Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Style: Dry farmhouse cider using Saison yeast.
Note: Fermented in French oak. Rested on lees. Unfiltered.
Purchased for $8/500 ml (winery)
Appearance: Light gold, slightly cloudy.
Nose: Pressed apple juice, a little funk and tannin.
Palate: Off dry, chewy dried apricot, oak.
Finish: Tart, then tart and tannic. Meyer lemon.
Parting words: Ciders have become trendy in Michigan wine and beer circles, with a number of producers branching out into cider with mixed sucess. Just because one knows how to ferment grapes or grains, doesn’t mean one knows how to make a good cider.
That said, Left Foot Charley knows how to make a good cider. Cunning Ham is a part of a line of ciders that also includes Henry’s Pippin (made with heirloom apples but not necessarily traditional cider apples), Antrim County (single origin) and crowd favorite Cinnamon Girl (cinnamon flavored). I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and here five years later (oops).
For a dry farmhouse cider, The Cunning Ham is very drinkable and food friendly, especially with spicy fare. I expected a little more funk and tannin but there’s nothing not to like in this bottle. $8 for 500 ml is a very fair price for a quality craft cider. I have no idea where the name came from, but The Cunning Ham is recommended.
A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.
From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.
For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.
FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)
BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)
Place of origin
FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.
BE: $50 (winery)
FR: Dark ruby.
BE: Darker. Plum.
FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.
BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.
FR: Tart. A little cherry.
BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.
Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.
FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.
BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.
Tasters other than me
Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”
Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.
Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.
My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.
BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.
I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.
Maker: Free Run Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA (Round Barn)
Grape: Vidal Blanc.
Age: 8 y/o
Price: I forgot.
Note: At time of purchase, I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch, and discount on purchases. See my visit to Round Barn cellars here.
Appearance: Light copper.
Nose: Golden raisins, alcohol, oak, Juicy Fruit gum.
Palate: Light bodied and mild. Banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
Finish: Also mild. Alcohol, oak, fruit punch.
Parting words: Free Run was founded by Matt and Christian Moersch, sons of Round Barn founder (and former Tabor Hill winemaker) Rick Moersch. The name is a play on the “free run” juice of the initial grape crush and the brothers being given “free run” of the cellar by their father. Free Run began by specializing in estate, single vineyard wines, but has since branched out. Free Run’s “Epicurean” tasting room in Berrien Springs is more than the traditional “belly up to the bar” set up. It offers a culinary experience for groups (with paired wines of course) but it’s only open seasonally. Free Run’s Union Pier tasting room is more conventional.
At any rate, the label describes this brandy as “Cognac style” which it sort of is, though it would fall on the fruity and mild end of the Cognac spectrum, in spite of the high ABV. While I don’t like it as much as I liked the Free Run grappa (review here), it is an easy-drinking, even refreshing sipper that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend were it more readily available. I’m not sure if it’s made anymore, but if it isn’t I hope it gets put into production again but in bigger bottles and with wider distribuition. Free Run Cellars XO Brandy is recommended.
Maker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.
Place of origin: Cave Spring Vineyard, Cave Spring Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.
Style: Off dry
Purchased for $17 from Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, Rochester, Michigan. $18 Canadian from the LCBO.
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: Fresh thyme, sage, orange-flavored spring water.
Palate: Minerals, marjoram, peach skins, lime juice, car wheels on a gravel road.
Finish: Tart but slightly herbal.
Parting words: Not many Ontario wineries get distribution in Michigan. Luckily one of them is Cave Spring. Cave Spring is famous for Gamay and most of all for its world class Rieslings. The estate bottled Cave Spring Wineyard Riesling is consistantly one of their best and best values. The herbs and fruit and acid are all in perfect counterpoint like a JS Bach concerto. Cave Spring’s 2013 Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling is highly recommended.
Distillery: Unknown. (Hiram Walker? Brand owned and bottled by Sazerac).
Style: Canadian blend.
Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)
Michigan state minimum: $7.50
Mixed: Did very well mixed. Brings fruit and vanilla to Manhattans, old fashioneds and even eggnogg. I didn’t care for it with ginger ale or on the rocks for that matter.
Parting words: Rich & Rare is a pretty old brand. It was founded in the 1920s by Harry Hatch of the Godderham and Worts distillery in Toronto. G & W stopped distilling whisky in 1950 and R & R was moved to the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor. Sazerac now owns the brand, but chooses not disclose the distiller. It seems reasonable to assume that it’s still being made at Hiram Walker, though.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good R & R was straight and in classic cocktails. In the <$10 category, Canadian blends tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they’re flavorless or have a sappy pungency that resembes burnt creamed corn or kitchen garbage that should have been taken out two days ago. R & R has a bit of that pungency, but it’s kept in check by vanilla and fruit. The result is a wonderful, full-bodied (and cheap) sipping and mixing whisky. H2O is not R & R’s friend, though, causing the whisky to virtually disappear. It can be a little hard to find here in Canadian Club country, but it’s worth picking up. There is also a Rich & Rare Reserve (R & R R) available for $2.50 more in Michigan that I hope to review soon. Rich & Rare is highly recommended.
Maker: Boskydel Vineyard, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi sweet white wine.
Purchased for $12.75 at winery.
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Mango, papaya, peach, vanilla.
Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. Thyme, navel orange.
Finish: Dry. Fades to lemonhead candy.
Parting words: Vignoles is one of the better white wine hybrid grapes grown in the Northeastern US. It’s associated with the Finger Lakes wine country, but is grown fairly widely in the region and even a little bit in Ontario. It’s mostly used to make fragrant dessert or sweet table wines, but can be used for dry too.
Boskydel founder Bernie Rink (b. 1926) is a Michigan wine pioneer. A librarian by trade, he was the first to establish a vineyard on the Leelanau peninsula and, after a few years of experimentation, in 1971 he planted his twenty-five acre plot with the hybrid wine grape varieties he thought performed best, including Vignoles. He intially sold his grapes, but in 1976, Boskydel opened up as the first bonded winery in Leelanau, producing 639 cases that year. As the Leelanau wine industry grew around him, Bernie kept doing the same thing he had been doing all along, producing affordable table wines from Franco-American hybrid grapes. By the 1990s and 2000s Boskydel had become a bit of a time warp. Other than putting up new newspaper clippings, the tasting room with its piles of paper and formica had not changed. In the ’00s, Bernie became as famous for his gruff, forgetful persona as for his pioneering work thirty years prior. When I visited in 2017 Bernie was not working in the tasting room. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get the first hand Bernie experience I had heard so much about, but the tasting room and winery building were a refreshing change after a day of drinking in tasting buildings that looked like upscale condominiums.
It was announced in the summer of 2017 that Boskydel would end its winery operations and the tasting room would be closed effective December 24. It was announced that vineyard operations will continue so maybe we’ll see a Boskydel single vineyard bottling from Left Foot Charley or another winery soon! It would be a fitting tribute to Bernie Rink and his groundbreaking winery. In the meantime, this wine is a pretty good tribute itself. It’s affordable, light and sweet but not dull. Very food friendly too. The winery is closed but ask around. Maybe someone you know has a few bottles squirreled away in a spider webbed cellar. Boskydel 2015 Vignoles is recommended.
Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)
Style: High corn bourbon.
Age: Around 11 y/o (per store owner)
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan state minimum (for standard ERSB): $31
Thanks to Marshall for the gift of a 375 ml bottle!
Appearance: Dark copper.
Nose: Leather shop, charred corn on the cob, blackberry.
Palate: Medium-bodied. Fruitier with less tannin than the nose. Alcohol, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, oak.
Finish: Vanilla custard. Medium length.
Parting words: Rural Inn is a small liquor store and bar east of Downtown Indianapolis at the corner Rural and Michigan. It has been in operation since 1949, but it seems older than that. I was first brought there by friend-of-the-blog Marshall, even though I drove past it frequently in High School, usually en route from my parents’ home in Broad Ripple to the house of a southeast side girlfriend (there were a few).
Owner Ray has a revolving selection of store picks and every one I’ve had has been good. This Eagle Rare is one of the best and most surprising. Fruit is a rare set of notes to find in bourbon, but it does appear from time to time. The fruitiest bourbons I’ve had have been Old Forester and Four Roses single barrel selections. I have tasted cherry in Buffalo Trace products before but it was more cherry cough syrup than fresh fruit (looking at you Charter 101). I’ve never gotten anything fruity in Eagle Rare Single Barrel so this was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t think there is anymore of this selection left (it was purchased in 2016) but be sure to pick up an ER the next time Rural Inn picks one! Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn selection is highly recommended.
For a fun head to head tasting featuring a selection from another Indianapolis store, check out this video review from the summer of 2013 filmed at Walloon Lake, Michigan with Liz, Amy, Jennifer and myself.
Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).
Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.
Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)
Appearance: Dark red.
Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.
Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.
Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.
Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.
This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.
Mixed: Added a fruity note to most of the classic cocktails I tried, but does ok with tonic too. Not great in a dry martini, though.
Parting words: I had several questions about the gin and I sent the fine folks at New Holland a message with those questions a few months ago and they never responded, as usual. As a result, I have no idea what variety of wine the barrels held or if they were sourced from a Michigan winery or somewhere else. It would be cool if they were from Michigan, though.
This will probably be the last New Holland spirit I review because I’m sick of reviewing their stuff and not having my existance acknowledged even in the most basic ways. That said, Brixx is pretty good and the price isn’t awful for a barrel finished craft gin. Brixx is recommended.
Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 85% by law)
Place of origin: Seventh Hill Farm vineyard, Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Purchsed for $20 at Holiday Market
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: Lychee, minerals, dried apricot,
Palate: Mineral water, mandarin oranges, lemon thyme, underripe peach.
Finish: Peachy and mineral-y.
Parting words: I’ve said before that I think Left Foot Charley is the best winemaker in Michigan. Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is more evidence to support that claim. 2013 was a difficult vintage for many growers in the state, but one that ultimately produced many wonderful whites (and some good reds too!) According to the label, this wine was fermented for a relatively long time to soften the edgy nature of the vintage. What has emerged is a sophisticated, complex (but not busy) semi-dry Riesling that offers up everything you’re looking for: minerals, herbs, fruit and acid in perfect harmony. This wine is like that extremely chill friend who is at his or her best just lounging in the backyard with you some summer afternoon and talking or even not talking. No awkward silences at Seven Hill Farm.
Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is drinking great right now but would probably hold up for at least another year or two. It goes very well with food (we drank it with grilled porkchops) and is a fair price. There still lots of 2013s hanging around (it’s still available on the LFC website) so buy some if you see them! I’m not sure if there’s going to be a 2016, but if there is, it’s sure to be great too. 2013 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is highly recommended.