A sign that once hung on the wall in Mawby’s Leelanau Peninsula tasting room declared: “Sparkling Wine: Not Just a Breakfast Drink.”
Years later, the sign is gone, but the tongue-in-cheek sentiment still rings true. Michigan’s climate lends itself to the production of extraordinary bubblies, and fans insist that these fun, festive wines are just as appropriate for a Tuesday night as they are for a brunch mimosa or a New Year’s Eve toast.
“Just like life is meant to be lived, sparkling wine is meant to be enjoyed — as often as possible,” says McKenzie Gallagher, co-owner of Rove Estate in Traverse City. “Sparkling wine just makes you happy, and it reveals a whole new side to the wine experience from a tasting and sensory standpoint.”
Other Michigan winery reps agree.
“Life is short, and we shouldn’t wait to enjoy the good stuff or treat ourselves,” says Matthew Moersch, CEO of Moersch Hospitality Group, which owns Tabor Hill, Round Barn, and Free Run Cellars in southwestern Michigan.
Cody Kresta owner and winemaker David Butkovich and his wife, Mary Lou, have made a nightly ritual out of savoring a glass of sparkling wine while preparing dinner.
“This daily celebration helps to remind us to savor each of life’s precious moments,” says Butkovich, whose small family winery is situated in Mattawan, not far from Kalamazoo.
And nowhere in Michigan is this pro-sparkling mindset truer than at Mawby, where it’s all bubbly, all the time. The winery, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, specializes exclusively in sparkling wines and ciders. In addition to their own extensive lineup, they assist about a dozen custom clients in various aspects of sparkling production.
According to Mike Laing, part owner of Mawby and Big Little Wines, sparkling consumption appears to be on the rise.
“The fact that the whole category is expanding and people have more options now also helps make the case for making bubbly an everyday beverage,” he says. “Sparkling wine is one of the few wine categories that has seen consistent growth over the last five or more years.”
Know the Terms
There are two main methods of sparkling wine production. The first — known as the traditional method, méthode traditionnelle, or méthode Champenoise — is the same painstaking process employed in Champagne, France. It involves triggering a second fermentation in a still wine within the bottle via the addition of yeast and sugar.
The second is the tank method, also known as the Charmat method or cuve close, in which the secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank instead of within the individual bottle.
In either case, as the wine ferments, “the bubbles dissolve into solution, giving wine its effervescence,” Laing explains.
Some wineries also employ forced carbonation to achieve bubbles in a still wine.
Sparkling wines are finished with a dosage of sugar prior to corking to establish their final sweetness level; subsequently, they run the gamut in style from bone dry to extremely sweet.
The traditional Champagne sweetness scale can be perplexing, as it veers from the standard terminology that many consumers know. Technically speaking, the scale ranges from the bone-dry brut nature to the very sweet doux, with extra brut, brut, extra sec, sec (literally “dry” in French, although these wines lean fairly sweet), and demi-sec (“half-dry,” on the sweet side) in between. Many Michigan wineries, including Mawby, have retained the brut distinction for a dry sparkling while eschewing the other technical terms for more widely recognizable sweetness vocabulary: “dry,” “sweet,” “semidry,” etc.
Rove’s brut sparkling, made via the Charmat method, is dry but fruity, with “electric acidity,” Gallagher says. It has aromas of white peach, ripe pear, and honeysuckle, with green apple, apricot, and zesty lime on the palate.
Cody Kresta recently released a brut sparkling white and a brut sparkling rosé, both fermented/aged in the bottle for four years. The former is 100% Chardonnay, with apple and pear notes; the latter is 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, with hints of raspberry and strawberry. At press time, the Butkoviches were planning to introduce a Charmat-style wine in 2023.
A few different bubblies are available from Tabor Hill, but the flagship of the portfolio is Grand Mark, a traditional-style sparkling inspired by Claude Thibaut, a mentor described by Moersch as “one of the world’s preeminent Champagne makers.” A staple of the Tabor Hill lineup for many years and still one of the winery’s bestsellers, Grand Mark is aged on its side in the bottle for 18 months to five years. This adds a biscuit/pastry note to the lemon, baked apple, and pear flavors.
Mawby’s collection boasts more than a dozen bubblies, a mix of tank and traditional, using myriad grape varieties.
Serve in Style
Laing recommends chilling sparkling wine to about 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Opening a bottle is an art form in itself: After removing the foil, sommeliers advise giving six half turns to the tab to loosen the cage, keeping your hand over both cage and cork to prevent a sudden discharge. Then, grip the bottom of the bottle and gently turn it while still holding the cage to loosen the cork.
While Champagne flutes are traditionally associated with sparkling wine, shallower coupes can also be used, or even “regular” wine glasses, which some sommeliers argue provide better access to aromatics. Laing personally prefers his bubbly in a smaller — 8- or 9-ounce — traditional white wine glass.
Laing encourages consumers who are new to incorporating bubbly into everyday life to try the effervescent wines with food. His favorite pairings are oysters or triple-cream brie cheese.
“All wine is pleasure, and when paired with food, both the wine and food flavors change — in some cases, in very harmonious ways,” he says. “Sparkling wines are inherently high in acidity, and when paired with rich, fatty foods in any season, they can enhance the whole culinary experience. They are also lighter bodied and typically lower in alcohol, so they can be enjoyed with more delicate foods or on warmer days in the summer.”
Moersch’s go-to pairing is with fried chicken: “The saltiness and oils wonderfully complement the high acidity and pear flavors.” And Gallagher says nothing beats a glass of bubbly with salty potato chips, French onion dip, and a night of watching movies with the family.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 Michigan Wine Country magazine.