Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc, 2014

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA.20180425_094301.jpg

Grape: Vidal Blanc

Place of origin: Michigan (At least 75% Michigan Vidal by law)

Vintage: 2014

Style: Semi-sweet.

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $16 (current vintage on website)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: Peach, mango, papaya, wet limestone.

Palate: Full-bodied. Like pineapple syrup and mango nectar, but not cloying.

Finish: Clean, slightly tangy.

Parting words: Vidal is one of the best-known hybrid grape varieities in this part of the world. It’s most famous for its use in Canadian Ice wine, and is grown as far north as Nova Scotia and Sweden for that purpose. As you might have guessed from that last sentence, Vidal is cold-hardy and was able to produce good wine like this even in a Polar Vortex year like 2014. It’s grown fairly widely in Michigan, often for use in dessert wines, but not always, as in this case.

This Sandhill Crane Vidal is heavy on tropical fruit, but not overly sweet, which makes for nice porch sipping and pairs well with pork and chicken. $16 is a fair price, but much more would be pushing it for a non-AVA hybrid wine, even one of this quality. 2014 Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc is recommended.

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Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider

Brewed by Gordon Biersch, San Jose, California, USA for Trader Joe’s supermarkets.

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Style: Semi-dry apple cider.

ABV: 5.5%

Note: No added sweeteners, flavors or colors.

Price: $8/6 12 oz bottle.

Appearance: Medium dark copper with a short-lived, fizzy head.

Nose: Apple juice, candy apple.

Palate: Medium-bodied, effervescent. Crisp green apple.

Finish: Medium sweet, slightly tannic.

Parting words: Henry “Hotspur” Percy (1364-1403), 2nd Earl of Northumberland, was one of the most famous members of the Percy family of Anglo-Norman assholes aristocrats of Northern England in the late Middle Ages. He was a leading commander in Richard II’s wars against Scotland and later rebelled against Henry IV several times, famously losing his life at the battle of Shrewsbury.

What does Hotspur’s career have to do with this cider? Beats me.

This is a decent, affordable, easy-to-find (at Trader Joe’s anyway) cider that does well with food and isn’t so weird that casual cider drinkers will get turned off. I’d like it if it was a dollar less, but still Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider is recommended.

Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Retailer: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS (true age unknown, but at least 4 y/o by law)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $27

Appearance: New penny.

Nose: Tabasco sauce, copper penny, allspice.

Palate: Full-bodied and round. Marshmallow, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Caramel, burn.

Parting words: It’s been a while since I reviewed BT selections, but I really should do more. BT, even the standard remains a good value for sipping and mixing from a distillery best known for Pappy, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg and other overhyped, often overpriced bourbons.

This selection reminds me a little of the Binny’s selection I reviewed in the link above. Marshmallow is the dominant flavor, although here its less roasted. The flavor is not assertive enough to make itself known in cocktails with strong mixers, but it does well enough. Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection is recommended.

Floodwall Apple Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Age: 4 y/o

Cooperage: Bourbon & sherry casks

ABV: 50%

Michigan state minimum: $46.75

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, new leather, white chocolate.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.

Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol

Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.

Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.

That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not recommended.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer

Maker: Jackson-Triggs, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.20180328_195011.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer (% unknown).

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for around $10 US (Replacement product currently selling for $14.25 Canadian from the winery)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: White peach, limestone dust, citrus blossum.

Palate: Dry. Mango, peach, lemon meringue, pink peppercorn.

Finish: Also dry. Meyer lemon, pinch of clove as it fades.

Parting words: There’s not much about the history of Jackson-Triggs kicking around on the internet, but what there is doesn’t seem to be too exciting anyway. The winery was established in 1993 by Messrs. Jackson and Triggs. Jackson-Triggs’ parent company Vincor (also founded by Jackson and Triggs) was purchased by Big International Booze Company Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Corona, Black Velvet, High West) for $1.52 billion Canadian in 2006. With Jackson-Triggs’sibling wineries Sawmill Creek and Inniskillin, Consetellation brands is the largest producer of Canadian wine.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is a crisp, but relatively flavorful white blend. good for summer porch sipping or accompanying roast chicken. This particular wine is no longer sold under this label, but has been rebranded as Crisp and Lively White and is currently selling for $14.25.  Still a fair price. 2014 Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is recommended.

For my review of the 2011 vintage of J-T’s Vidal Ice Wine, click here.

 

Hawthorne Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Lemberger/Blaufränkisch

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

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $35 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, bubble gum, cedar.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Blackberry jam, cherry juice, grows tannic as it hangs around in the mouth.

Finish: Tart, then cheek-filling tannins.

Parting words: Despite my lack of enthusiasm over this increasingly popular grape, I am continuing to drink and review wines made with Lemberger/Blaufränkisch. My thinking is that if I never actually like them, I can at least understand them and appreciate how they should taste.

I expected this wine to be another exercise in “understanding” but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it! It had the same rustic, tannic character as the other Lembergers I’ve tasted, but this time balanced with acid, which made all the difference. I didn’t even have to chill it. I don’t know if it was the cooler vintage, the terroir, vineyard management, or the skill of the winemaker, but this Lemberger transcends its peasant heritage and becomes a sophisticated, balanced wine even Blau-skeptics like me can enjoy. Hawthorne Vineyards’ 2013 Lemberger is recommended!

Red Bush

Maker: Old Bushmills Distillery, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK (Cuervo)20180308_162407.jpg

Age: NAS

Style: Bourbon barrel aged, triple distilled Irish blend.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Blackberry jam, grape juice, Cognac, bubble gum.

Palate: Full-bodied and mellow. Grape soda, oak, sweet bourbon.

Finish: Fruity and long with a little burn.

Mixed: Did well with coffee and with classic cocktails with sweet vermouth. Clashed with dry vermouth and similar mixers.

Parting words: Red Bush is intended to be a gateway Irish whiskey for bourbon drinkers. Unlike the standard “white bush” expression and the more expensive Black Bush that both use a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, Red Bush is made using first (re)fill bourbon barrels exclusively. That gives it a fruity sweetness that makes it an easy drinker and mixer for American palates that aren’t accoustomed to sherry flavors.

Along with stablemate Black Bush and Scotch blend Highland Queen, Red Bush’s name lends itself to cheap, vulgar puns. I’m not the sort of person to engage in such things, but I will say that Red Bush is a fun change of pace for St. Patrick’s day with a good mouthfeel and pleasant aroma. Red Bush is recommended.

30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180314_214642.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay

Place of origin: Chateau Chantal estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Oaked Chardonnay

ABV: 13.6%

Purchased for $30 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills).

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Oak, roux.

Palate: Buttered toast with marmalade and a slice of melon on the side.

Finish: Sage, lemon zest. Fruit fades, but butter lingers.

Parting words: Last week I reviewed Chateau Chantal’s 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling, so this week it’s the Chard’s turn. I usually like to review wines that have spent more time in the bottle than these, but since they’re special releases that will likely sell out quickly, I thought I should go ahead and review both.

It helps that they’re both very good! The Riesling, while good now, is a year or more away from its peak as I said in my review last week. This Chardonnay is firing on all cylinders right now. I’m sure it would hold up fine with another year or two in a cellar, but why wait? It’s already delicious. For me to enjoy an oaked Chard, there have to be other things going on besides oak and butter. Oak and malo flavors are in the foreground here without question, but there is enough fruit and acid to round things out. More than that, this is one of the best examples of this style in Michigan.

Like the Riesling, the only place to get this wine is at the Chateau or at the Auburn Hills location of Michigan by the Bottle. Unlike the Riesling, the 30 year Chard is on the menu, so I would guess that more of it was produced, but why wait? Go out and buy some now. Chateau Chantal 30 Year Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay is highly recommended.

Canadian Club 20

Maker: Canadian Club, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Beam Suntory)20180307_101740.jpg

Distiller: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Corby)

Age: 20 y/o

ABV: 40%

Purchased at an LCBO store for $60 Canadian ($47 US). Not available in the US.

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Roasted corn, clove, oak, alcohol, dried flowers.

Palate: Full-bodied. Caramel corn, crème brûlée, oak, toffee.

Finish: Creamy and sweet with some heat.

Parting words: While the 8 y/o and 12 y/o expressions of Canadian Club have their own recipes, the 6 y/o and 20 y/o expressions share the same blend. The only difference is age and you can taste it. All the elements of Canadian Club are there but in much more mature form. It’s like seeing a picture of a your significant other in formal attire after looking at a picture of them as a drooling toodler. The spice, oak and sweetness are much better integrated than in baby CC. CC 20 manages to be both flavorful and very drinkable, an impressive feat at 40% ABV.

Like Scotland, Canada’s climate lends itself to long-aging periods for its whiskies. I wish there were more Canadian whiskies in the 20+ year range on the market.

It tastes even better when looking at the price tag. It doesn’t reach the dizzing heights of Wiser’s Legacy or special releases, but it’s better than it needs to be for $47. It blows away similarly priced Crown Royal expressions. If this were available in the states it would be on my regular rotation for sure.  Canadian Club 20 is highly recommended.

Chateau Chantal 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180306_193716.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

Place of origin: Chateau Chantal estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13%

Notes: .2% residual sugar, 3.1 pH

Thanks to Cortney for tracking down additional information for me!

Purchased for $30 (Michigan by the Bottle, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Lychee, lemonade, limestone.

Palate: Medium-bodied and quite dry. Fresh picked pears, medium-tart apple, sage, gravel dust.

Finish: Long and drying. Lemon thyme.

Parting words: Chateau Chantal is one of the oldest estates on the Old Mission Peninsula and in Northern Michigan wine country. Founded in 1983 by Nadine and Robert Begin (a former nun and former priest respectively) as Begin Orchards, it was incorporated as a winery in 1991 and named after their daughter Marie-Chantal (now the winery CEO).

The vineyard this wine and its sister wine the 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay, come from a vineyard on the estate planted in 1986. Luckily for the Chateau, the 2016 vintage was a stellar one, so the anniversary can be celebrated properly with two (or more?) wonderful wines.

Thirty-year-old vines are pretty old for Michigan, due to the climate and youth of the wine industry in the state. This wine shows the characteristics one would hope for in an old vine selection. It has complexity, depth and a surprising intensity. It tastes great now, especially with food, but with another year or two in the cellar the flavors should intergrate a little better to make a truly great wine.

So drink now or cellar? Yes. Head up to Chateau Chantal or to the Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room in Auburn Hills (the only two places to find this wine) and grab yourself two or more bottles. Hurry though, this wine was produced in very limited quantities! Chateau Chantal 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling is recommended.

Look for a review of the Chardonnay in the near future.