New York Wine Diary: Day 13 – The Sparkling Genius of Larry Mawby (and My New Year’s Resolution)

As promised, my last blog posting of 2015 has a sparkling wine theme. I know that now some of you are now going to ask why I didn’t post this at least a week ago, so that you could stock up on these products for the moment when the ball drops tonight. I will also toast the New Year with a glass of sparkling wine at that moment, but I know that I won’t take in what it tastes likes like I would in a calmer moment. And the sparkling wines made by Larry Mawby on the Leelanau Peninsula of Northern Michigan deserve that kind of attention, rather than only being knocked back when the hands of the clock meet at the top and you’re already so drunk that you know most of January 1st will be painful.

That means that apart from those of you have already secured supplies you won’t be able to begin 2016 with a glass of SEX. Yes, that’s the brand name on the label of the sparkling wine in the left of the photo of Larry. As he said to me when I visited him for the second time at the end of July, “this is the only federally approved sex!” He meant that the label had received approval from the TTB, the federal body that regulates the labeling of alcoholic beverages in the US. As you can see from the photo of Larry above he uses two distinct sets of packaging for his sparklers, SEX along with all the tank-fermented wines appear under the M. Lawrence label and the champagne-method (i.e. bottle-fermented) wines are all marketed under the L. Mawby label. Already this strategy of producing two distinct ranges using different methods is highly unusual and attracted my attention.

Then, when I first met Larry back in 2013 I realized that this innovative, clever, sophisticated and funny man was a great story. Sure the story of his wines had been told before and sometimes quite well, but the I couldn’t find any story that did him justice. Perfect! Nothing is more helpful to a journalist interested in underdog winemakers like me than a tremendously talented winemaker who has been ignored or misunderstood. The problem with this subject was confirmed during my second visit to the M. Lawrence & L. Mawby tasting room on July 24th this year: this is one BIG story, and an important part of the HUGE story of Northern MI wines. I had no time to write a blog posting about Larry Mawny while I was up in Northern MI because of the major commitment of the City of Riesling event in Traverse City (the 3rd of these events will take place August 27th thru 29th, 2016), then when I returned to NYC work on the first of my e-books for Kindle, ROCK STARS OF WINE AMERICA #1 demanded my full attention. The fact is that this format is the right place for a stories like this, because the maximum length of my blog postings is way too narrow a frame for this huge personality. What I can do here and now (an important place to be in!) is tell you about his wines and give you an idea about why I consider him a sparkling genius.

The things that amaze me about the L. Mawby champagne-method sparkling wines are their technical perfection, their precisely-judged balance and the distinctiveness of each product. The most important of them is the non-vintage Blanc de Blancs Brut, because at circa 24,000 bottles per year this accounts for roughly half of Larry’s production under the L. Mawby label. I love the combination of lemony freshness (it is MI 100% Chardonnay) and creaminess in this wine (from 28 months on the yeast in the bottle), then the aftertaste that reminds me of lemon meringue pie, but is fresh and dry. The mousse (technical name for the bubbles) is persistent without being dominant. Is this an American sparkling wine that New York somms obsessed with Blanc de Blanc champagnes from obscure growers (preferably Extra Brut, biodynamic, $50 – $100 per bottle, and really difficult to get hold of) will have orgasms over? Definitely not, but for $23 direct from Larry it is a seriously delicious sparkling wine with great charm and balance. However, the much more concentrated, creamy and complex 2005 Mille Blanc de Blancs, ($50 direct from Larry, but now sadly sold out) might just gain their grudging appreciation. I was also really turned on by the wines in the L. Mawby range made with the hybrid grapes that are mega-uncool in the wine scene of NYC and just about everywhere else. My favorite of these is the seriously sexy non-vintage Sandpainting Brut, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Vignoles. The latter grape really energizes the whole and adds a fresh pineapple note to the red berry and lemon aromas of the French grape varieties. The stunning interplay of fruit, creaminess and acidity in this sparkler must be experienced. I know nothing else like it anywhere Planet Wine, and it costs just $27 direct from Larry. That is mega-cool for me!

The M. Lawrence tank-fermented sparkling wines are much more up-front and fruity, but this strikes me as merely a stylistic alternative. I refuse to fall into the trap of thinking that this is an “inferior” method, and because they come onto the market without the long aging of the champagne-method wines they shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Larry describes his Green Extra Sec as, “like Vinho Verde, but with bubbles,” but I find the personality of this blend of the hybrid Cayuga grape with Riesling comes mostly from the latter grape. The list described it’s flavor as, “tropical electronics,” a Larryism that was spot on and made made me laugh. These two pictures of signs on the winery patio fall into the same category. After I tried the SEX Larry asked me, “was it good for you?” and I answered with British irony, “if I may say so, I really enjoyed the SEX!” This dryish sparkling ros├ę is a weird mix of grapes with the color coming form Regent and Marechal Foche and much of the flavor from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s crisp and juicy and it might stimulate your appetite for some healthy and positive physical activity with someone else, or even yourself. Detroit only appears under that name in the local market, while in Chicago it’s called CHI and in the New York area it’s called NYC. This is a blend dominated by Riesling and Muscat Larry aptly describes on the list as a, “floral, HipHop diva.” Even with just over 5% / 50 grams per liter RS this is not an overly sweet wine, the effusive aromas and bright acidity plus the mousse balancing the sugar really well. These are really fun drinks that deserve to be taken seriously. My suggestion would be that over the coming weeks and months you experiment with these still little-known works of sparkling genius that begin around $15 direct from Larry. Valentine’s day is not far away, and that is time when we sit (or lie) and savor!

Thank you all for your attention and support during 2015. Happy New Year and all the best for 2016 to you all from NYC! I shall return shortly.

PS My new year’s resolution is – in the spirit of Larry Mawby – to enjoy wine, sex, laughter and life more thoroughly, (but never to do so at someone’s else’s expense).



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One Response to New York Wine Diary: Day 13 – The Sparkling Genius of Larry Mawby (and My New Year’s Resolution)

  1. Jill Smart says:

    Larry educated my ‘Consort’, David WGruber (former winemaker @ Leelanau Cellars, Raftshol Vineyards & Chateau de Leelanau) on sparkling wine to create Chateau de Leelanau’s ‘Best of Show’ Andante’…a sparkling Riesling, for my mom’s winery. Although Dave was an experienced winemaker (20 years in Sonoma), he had never made a sparkling wine…Larry ROCKS!! Dave is now in Oregon

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