Hawthorne Pinot Noir Reserve, 2012

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse20170208_211507.jpg City, Michigan, USA

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

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%)

ABV: 12.3%

MSRP: $22

For more information, see tech sheet here.

Appearance: Bright ruby, almost transparent.

Nose: Blueberry, new oak, cherry juice, raspberry jam, allspice, pepperoni.

Palate: Light bodied and semi dry. Fruit cocktail but with beefy oak and tannins looming in the background like hired goons.

Finish: A little chewy and oaky, but still refreshing and fruity.

Parting words: I had this bottle in the wine rack in our dining room (the wine version of the on deck circle in our house) when I saw a local wine loving friend of mine raving about it on social media. So I had to make it the next one I opened. I’m glad I did. It’s very good.

Perfectly balanced between fruit, spice and meat, it’s easily one of the top Michigan Pinots I’ve had. Hawthorne is becoming one of my favorite Michigan wineries on the back of the wonderful wines they produced in the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Don’t let the shiny labels and modern condo-esque tasting room fool you, these are people who take growing grapes and making wine very seriously. These bottles can be found on the odd grovery store or wineshop shelf, but Michigan by the Bottle Auburn Hills is the place you can be sure to find some. Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve is highly recommended.

Triple Head to Head: G & M Orkney Tripak

P= Pride of Orkney, 12 y/o blended maltwp-1486168550560.jpg

S= Scapa, 1993 (bottled 2008) single malt

H= Highland Park, 8 y/o single malt

Bottler: Gordon & McPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK.

Distiller

P= Highland Park, Scapa.

S= Scapa, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Pernod-Ricard)

H= Highland Park, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK (Edrington)

Age

P: 12 y/o

S: 15 y/o

H: 8 y/o

Region: Highland/Island

ABV: 40%

Price: I forget.

Appearance

P: Medium caramel.

S: Lighter. Straw.

H: Virtually the same as P.

Nose

P: Alcohol, oak, malt, a little peat.

S: Mild.Oak, seabreeze.

H: Toasted almonds, oak, peach.

Palate

P: Medium bodied and creamy. Caramel, bourbon.

S: Mild. Not much happening but a little burn.

H: Mild. Butterscotch, peat, lemon meringue.

Finish

P: Mild and slightly sweet. Caramel, buttercream.

S: A little fruity. Fades quickly.

H: Slightly chewy but mild. Peat ash, Atlantic ocean.

20170203_193337.jpgParting words: These whiskies come from the two most northerly distilleries in Scotland, Highland Park and the other one in Orkney, Scapa. Highland Park is almost universally beloved for its perfectly balanced and flavorful 12 & 18 y/o bottlings. Scapa is not nearly as well known or highly regarded as HP, but the 16 y/o producer bottling does have its fans. Scapa is unpeated, unusual for a an Island malt, but they did release a peated expression last year.

Pride of Orkney (of G & M’s now defunct “Pride of” series) is a blended malt containing whisky from both of these distilleries. It’s the best of the three. While it’s not earth shattering, it is well balanced with good flavor considering its proof and the fact that it’s a blended malt containing some pretty mild whisky. I suspect it contains caramel coloring. The Highland Park 8 y/o is fine for what it is, a young malt from a good distillery. Higher ABV would do it a lot of favors, but it’s pleasant enough as it is.

Scapa 1993 is one of the dullest single malts I’ve ever had. It doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself, tasting like a generic second-tier single malt. It’s like eating a sleeve of water crackers. It will do if there’s nothing else in the house but you’re left feeling like you just wasted time and calories for nothing.

These three expressions are close to impossible to find on their own now, but I bought this set of minis at a large liquor store just a couple years ago so there are probably more of these sets floating around out there. There is/was also an Islay tripak set. Probably more interesting than this. If you’re curious about the whiskies of Orkney, you might find the Orkney tripak fun but I can only mildly recommend this set.

 

Stumble, 2013

20170121_075549.jpgMaker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Riesling (50%), Gewürztraminer (50%)

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

ABV: 11.5%

Other information (from here): Residual Sugar: 25 g/l, pH: 3, titratable acidity: 9.7 g/l, 649 cases produced, fermented & aged in stainless steel.

Purchased for $16 (Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Lychee, apple juice, pineapple sage.

Palate: Pineapple, Granny smith apple, lemon thyme.

Finish: Clean, pineapple, mineral water.

Parting words: I haven’t liked a lot of the Riesling blends I’ve had in the past. The Riesling either gets lost or shows through but is of poor quality. This wine is delightful though, like just about every wine Left Foot Charley has ever produced. The Gewürz adds a nice bite to bring the Riesling into balance. LFC wines are usually single vineyard bottlings but not vineyard is listed for Stumble. I’m guessing that’s because the grapes for this one came from multiple vineyards.

I liked it best on its own, but I can imagine Stumble pairing well with spicy Chinese or SE Asian food. $16 is more than a fair price for a wine of this type and quality. Stumble is recommended.

 

Head to Head: Ray’s vs Red Wagon 1792 Single Barrel

20170120_101320.jpgMaker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Age: NAS

Proof: 93.7

Michigan state minimum: $42

Ray= Selected by Ray (Rural Inn, Indianapolis, Indiana)

RW= Red Wagon (Troy, Michigan)

Appearance

Ray: Light copper

RW: Darker, medium copper.

Nose

Ray: Alcohol, grape bubblegum, leather.

RW: Over-toasted walnuts, cut grass, caramel.

Palate

Ray: Sweet and fruity, then burn. With water it becomes sweeter with more vanilla and less fruit.

RW: Caramel apple, oak, burn. Oakier with vanilla and classic old bourbon flavors when water is added.

Finish

Ray: Brown sugar, then burn. Water brings the fruit back out.

RW: A little chewy, then lingering warmth.

Parting words: The Sazerac corporation purchased the Barton-1792 distillery from Constellation brands in 2009. Their primary motivator may have been Barton’s tall airy warehouses but they were surely after 1792 Ridgemont Reserve as well. The brand started out as something of a Woodford Reserve ripoff (see here) but soon settled into its own niche as a decent selling upper-middle shelfer. Sazerac capitalized on that success and added a series of line extensions and opened up the single barrel expression for selections by retailers and enthusiast groups.

These two barrels are good examples of how much variation there can be, even in those breezy rickhouses. Ray’s was fresh and fruity while the Red Wagon barrel was chewy and mature. The Red Wagon barrel might be older, but it’s more likely that the oakiness came from being on a hot upper floor. I was able to taste Ray’s before I bought it, at an informal tasting at the Rural Inn around Thanksgiving. I bought the Red Wagon bottle blind, but I’ve enjoyed their selections before. If I had to pick one that I enjoyed more, it would be Ray’s but both are tasty, worth the money and worth seeking out. Both these 1792 Single Barrel selections are recommended.

Knappogue Castle 12, A & L selection

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA20170112_143446.jpg

Distiller: Unknown. Either Cooley or Bushmills.

Selected by A & L Wine Castle, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (216 bottles)

Style: Triple Distilled Irish Single Malt

ABV: 46%

Purchased for $50

Appearance: Brassy orange.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, tarragon, vanilla scented candle, pineapple.

Palate: Medium bodied. Green apple on entry, buttercream, persimmon pudding.

Finish: Big and creamy. Oakm then pineapple upsidedown cake.

chanin_building_side_up
The Chanin Building, home to Castle Brands.

Parting words: Long time readers will remember that Knappogue Castle was one of the first Irish whiskeys I really fell in love with. The love affair continues with this beauty.

A & L did a great job selecting this barrel. It’s creamy, fruity and complex, with power rare for Irish Whiskeys. In 2013 I wrote the following about the standard Knappogue 12: “My only quibble is the low proof. I would love to be able to taste this at cask strength, or at least 46% ABV.” I’m glad they took my words to heart.

These Knappogue selections are rare, but if you find one, I highly recommend that you buy it!

 

 

 

Photographs

Bottle picture taken by me.

Chanin Building picture By Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA – ny_mayday02_09.JPG Uploaded by xnatedawgx, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11332153

 

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay, 2012

Maker: Dablon Vineyards, Baroda, Michigan, USAwp-1484144619731.jpg

Place of origin: Moraine (now Dablon) estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Unoaked, dry Chardonnay.

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.1%

Price: $20 (winery)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Tangerine, brown butter, peach, mango, minerals.

Palate: Dry. Butter, melon, mineral water, banana.

Finish: Bitter butter batter, gravel dust.

Parting words: 2012 is a vintage best known for its excellent reds in LMS and the northern Michigan AVAs. The whites I’ve had from 2012 have been inconsistent, even from large producers. I tasted this wine at the Dablon tasting room and I was pleasantly surprised.

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is unusual for Michigan.  The unoaked ones tend to be round, fruity and mild but Moraine is boldly dry, even drier than its ABV would suggest. It’s more like a Chablis or Mâconnais than a  typical Michigan Chard. Fatty fish or creamy cheese would be excellent pairings, but chicken and pork chops would work too. I really enjoyed this wine. Worth the money and then some. 2012 Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is highly recommended.

Old Forester 1920

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20170106_195909.jpg

Age: NAS

Proof: 115 (57.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright chestnut with a clingy robe.

Nose: Crushed walnut, bubblegum, caramel, allspice, dried Cayenne. With water the Cayenne turns to sweet cinnamon.

Palate: Medium bodied. Caramel on entry, then burn. Turns chewy and spicy with water.

Finish: Grape  bubblegum, alcohol. Water brings out the oak, but doesn’t turn down the heat.

Parting words: Old Forester 1920 is the third installment in the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series. The first, Old Forester 1870 (in honor of the founding of the company), was released in 2014, 1897 (in honor of the Bottled-in-Bond act) was released in 2015. This one, released in 2016, was named in honor of the fact that Brown-Forman was one of the handful of Kentucky distillers that received a license from the US government to distill spirits for medicinal purposes. So it was actually possible to get Old Forester during Prohibition, with a prescription. It is 115 proof, not because that was the proof at which OF was sold in those days but because that was a common proof at which Old Forester came out of the barrel at the time.

All three Old Forester Whiskey Row bourbons have been good. This one is the best. It is what we OF fans have been waiting for. It does an excellent job of balancing the spice and oak of older OF with the fruity roundness of younger OF. It does this without falling into the weird plastic aromas and unbalanced oak that can come into some of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon vintages. 1920 is both elegantly balanced and powerful, like a JS Bach organ composition or a Brahms symphony. This is the Old Forester I had hoped B-F was capable of producing all these years but thought I would never see. Now all I can think about is the next installment. Single barrel? True barrel proof? Distillate of DSP KY 414, the old Old Forester plant? I can hardly wait. Old Forester 1920 is highly recommended.

Larressingle VSOP

Maker: Larressingle, Condom, Gers, Occitanie (formerly Midi-Pyrénées), France.20161220_084818.jpg

Region: Armagnac (blend of Bas-Armagnac and Ténarèze).

Grapes: Ugli Blanc, Folle Branche (according to the internet).

Vintage: NV

Age grade: VSOP (at least 3 y/o, though the importer says this is 8 y/o).

Note: 20% of the blend was double distilled, as opposed to the customary single distillation.

ABV: 40%

Price: $50 (Party Source)

Appearance: Light caramel.

Nose: Apple juice, passito wine, stollen, old oak.

Palate: Light bodied and light in flavor. Caramel, prune juice, vanilla.

Finish: Alcohol, raisins, a little oak.

Parting words: My bottle of Larressingle VSOP is something of a mystery. I know I bought it locally but it is not on the state list and I can’t find any of sign it ever being on the list. I won’t say where I got it (snitches get stitches) but however it got here, I’m glad I was able to pick up a bottle.

Armagnac fans are fond of saying how much more flavorful and affordable Armagnac is vs. Cognac. I’m not sure where that is the case, but it isn’t here. Larressingle VSOP is affordable for an Armagnac, but it’s not very flavorful at all. The last brandy I reviewed, D’usse VSOP Cognac, was about the same price but with twice the flavor.

Despite the watery taste, Larressingle VSOP mixes pretty well. I tried it in an Old Fashioned, a Japanese Cocktail, a Continental Sour (sour plus red wine) and the quintessential Armagnac drink, the d’Artagnan (Arm + orange liqueur, oj, sugar and dry sparkling wine), named for the literary Gascon swashbuckler.

If you can find Larressingle VSOP for around $40, I recommend buying it. Otherwise, it is only mildly recommended for mixing or as an option for those just dipping their toe into the Armagnac pool.

 

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Maker: Ardbeg, Ardbeg, Islay, Argyll, Scotland, UK (LVMH)20161220_085145.jpg

Region: Islay

ABV: 47.4%

Michigan state minimum: $100

Appearance: Very light gold.

Nose: Grilled peaches, oak, fireplace ash, cigarette smoke (Marlboro-ish), high corn bourbon, peat.

Palate: Full bodied. Butterscotch, peat ash.

Finish: Alcohol, dry chipotle chilis, sherry, fairly short.

Parting words: Is there better way to end 2016 than with a review of a whisky that was released in 2015? Yes, many better ways. I decided to review this anyway, since I picked it up late this year.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Ardbeg distillery. Many distilleries in Scotland were “founded” around 200 years ago. This is no coincidence. Beginning in 1816 and culminating in the excise act of 1823, the UK government passed a series of laws creating a level playing field for distillers in Scotland vs those in Ireland and England. Many illegal distillers went straight, refounding their operations and many new distilleries started up.

Perpetuum is a very good whisky. It’s classic Ardbeg: smoky, spicy, but still complex.Problem is, I’m not sure it’s good enough to justify the $20 markup over Uigeadail which is very similar. The well-reviewed and higher ABV Corryvreckan is $10 cheaper, too. So while Perpetuum is very good, it’s not a very good value. Ardbeg Perpetuum is mildly recommended.

2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot

Maker: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20161215_163704.jpg

Grapes: Cabernet Franc (90%), Merlot (10%).

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

ABV: 13%

Price: Don’t remember. 2013 vintage is $32 at winery)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, cherry, new oak.

Palate: Medium dry. Fruity but with backbone. Blueberry juice, roasted sweet red pepper, oak, vanilla.

Finish: Oak. A little chewy, then light vanilla.

Parting words: My wife and I bought this bottle several years ago when we made our first trip to 2 Lads. It was a part of the hallowed stash of bottles we brought with us from the old house.

I almost opened it a couple times after listening to the opinion of a couple folks in the “screw top wines don’t age” camp, but I’m glad I waited. This wine has aged into an elegant, harmonious example of what a cool climate Cab Franc can be. 2012 is generally the vintage to look for in Michigan reds, but 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is proof that Michigan’s best winemakers still made good wines in cooler “white” vintages. We had this bottle with porterhouse steaks and it paired well, but given its character it could go just as well with BBQ or turkey. 2011 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is recommended.