Pink Satin, 2015

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: St. Vincent (per tasting room employee)20170419_171715

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry rosé

ABV: Unknown.

Purchased for $12 (winery)

Appearance: Dark, almost bloody pink.

Nose: Red currant, allspice, blueberry.

Palate: Mild but full bodied. Semi-dry. Apple, cherry juice, white grape juice.

Finish: Linger tang in cheeks. Raspberry, cranberry juice.

St. Vincent is a grape with a mysterious past. It’s probably a French-American hybrid  but its parentage is unknown (Chambourcin/Pinot Noir has been suggested) and nobody seems to care, frankly. It got its start in Missouri and it’s grown widely accross the Eastern US, but not in great volume. It seems to be best at making fruity, semi-dry reds and rosés. It is also used in still or sparkling blends. It’s one of few hybrids grown at Domaine Berrien.

Domaine Berrien is known for their emphasis on Rhone grape varieties (they were the first in Michigan to grow Syrah) and red Bordeaux varieties. They also have their Satin line, consisting of the white blend White Satin and this wine, Pink Satin, affectionately nicknamed Pink Satan by me. Nothing devilish about this wine, though, other than the color. It’s an easy drinking, unchallenging food friendly rosé. If I have a complaint it’s that it’s too mild, but at $12 one shouldn’t be too picky. This is a solid summer porch sipper or hotdog wine. Domaine Berrien’s 2015 Pink Satin is recommended.

Père Jules Cidre de Normandie, Brut

Maker: Léon Desfrièches & Fils, Saint-Désir-de-Lisieux, Calvados, France20170325_130447

Varieties: Undisclosed but “no less than 20 varieities” according to the website.

Place of origin: Normandy, France.

Style: Dry

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $12/750 ml (Pour, Royal Oak, Michigan)

Note: Made from 100% apple juice, no sugar added.

Parting words: The Le Père Jules brand was named for the father of Leon Desfrièches who began the family business in 1919 after returning home to Normandy after World War I. Jules began distilling Calvados in 1923. Son Léon joined the business in 1949 and founded the company as it is today, creating the brand. Jules’ grandson Thierry and Thierry’s son Guilliame run the business now and produce Cider, Perry (Poiré), Pommeau and Calvados. The cider is made in brut (dry), demi-sec (semi-dry) and doux (sweet). Unfortunately, only the Brut Cider and Perry are available in the US as far as I can tell.

When it comes to French ciders, I usually prefer Breton to Norman, because all of the Norman ciders I’ve had have been yeasty and brutally tannic. The Breton ciders have been more balanced and not as puckeringly austere. This cider has changed my mind about Normandy. It’s perfectly balanced with the trademark tannins and yeasty funk but with a counterpoint of fruit to bring it together and produce an elegant harmonious whole. This is the best French cider I’ve had and easily in the top five ciders I’ve had from anywhere. Père Jules Brut is highly recommended.

Last Barrels

Maker: Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)20170407_200835

Distilled: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)

Style: Unblended sour mash Canadian whisky

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 45%

Price: $65, Canadian ($48.50 US; Ontario only)

Thanks to Andrew for helping me acquire this bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper with long clingy legs.

Nose: Sharp young oak, black walnut, old oak, grape soda, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Dark chocolate covered caramels, caramel corn, bubble gum.

Finish: Plum juice, chopped walnuts, alcohol

Parting words: This whisky is weird. It’s made from a bourbon-like recipe of  80% corn , 11% rye and 9% malt (similar proportions to Early Times or Buffalo Trace) all mixed together before fermentation (unusual for a Canadian). Unlike most Canadian whiskies, it was also made with a sour mash like bourbon, but it was soured in an unconventional way. According to Canadian whisky sage Davin de Kergommeaux,  master distiller Jim Stanski placed a carton of milk on the counter in the lab at Hiram Walker and allowed it it to sour. He then poured it into the mash to lower the Ph. The idea seems insane but it’s hard to argue with the results.

This limited run (2,000 cases) whisky is called Last Barrels because it made up of the last barrels filled at Hiram Walker during Jim Stanski’s tenure as master distiller. Fear not, Jim didn’t leave the distillery, he just moved up the corporate ladder. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was looking for a special release for Father’s Day 2016 and the folks at Corby thought Jim’s wacky last batch would be a perfect fit.

I was not a fan of the nose at first, but it has mellowed since I first opened (that or my nose got used to it). It is too sharply woody, like craft bourbons aged in small barrels. It’s wonderful on the palate, though. Full bodied and lucious, it’s like cuddling up in a soft blanket with a soft friend on a warm winter night. It’s stupid cheap too, probably too cheap for how few barrels there are. I’m not complaining, though. There are a few still kicking around the LCBO system, but with the limited number of bottles and a strike looming, act fast. Wiser’s Last Barrels is highly recommended.

 

Laurentide Pinot Gris, 2013

Maker: Laurentide Winery, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

20170406_104815
Accidentally put this bottle into the recycle bin before taking this photo!

Grape: Pinot Gris/Grigio

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry Gris.

ABV:

Purchased for $20

Thanks to the Laurentide and the retailer who helped me get a replacement for my original tainted bottle.

Appearance: Pale gold with tiny stationary bubbles.

Nose: Mozzarella cheese, toasted pizza crust.

Palate: Medium dry, full bodied. Underripe peach, minerals, oregano, candied lemon peel.

Finish: Clean, slightly tart, then dry

Parting words: After meeting Laurentide co-owner Bill Braymer and his charming daughter Calla at the opening of Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills, I got excited about opening the one bottle of Laurentide wine I had in my cellar, a bottle of the 2013 Pinot Gris. The moment I uncorked it, I realized there was something wrong. One sip confirmed it. Taint. Luckily I was able to get a replacement from the winery along with an assurance that future vintages will use screw caps.

This one was flawless. No, I wasn’t eating pizza when I took these notes, but I felt like I could have been. Mozzarella, pizza crust and oregano sound weird in a wine, I know, but they were all delicate and delicious in this one. There’s enough sweetness and acid to balance those slightly funky pizza notes and create a harmonious beverage.

Nothing not to love about this wine or the Braymers for that matter. Bill impressed me at that tasting room opening. I remember him taking a sip of another winemaker’s product after a few glasses and saying something like, “Something not right about this one. Picked too soon, maybe? No excuse for that in 2012!” A winemaker who can’t shut the critical winemaking part of his brain off even at an event like that is somebody whose wine I want to drink. 2013 Laurentide Pinot Gris is recommended.

 

Blanton’s Single Barrel, Holiday Market selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Age International)20170320_113501.jpg

Style: High corn straight bourbon

Age: NAS

Barrel 66, Rick 15

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Light orange with long, thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, potpourri, burnt caramel, lavender, tarragon, dried orange peel.

Palate: Medium dry and full bodied. Creamy caramel, alcohol, bitter oak, orange push pop.

Finish: Raspberry chews, alcohol, roasted corn on the cob.

Parting words: Holiday Market in downtown Royal Oak Michigan (two miles or so north of the Detroit city limits) is a relative newcomer to the barrel selection business.  This is the first one I’ve reviewed. It’s a part of my new project of reviewing retailer selections to build up a list of who does it well and who doesn’t.

I have really enjoyed this one. The last Blanton’s I reviewed, way back in the halcyon days of 2011, was very leathery. There’s not nearly as much leather here (the Khloe legs are still present), just simple oak. This bottle has fruit that that Kahn’s bottle lacked, though. The result is a more balanced bourbon that is a pleasure to drink after dinner with some dark chocolate. At $60, Blanton’s is at the top of the AI/BT single barrel line. This barrel is worth the money, though. Blanton’s Single Barrel, Holiday Market selection is recommended.

Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling, 2014

Maker: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20170320_112711.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

Style: Medium dry sparkling white wine (secondary fermentation was using the cuve close, aka “tank” method)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate (Blocks M, I & N), Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 10.6%

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

For more information, scroll down to this wine’s entry here on Shady Lane’s website.

Appearance: Very pale straw with steady, delicate bubbles.

Nose: Whiff of yeast then classic Riesling profile. Big peach, plum, jackfruit, fresh squeezed blood orange juice.

Palate: Light bodied and medium sweet with moderate acidity. Mineral water, grapefruit, lemon peel, vanilla bean.

Finish: Clean & crisp. Minerals, acid.

Parting words: Shady Lane, one of Leelanau’s best wineries, is named after the founder’s favorite Pavement song (ok, probably not but I like to pretend that it is). Almost all their wines are made from estate grown grapes. That sets them apart from most of their peers. It also makes their wines harder to find and a little more expensive, but it’s worth it.

Sparkling Riesling is relatively rare in the US or anywhere else for that matter. The last one I had was this one but it doesn’t really count since it was the result of an accident. I enjoyed Shady Lane’s intentional version quite a bit, as did a friend I served some to. My wife didn’t like it as much. She found it to be lacking in flavor and aroma. I will say that it is a little bland right out of the refrigerator. Letting the glass or bottle warm for a couple minutes before drinking brings out all the deliciousness described above. It is balanced enough that it pairs very well with spicy Thai or Middle Eastern food.

Sparkling Riesling is rare and a wine this well made at $25 is even more rare. It’s like that easy going but never boring friend with a bubbly but never unbalanced personality you always want to have around at a party (once she comes out of the cold, anyway). Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling is recommended.

 

 

Jameson Caskmates, Stout ed.

Maker: Irish Distillers, Midleton, Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)20170317_163447.jpg

Style: Beer barrel finished blended Irish whiskey

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $33

Parting words: The concept behind this whiskey is identical to the New Holland Beer Barrel bourbon I reviewed here, back in 2013. The only difference is that the whiskey producer is issuing this rather than the brewer. The brewer in this case is Franciscan Well brewery in County Cork. The beer that formerly occupied the barrels was their Jameson Aged Stout.

This is a much more successful whiskey than Beer Barrel Bourbon was. Like BBB, contact with the beer barrel has brought out fruity aromas and flavors that aren’t present in the whiskey normally. That fruit complements the floral aromas in Jameson where it clashed with the caramel and spice of the MGP bourbon used in BBB.

I’m not a big fan of the standard Jameson, so I like the idea of using finishes to flesh out its normally thin profile. I hope more editions of Caskmates are planned for the future (and are at this reasonable price). Jameson Caskmates, Stout edition is recommended.

Chateau Aeronautique Pinot Noir, 2011

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan20170311_163550.jpg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%?)

Vintage: 2011

ABV: Unknown, but seems high.

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)

Appearance: Translucent ruby. Thick, juicy legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, sweet cherry, blueberry.

Palate: Medium bodied and blandly fruity. Roasted plantain, blueberry.

Finish: Slightly tart, slightly tannic.

Parting words: “Ham fisted” is one of my favorite idioms in the English language. Its origins are uncertain but it may be connected to the use of the word “ham” to describe an awkwardly bad, over-the-top actor. It’s a phrase that perfectly describes the winemaking style at Chateau Aeronautique. ChA’s aggressive, alcohol-heavy style can work well with bold reds like Cab Franc and the wines of their Aviatrix series but is not well suited to wines like the last ChA wine I reviewed, the 2012 Riesling or this Pinot Noir.

The “Bull in a china shop” is the idiom that describes this specific wine the best. Pinot Noirs with power can be enjoyable but that power must be balanced with fruit and earth (or other aromas) or else the grape loses its distinctiveness. That is what happened here. All that said, I don’t think ChA’s 2011 Pinot Noir is awful (although my usually easy to please wife did). It’s just that, like the Riesling, it’s out of balance. All nuance is smashed to bits on the horns of its aggression. At $25 from a boutique producer I expect better. Chateau Aeronautique’s 2011 Pinot Noir is not recommended.

 

Uncle John’s Perry

Maker: Uncle John’s, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170302_115559.jpg

Varietal: 100% Bartlett

Style: Dry Perry

ABV: 5%

Price: $11/750 ml (Binny’s)

Note: Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.

Appearance: Bright yellow with a big fizzy head.

Nose: Fresh cut pear, golden delicious apples, kiwi, papaya.

Palate: Dry and effervescent. Pear peel, Meyer lemon, leather mineral water.

Finish: Drying and slightly tart.

Parting words: Uncle John’s Perry is part of their line of premium ciders including Russet (blend of Russet varieties, with Golden Russet making up the majority), Melded (a blend of English, French and American heritage cider apples), and Baldwin (single variety cider from Lake Michigan Shore apples).

This perry is a source of pride for Uncle John’s co-owner and operator Mike Beck. It’s easy to see why. Many perries taste and smell like fermented syrup from a can of pears. This perry is beautifully dry and gently tannic, all made using Bartlett, the same variety of pears that end up in the can! Mike told me that there are heirloom pear varieties that are intended for use in perry but they are even harder to find than cider apples. If anybody reading this has more information about perry pears, please comment!

Anyway, this is the best perry I’ve ever had. It made me rethink the category as a whole. America needs more good perry! Uncle John’s Perry is highly recommended.

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength, Gift Shop Selection

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA20170302_144319.jpg

Age: 9 1/2 y/o

Recipe: OESV

Warehouse RN, Barrel 57-2G

Bottled August of 2015

Proof: 112.4 (56.2% ABV)

Purchased for $70? (from memory)

Appearance: Bright caramel.

Nose: Caramel, lavender,  alcohol, oak, butterscotch, pool chlorine. More light chlorine with water.

Palate: Sweet on entry, butterscotch then burn. Bubblegum comes out with water.

Finish: Hot, oaky, chocolatey. Muted with water added.

wp-1488638774417.jpgParting words: Having reviewed pretty much every American whiskey on the market (and some not on the market) over the years, I’m going to start doing something I’ve resisted doing in the recent past: reviewing store picks of bourbon and rye. Given how quickly picks move off the shelves and how slowly I drink them, the goal is not to call attention to the picks themselves but to establish which retailers are good pickers and which aren’t. Gift shop selections are usually a safe bet and the selections from the Four Roses gift shops have been some of the best.

This one I wasn’t so sure about at first, though. With one judiciously applied ice crude, it was all oak. When I finally sat down with it neat, it started speaking to me. It has the beautiful interplay of candy and flowers we all expect from Four Roses. Now, the pool chlorine notes sound bad, I know, but it’s more of a whiff of summer swimming pools than bleach.

This was one of the last gift shop selections made during the tenure of 4R’s sainted former master distiller, Jim Rutledge. It’s a worthy farewell. This Four Roses gift shop selection is recommended.