Domaine Berrien Syrah, 2016

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Syrah (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Domain Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: Undisclosed (“table wine”)

Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Oak, sautéed mushrooms, mulberry, white pepper, nutmeg.

Palate: Tart blueberry, oak, clove, mace.

Finish: Mild, but a little spice and oak on the back end.

Parting words: I reviewed the 2011 vintage of DB’s Syrah back in 2016. It had spent a little longer in the bottle than this wine, but only by a few months. 2016 was a very warm vintage so I expected the 2016 to be fruitier than the 2011 was. While it can be hard to remember what I was thinking four and a half years ago, that does not seem to be the case. The notes are similar enough to be nearly identical. The only difference seems to be the earthy mushroom aroma I got in the nose. Earthiness is a Domaine Berrien trait, so it’s perhaps a little surprising that the 2011 didn’t seem to have much in the way of earth at all.

Anyway, Syrah does well in Southwest Michigan when it can get ripe enough, and 2016 was one of those years. $22 is a steal for a relatively rare, high quality wine like this. Domaine Berrien Syrah, 2016 is recommended.

Mayador Natural Cider

Maker:  Amandi, Villaviciosa, Asturias, Spain.

Style: Natural, still, Asturian sidra.

Vinatage: 2014

ABV: 6%

Purchased for $9/750 ml (Vine & Table)

Appearance: Cloudy, pale gold with floaties and slight effervescence.

Nose: Lemon meringue, honeyed dessert apples, good cider vinegar.

Palate: Light bodied. Tangy and a little chewy. Apple wood, lemon peel, Lemonheads.

Finish: Tangy, and cheek-filling, with a little burn in the throat.

Parting words: Mayador is produced by the large, family-owned Manuel Busto Amandi cidery in the Spanish autonomous region of Asturias in northwestern Spain, east of the more famous region of Galicia. The region has a long history, going back to the seventh century when an exiled Visigothic aristocrat named Pelagius rebelled against his Umayyad rulers and founded the Kingdom of Asturias , which would become the first independent Christian kingdom in Iberia after the Muslim conquest. Going even further back, the region is also home to many caves containing paleolithic art. At any rate, the Amandi family has been producing cider since 1939. They make a large line of natural and sparkling ciders, as well as vinegar and juice.

My experience with Spanish ciders is not extensive, but I have tasted a few from the Basque regions and this is in a different style from those. Mayador has the same dryness the Basque ciders have but lacks their tannin and funk. Acid is what drives this cider, and it runs the gamut from lemon juice to apple cider vinegar. As a result, it’s a little more accessible than its Basque neighbors but still a far cry from Woodchuck. It’s also more food-friendly than those, at least to my palate. Pair it as you would a dry Riesling or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

$9 is a great price for a cider of this quality and this much interest. Mayador Natural Cider is recommended.

Glen Scotia 15

Maker: Glen Scotia, Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland, UK (Loch Lomond Group).

Style: Single malt Scotch whisky.

Region: Campbeltown

Cooperage: Ex-bourbon casks.

Age: 15 y/o

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, dried flowers, lemon custard, butterscotch.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Crème brûlée, Meyer lemon, butter toffee, seaspray.

Finish: Vanilla, light oak, burn.

Parting words: For years, Glen Scotia was the “other” Campbeltown distillery. Springbank was (and remains to be honest) the better known distillery in town. Even when Glengyle returned to the land of the living, it was still the other. In 2015 Scotia’s owners decided to try to do something about this. They remade their product line and expanded distribution. This 15 y/o iteration was one of the products of that rebooting (as was the Double Oak). It’s not too far out of the ordinary for a middle aged single malt aged in bourbon barrels, but it is a very good example of one. Its 46% ABV gives it a nice punch as well.

Glen Scotia may never entirely escape from Springbank’s shadow but this is a solid malt, one I’d buy again without hesitastion. Glen Scotia 15 is recommended.

Domain du Tertre, PM Spirits/Seelbach’s selection

Maker: Domaine du Terte, Mahéru, Orne, Normandy, France.

Apples: 30 or so different French cider apple varieties, possibly pear as well.

Place of origin: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: 16 y/o (distilled 2004, bottled 2020, XO status)

ABV: 55% (cask strength)

Notes: No additives or chill filtering. Estate grown apples. 80 bottles produced. Fermented using native yeast. For more information see the Seelbach’s website.

Price: $250 (Seelbach’s exclusive)

Thanks to Blake from Seelbach’s for the complementary bottle I used for this review!

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Oak, Norman cider, apple cores, cut Granny Smith apples.

Palate: Light bodied and delicate. Session cider, apple tannin, maple sugar candy. A little sweeter with water, but a lot of the other flavors are lost.

Finish: Swimming pool (this is not a bad note!), oak, dessert apple, burn, maple syrup.

Parting words: I will never doubt the power of whining again. When friend of the blog Sku posted tasting notes to this Calvados in the Serious Brandy Facebook group and thanked Blake Riber of Bourbonr and Seelbach’s for the sample, I commented that I also accepted samples. Blake took my jokey whine seriously and got me my own bottle so I could pass along my thoughts on it. I am very thankful that he did too.

Domaine du Tertre is a small operation in a small village in Orne. The closest city (such as it is) is Alenço(u)n, the capital of the department. The majority of the Domaine’s production is cider, perry, and juice, but it does make a small amount of Calvados every year. It’s been operated by the Havard family since the 19th century, and has been making Calvados since the 1870s. It is currently owned and operated by brothers Michel and Oliver. The farm is currently 50 hectares in area and the current orchards date from 1991.

I haven’t tasted a lot of old Calvados, but many of the ones I have tasted had lost their distinctive character in the barrel and tasted more like a Cognac of the same age than an apple brandy. This Domaine du Tertre does not have that problem. It took me a little time to wrap my head around it, but it tastes what it actually is: a kicked up Norman cider. There’s a lot of tannin and a little funk with some delicious cut apple aromas and flavors. It works very well as a special occasion aperitif or summer patio sipper for when old friends come to visit. A little water cools off some of the burn but too much kills all the interesting things going on here. Go easy.

I am so glad I was able to taste this wonderful brandy, and big thanks again to Blake for sending it my way. $250 is a lot of money, to be sure, but if it’s in your budget, Seelbach’s Domaine du Tertre 2004 selection is recommended!

Troglodyte Rosso

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Teroldego, 10% Merlot

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

Style: Dry red blend.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $26 (Red Wagon, Rochester Hills)

Appearance: Slightly overdone fruit of the forest pie.

Palate: Medium bodied. Wild blackberry, black currant, clove, a little smoke.

Finish: Medium chewy, a little acid, a little fruit.

Parting words: Teroldego is a grape grown mostly in the Alpine vineyard areas of Northern Italy. It produces wines that are sometimes compared to Zinfindel, but it also bears more than a passing resemblance to its nephew Syrah. I don’t know how much Teroldego is grown in Michigan, but I’m guessing that it’s not a lot. I don’t know enough to say whether it should be grown more widely in Michigan, but I do like it in this blend. It brings a spicy, tarry (in a good way) punch to this wine that makes it food-friendly and well-rounded. For a grape this rare, and a wine this good, $26 is more than fair. Troglodyte Rosso is recommended.

1792 Bottled in Bond

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: High malt (?) bonded bourbon.

Age: At least four years old (all from one distilling season).

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, sweet malt, cayenne powder.

Palate: Cola, alcohol. With water. Caramel, cola, less burn.

Finish: Sweet and custardy. Sweet cola (yes again) with melted ice cubes.

Parting words: For many years, the Bottled-in-Bond category was a guarantee of quality among American whiskeys. Then, when I was getting into the hobby, it was most common as a sign of a good value. The pendulum has swung back a bit these days and premium bonds are making a comeback. The new, pricey Old Fitzgerald and Heaven Hill BiBs, Henry McKenna, and now 1792.

I like the standard expression well enough, and I have really enjoyed the single barrel and barrel strength editions I’ve had. Sadly, the Bottled-in-Bond doesn’t live up to those. It’s not bad, it’s just not enough of an improvement on the Small Batch to warrant $8 more dollars and the hard work of trying to locate a bottle. Ironically, it may be hampered by being bonded and restricted to one distilling season. There’s a lack of complexity that the addition of older bourbon might be able to fix.

1792 Bottled-in-Bond is only mildly recommended.

Moon Shadow Rosé

Maker: Charlevoix Moon, Charlevoix, Michigan, USA

Grape: Marechal Foch (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Charlevoix Moon estate, Tip of the Mitt AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Style: Rosé

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $23 (Boyne City Farmers Market)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Raspberry jam, sweet cherry, light oak.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. A little oak, Fruit of the Forest pie, and white pepper.

Finish: Long. A little oaky, with some acid and sweetness.

Parting words: I talked about Charlevoix Moon when I reviewed one of their Beacon 17 Reisling here, so I won’t do that again. I will say that this is more of the sort of wine I expect to come from good producers in the Tip of the Mitt. That’s not a slam, just a statement of my expectations.

Better red hybrids like Foch are at their best in table-ish blends and varietal bottlings like this. There’s maybe a little more oak than I would like, but this is a well-made, food-friendly rosé that would pair well with grilled chicken, pork, or salmon. It even did well with the Reubens we ate tonight. Don’t scoff at the $23 price tag. This wine is well worth it. Charlevoix Moon’s 2019 Moon Shadow Rosé is recommended.

Michigan Merlot Head to Head: Crane vs Lane

C= 2016 Sandhill Crane Merlot

L= 2016 Shady Lane Merlot

Makers

C: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA

L: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes

C: Merlot (at least 75%)

L: Merlot (at least 85%)

Places of origin

C: Michigan (at least 75%)

L: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV

C: 13.7%

L: 12%

Purchased for

C: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

L: $26 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance

C: Translucent ruby, almost like a Pinot Noir.

L: Darker, more purplish.

Nose

C: Cedar, blueberry, oak.

L: Cherry jam, Hawaiian Punch, white pepper.

Palate

C: Tart. Black currant, smoked ham.

L: More balanced and better integrated. Oak, BEAR jam, clove.

Finish

C: HiC, oak. Fades quickly.

L: More harmonic. Blackberry, oak, nutmeg.

Parting words: Merlot is a grape that, if it gets ripe, can produce wonderful Michigan wines. In some years that’s a big IF, but 2016 was not one of those years, to the relief of vineyard owners who had just come off two Polar Vortex years in 2014 and 2015. 2016 was hot by Michigan standards, and the wines of that year are generally full of ripe fruit flavors. These two wines are great examples of that.

I tasted these two with a meal shared with friends-of-the-blog Amy and Pete. The dish was potato chorizo tacos (one of my favorites) made with my own homemade chorizo. Both of these wines performed well, and easily stood up to spiciness of the sausage and earthiness of the potatoes.

All of us agreed that Shady Lane was the superior of the two wines. There was nothing unpleasant about Sandhill Crane Merlot, but it lacked the depth and integration of flavor Shady Lane had. I would classify Sandhill as a good BBQ wine and Shady Lane more of a steak dinner wine. I was surprised when I saw there was only a dollar difference between the two, but there’s no need to make the great the enemy of the good, so to speak. Sandhill Crane Merlot is worth the price, it’s just that Shady Lane is worth much more than its price. Both Sandhill Crane and Shady Lane 2016 Merlots are recommended.

Chateau Aeronautique Syrah, 2010

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA

Grape: Syrah (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (at least 75%)

ABV: Not listed (“Table wine”)

Purchased for $28 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club selection)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Cedar, pink peppercorn, cherry juice, mulberry.

Palate: Juicy and a little tannic. Red currant, wild blackberry, leather, white pepper.

Finish: Leathery, with a little acid and spice

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique is the project of airplane pilot Lorenzo Lizzaralde. He’s been at it for quite some time now and the ChA empire has expanded to include a brew-pub and coffee shop in downtown Auburn Hills, Michigan, both joint operations with the Caseys of Michigan by the Bottle.

Lorenzo’s wines are, generally speaking, bold. I like spicy Syrah, but my favorites are balanced with fruit and acid. This wine may have started out a little brash, but ten years in a bottle has done it a lot of favors. The oak is a little heavier than I prefer, but everything else is nicely balanced and great for drinking with or without food. $28 is a fair price for a wine of this age. Chateau Aeronautique Syrah, 2010 is recommended.

Knappogue Castle 14 y/o: Twin Wood

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA (Pernod-Ricard)

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth

Style: Triple distilled Irish single malt, aged in sherry and bourbon casks.

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Wood varnish, sawdust.

Palate: Full-bodied and mildly sweet, then big oak.

Finish: Apricot custard under a mountain of sawdust.

Parting words: I love Irish Whiskey and I especially love Knappogue Castle. I’ve gushed over their whiskeys before so when I saw this 14 y/o version on the shelf I was nearly giddy with excitement.

So imagine my surprise when I tasted my first sip of this sawdust bomb. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a whiskey, especially an Irish one. There’s a solid custard base here, but it’s nearly completely overwhelmed by the heavy-handed (to say the least) use of oak. It’s reminiscent of the sharp, shop class floor aromas in young micro-distilled bourbons that have been aged in small barrels as a shortcut. There’s no excuse for an Irish whiskey of this age to be this oaky, and there’s no excuse for it to be so poorly integrated either. I could continue to rant about this but in the spirit of mercy I will end my review here. Krappogue Castle 14 Twin Oak is not recommended.