Chateau Grand Traverse Botrytis Riesling

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 12.5%? (label partially rubbed off)

Purchased for: $18/500 ml (Original price around $25)

Appearance: Dark gold with thick legs that disappear quickly.

Nose: Wildflower honey, tart apples, oregano.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Orange blossom honey, orange push pops, very ripe peaches, caramel covered pear.

Finish: Clingy. Canned peaches, lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: Botrytis is a class of fungi that attack fruit and can be very harmful to berries of all kinds. Under certain circumstances, though, it becomes a “noble rot” that shrivels grapes into raisins and produces a thick, intensely sweet wine like this one.

I bought this wine many years ago and let it sit in my cellar for just about longer than I have let anything else sit there. My patience was rewarded.

Online reviewers have called this wine “beerenausleselike” but I haven’t had enough of that particular class of wines to evaluate those statements. I’ll just say it is very much in the style of Botrytised Rieslings from Germany and it’s very very good. It’s best as a dessert wine but may pair with salty pork dishes or other snacks.

If you can find it, it will probably set you back a pretty penny, but then again it might not. I got this bottle out of a bargain bin at a local grocery store. It was very much worth the wait and the high price. Chateau Grand Traverse Botrytis Riesling is highly recommended.

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Bastille 1789

Maker: Daucourt , Angoulême, France

Style: Blended (Malt/Wheat) Whisky.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $27

Thanks to Keith for the sample.

Appearance: Bright gold with thin legs.

Nose: Similar to an Irish whiskey but fruitier. Alcohol, malt, raisins, cherry pie.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Some burn, malt, sugar plums, dried figs.

Finish: Alcohol burn, cherry juice, then a big weird blast of dried chili chipotle.

Mixed: The Bastille website recommends three cocktails: a manhattan, whisky sour and an old fashioned. The old fashioned was very good. The fruity notes came out without too much of the chipotle. The manhattan was really exceptional. The fruity aromas dovetailed perfectly with the red vermouth. I didn’t try the sour because I was too lazy.

Parting words: My expectations were low coming into this review. I expected it to be boring and flawed. While it wasn’t exactly a barnburner of a whisky, it wasn’t bad and was just different enough to be interesting, at least until the end of the sample bottle. The price is not too bad either. It’s in the same price range as Jameson and it compares favorably to it. It mixes very nicely which is a nice bonus. It won’t knock your socks off but as a curiosity (ever tried a French whisky?), change of pace and mixer it’s worth buying. Bastille 1789 is recommended.

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A Capella

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir

Place of origin: Capella and Montaña Rusa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $25

Appearance: Deep burgundy with slow, medium width legs.

Nose: Walnut, cherry, touch of cedar.

Palate: Earthy. More so than any other Michigan Pinot I’ve had. Black cherries, wet loam, plum, white pepper, toasted oak.

Finish: A little tart, then more mild cherry followed by wood. Lingers for a long time, but faintly.

Parting words: Yes, it’s another Michigan Pinot. This one, unlike the previous two, is very much in the earthy camp. The oak is well integrated into the earth, but the fruity notes not as much. Nothing bad here though. It goes great with pasta and pork and excellent just on its own. Very much worth the price and would make a nice entry in a horizontal tasting of Michigan Pinots. 2011 A Capella Pinot Noir is recommended.

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Old Overholt

Maker: Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)OO

Style: Kentucky rye whiskey

Age: 3 y/o

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $22

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Burnt corn syrup, white dog, lavender, epazote, wood varnish.

Palate: Sugar, alcohol and an indescribable herbal note.

Finish: Peanut brittle, tarragon, alcohol.

Mixed: Did well mixed in everything I tried it in. Did well with ginger ale and just fine in a Sazerac. The OO Manhattan was very good but I used a strongly flavored vermouth so Overholt was a bit overmatched. I didn’t try anything else but Don Draper once used it to make an Old Fashioned.

Parting words: Old Overholt is one of the oldest whiskey brands in America. It was originally made in Pennsyvania, first under the ownership of Abraham Overholt then his grandson industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The brand became a part of National Distillers after Prohibition. Production was moved from Pennsylvania to the Old Grand-Dad distillery (a.k.a. The Forks of the Elkhorn) in Frankfort, Kentucky after ND shut down its distilleries in PA. Production was moved to Clermont when Beam acquired National Distillers in 1987. It now occupies the bottom shelf of Beam’s rye brands (the others being Jim Beam Rye, Ri1, Knob Creek Rye) at 3 years old and 80 proof.

Old Overholt’s history is neat, but I would never recommend drinking it neat. It’s rough and weak. The best that can be said for it is that it’s easy to find (now that it is finally in Michigan), mixes well and is relatively cheap. On the other hand, Rittenhouse rye is also easy to find these days and is only $2 more. It has the added advantages of tasting great both neat and mixed and being 100 proof. Sazerac and Bulleit rye are more expensive (both are $28) and Sazerac is much harder to find but both taste good either way.

In summary, if all you do with your rye is mix it, then Old Overholt is mildly recommended. If you want a rye to drink neat, with water or on the rocks then look elsewhere. Not recommended.

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The Mitten

Maker: Virtue, Fennville, Michigan, USAThe Mitten

Style: Dry cider aged in bourbon barrels.

ABV: 6.8%

Price: $17/750ml (Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold and effervescent.

Nose: Apple juice, dry Riesling, hint of oak and corn syrup.

Palate: Light and bubbly. Dry but with a tangy apple flavor. Also some caramel and bitter oak.

Finish: More tart and then dry with a background of oak and caramel.

Parting words: Virtue was founded by Gregory Hall, former brewmaster at Goose Island brewery in Chicago. He founded Virtue Cider in order to make European-style farmhouse ciders. While a bourbon barrel-aged cider doesn’t exactly fit that profile it is very much in the spirit of the thing.

This is my first Virtue cider, having been disconnected from the cider scene for quite some time. It’s very well done and I will definitely be seeking more of these out in the future. The bourbon barrel makes itself known but does not overwhelm the crisp flavor of the cider like it does in other barrel aged ciders I’ve had. It’s priced like a special occasion cider but it does quite well with food. Think Gewurz or Sauv Blanc when pairing it with a meal.

I alluded to the price earlier. It’s listed at $17 at Binny’s but I’ve seen it for even more elsewhere. If you can get it for less than $20, it’s worth a buy. The Mitten is recommended.

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Isidor’s Choice Pinot Noir

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAIsidors Pinot 2011

Place of origin: Isidor’s Choice vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

Price: $22.50 (website)

Appearance: Ruby with medium width, evenly spaced legs. Throws a few crystals into the glass.

Nose: Blackberry pie, cedar, red raspberry, hint of wet earth.

Palate: Fruity but balanced. Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, coriander seed, hint of white pepper and sautéed mushrooms.

Finish: Slightly fruity but moves to a mildly bitter taste. Raspberry, oak, pepper, cedar.

Parting words: As you’ve already guessed, this is another single vineyard Pinot Noir from Black Star farms, done for the owners of Isadora’s Choice vineyard in Leelenau. This is the second bottle of this wine I’ve drank in the last six months, so it’s safe to say I like it.

The profile is classic, well balanced Pinot. It’s got plenty of fruit and oak and earthy notes and everything else you want in a Pinot pleasantly in its place. The best Michigan Pinots can easily stand toe to toe with most red Burgundies in the same price range, and even surpass some. This vintage of Isidor’s Choice can certainly do that. The bottle suggests that it could improve in the bottle for through 2021, although it’s drinking great now, so I would crack it open now or in the next two years.

All that and it’s food friendly too. We had it with BBQ ribs and it performed very well. Isidor’s Choice 2011 Pinot Noir is recommended.

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Grass Widow

Grass Widow Bottle Image

Used with permission of Two James Spirits LLC

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Bourbon whiskey finished in Madeira casks.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Thanks to Amy for the sample.

Appearance: Light auburn with long thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, balsamic vinegar, black cherry, grape bubble gum, cayenne pepper.

Palate: Wine grape jelly, oak, jalapeno, honey.

Finish: Madeira, spicy rye, oak, ghost pepper.

Mixed: It did very well in all cocktails I tried it in. Made a good, spicy Manhattan and boulevardier but it did best in an old fashioned. The bitters and sugar brought out the spice and jam very nicely. Similar cocktails should also do well.

Parting words: Many microdistillers have released sourced whiskey products as a way to pay the bills while their own products age. Some, like Two James, actually do have distilled their their own whiskey and are actually waiting for it to age.

The only other product available to that bears much resemblance to Grass Widow that is Angel’s Envy. The latter is Kentucky bourbon finished in port wine barrels. There are big differences between Madeira and Port but both are fortified Portuguese wines. Grass Widow is much richer and spicier than AE. The Madeira wine cask influence adds a dark, grapey taste and aroma to the spirit as opposed to the bright strawberry notes of AE. Both are delicious, but Grass Widow’s finish works alongside the sweetness and spice of the bourbon to while AE’s finish takes the lead and leaves the bourbon to play a secondary role. That puts it slightly ahead of AE for me.

As with most micro-producer products price is an issue. At $60 it’s not going to be anyone’s go-to, but it’s definitely worth a place in any whiskey enthusiast’s cabinet as a weekend after-dinner sip or for a top-shelf cocktail. Grass Widow is recommended.

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Domaine Berrien Pinot Noir

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USADB 2010 Pinot

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (Estate bottled)

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12.8%

Price: $15.50 (Michigan by the Bottle tasting room)

Appearance: Quite dark for a pinot. Brick red with long thick legs.

Nose: Earth, red raspberry, cedar.

Palate: Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, wild blackberry, stewed rhubarb, pinch of clove, alcohol.

Finish: Chewy. Oak, alcohol, fruit of the forest, sautéed button mushrooms.

Parting words: Domaine Berrien was one of the first Michigan wineries to take the possibilities of Michigan reds seriously. Their care shows in impressive wines like this.

DB’s 2010 Pinot Noir is complex without being busy and gutsy without being belligerent. Its balance, intergration and complexity are head and shoulders above other Michigan Pinots, even the good ones. I’ve had Michigan Pinots from this vintage from Northern Michigan that had already fallen apart in early 2014, but this one is still going strong.

It did well a meal of pulled pork but it did clash a little with the tangy, mustardy BBQ sauce I used. Otherwise, it seems like it would go very well with turkey, pork, duck or flavorful chicken dishes.

At only $15.50, it punches well above its class. I’ll be seeking out the 2011 and 2012 vintages for sure. Domaine Berrien’s 2010 Pinot Noir is highly recommended.

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Traverse City Cherry Wheat

Maker: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAAtwater Traverse City Cherry

Style: Wheat beer with brewed with cherry.

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Light auburn with a short-lived, foamy head.

Nose: Malt, sourness, fruit.

Palate: Medium bodied. Slightly sour with sweet malt and a splash of tart cherry juice.

Finish: Cherry flavor, some malt and a little hoppy bitterness.

Parting words: Not to be confused with Atwater’s Cherry Stout. This beer is also included in Atwater’s summer party twelve pack. It’s an easy drinking, lightly fruity and sour wheat beer. Nothing earth- shattering but tasty on a hot and sticky summer evening. Traverse City Cherry Wheat is recommended.

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2 Gingers

Distiller: Cooley, Co. Louth, Ireland (Beam Suntory)2 Gingers

Style: Blended Irish

Age: NAS (about 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Appearance: Dark gold (possibly colored), with short-lived legs.

Nose: Rich and malty. Sherry, dried flowers, brown butter, vanilla and spice.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-sweet. Cashew brittle, five spice powder, more vanilla.

Finish: Slightly rubbery, with a little spice, caramel and alcohol.

Mixed: There’s a lot of emphasis on mixing in the marketing of 2 Gingers so I gave a few of their signature drinks a try. The Big Ginger (whiskey, ginger ale and a squeeze of lime) was good. The lime juice does a good job of cutting what might otherwise be too sweet. The B53 (whiskey, coffee liqueur, Irish cream, Gran Marnier) is a variation on the B52 shot and even better. The spice and malt notes from 2 Gingers play very well with the orange liqueur and set off the coffee flavors nicely. I also tried it in a traditional Irish coffee in which it performed admirably.

Parting words: This brand was founded in Minnesota, strangely enough, by Irish-born bar and restaurant owner Kieran Folliard. It was named for his ginger mother and aunt whose portraits grace the logo. He sold the brand to Beam in 2012 and it is now distributed over most of the U.S. Although the name Kilbeggan is splashed all over this bottle, I can’t find any evidence that any of it was made at that distillery. Maybe that’s Beam’s plan for the future.

Anyway, it excels as a cheap, easy drinking mixing Irish whiskey. It resembles Powers more than Jameson in that respect, but it’s a little lighter in flavor. If you’ve been curious about having a go at 2 Gingers, I recommend it.

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