go on a couple’s weekend retreat in Northern Michigan – focusing mainly on skiing, and although we ended up with our fair share of winter romping, we stumbled (may be too appropriate a word) into a wine tasting marathon.

There’s only so many runs that I can shush in a day without becoming A) frozen to the bone B) bored C) hungrier than a racehorse — so we needed options. We planned our long weekend with ski bookends (Friday and Sunday lift tickets), but we needed something to entertain us all day Saturday. Enter the Traverse City wine region.

The Leelanau peninsula is a hidden gem to many Michiganders, but it’s plentiful in highly rated labels – especially if one’s into Rieslings. There are so many variations within Riesling (dry, semi-dry, sweet and ice) that the region developed an honorary Valentine’s weekend tasting tour titled, “Romancing the Riesling”. We visited four vineyards in 6 hours, and brought home 3 cases of wine (minus the one that we drank on the way back to the hotel). Our conclusions follow:

Chateau Chantal: highly developed portfolio of wine for the region. Wine varies from sparkling whites, rose, dry-sweet Rieslings, and even Malbec imported from Argentina. Our favorites were the 2005 Proprietor’s Dry Riesling, the 2008 Gewurztraminer, the 2007 Malbec Reserve — and of course — the Ice Wine.

Brys Estate: this vineyard offers both a traditional and reserve tasting menus. The ambiance is incredible with the dark wood bar, and heavily upholstered furniture. Don’t forget to sample the 2008 Naked Chardonnay (a must-try, especially for the oak-flavor haters in the world. This might change your impression of the Chardonnay varietal!), 2008 Gewurztraminer is excellent (albeit pricey), 2007 Signature White (fabulous blend) and the 2008 Cab/Merlot blend left us pleasantly surprised!

Peninsula Cellars: is located in a renovated schoolhouse, often referenced by the labels — “Detention”, “Homework”, etc. The Cabernet Franc was very pleasant, and we found an incredible deal on their ice wine. Their portfolio with not disappoint!

Black Star Farms: last, but definitely not least, on our tour was this vineyard that was appropriately accented by the Belgium horses in the distance. We tasted a bunch of Rieslings (all astounding) that were paired with lamb meatballs in a cream sauce – it was heaven! My favorite part of the vineyard is that it offers horse-boarding for guests at the Inn. And…they have a creamery…with cheese. I could retire on this dream….

The rest of our journey in the Michigan tundra was pleasantly appointed with the Inn at Bay Harbor by Marriott, and a lovely jaunt into Petoskey for dinner at Villa Ristorante for some surprisingly authentic Italian cuisine. The owner of Villa supposedly ventures around Italy in search of the perfect menu and grappa selections.

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