Cody Kresta Marsanne-Roussanne, 2018

Maker: Cody Kresta, Mattawan, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Marsanne (60%), Roussanne (40%).

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA.

Vintage: 2018

ABV: 12% (I think)

Purchased for $23 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)

Appearance: Gold.

Nose: Dried apricot, canned peach, lychee.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Fresh apricot, dried mango.

Finish: Dry and a little chewy.

Parting words: Cody Kresta is a winery I need to drink more from. I think one reason I haven’t is that I get it confused with another winery in the same area with a similar name that I visited once and was unimpressed with.

Syrah is one of the best kept secrets of Southwestern Michigan. If quality Syrah can be produced there, then why not Marsanne and Roussanne, the signature white grape varieties of the Northern Rhone valley? Friends of the Blog Domaine Berrien produce a fine Marsanne and have for years, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise for Cody Kresta to produce this blend.

They produce it very well. I haven’t had enough white Rhone wine, so I can’t make an informed comparison, but I can say that this is a good wine on its own terms. It a nice change of pace from the unoaked Chards and semi-dry Rieslings that make up the majority of my white wine consumption. $23 is more than fair, factoring in the rarity of this sort of blend in Michigan. Cody Kresta Marsanne-Roussanne is recommended.

1792 Sweet Wheat

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

Style: Wheated Straight Bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 91.2 (45.6% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $36 (listed as “SWEAT WHEAT”)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, vanilla, apricot, char.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Crème brûlée with apricot and vanilla bean.

Finish: Short and drying.

Parting words: 1792 Sweet Wheat is an extension of the 1792 Bourbon line of (originally) high malt bourbons. It is presumed by people who have looked into these sorts of things (like me) that it is the same recipe as the old Kentucky Tavern bourbons. Constellation took this recipe and used it to create 1972 back when it owned the Barton Distillery. When Sazerac bought the distillery, they gave the bottle a makeover and created a number of line extensions, the most successful of which have been the barrel proof and single barrel expressions.

Sweet Wheat is a different beast from those, though, because the recipe has been changed. The rye has been swapped out for wheat, putting it into the same category as Maker’s Mark, Larceny, Weller, and the notorious Van Winkle bourbons. It fits somewhere between Maker’s and Larceny/Old Fitzgerald in terms of flavor. It’s not as delicate as Maker’s and Weller, but not quite as sharp and yeast-driven as the Heaven Hill wheaters. I like it a lot at $36, but I like it less at what I paid for it.

If you can find it for <$45, buy it. Any more than that, and you’re overpaying. 1792 Sweat, err Sweet, Wheat is recommended.

Verterra Malbec, 2016

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA

Grape: Malbec (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: Undisclosed (Table wine loophole)

Purchased for $40 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak).

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Plum, clove, leather, blueberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and well-balanced. Plum, blackberry, black raspberry, allspice, white pepper.

Finish: Drying and a little chewy, but still with lots of fruit. Acid faded as the bottle was open.

Parting words: Verterra has made a name for itself as a major (by Northwest Michigan standards) producer of red and rosé wine. It’s one of the few wineries in the state that produces a varietal Malbec, an old Bordeaux variety that is most famously grown in Argentina.

Malbec is not a variety I regularly seek out. It’s too often indistinguishable from its close cousins Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Those two are easier to find, so why bother? This one is worth seeking out, though. It has the fruit of a Merlot, but perfectly balanced with spice and tannin. This balance makes it more than just a home-cooked steak or burger wine, but one that quickly becomes the star of any meal or event it’s a part of.

At $40, it’s not cheap, but it turns into a bargain after a few years in the cellar. The 2017s and 2020s should be even more cellar worthy than this vintage, too! 2016 Verterra Malbec is highly recommended.

Head to head tasting: Bourbon World vs Bourbon World.

Sourced by: Krogman’s, Bloomington, Indiana, USA. For Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana.

Distilled by Ross & Squibb (MGPI), Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Pi= Pink label, Pu= Purple label

Style

Pi: High rye bourbon (60% corn, 36% rye, 4% malt)

Pu: Single barrel, standard recipe bourbon (75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt)

Age: 5 y/o

Proof: 112 (56% ABV)

Purchased for $40 (Vine & Table)

Appearance

Pi: Light copper.

Pu: Slightly darker.

Nose

Pi: Bubble gum, alcohol.

Pu: Grape juice, spiced plum.

Palate

Pi: Full-bodied and fruity, with nutmeg and burn. Spicier and dryer with water.

Pu: Lighter with caramel and char. Water brings out cherry pie.

Finish

Pi: Allspice, clove

Pu: plums and burn.

Parting words: Bourbon World is the relatively new line of V & T selections of Ross & Squib (formerly MGPI), single barrel, barrel proof (or close to it) bourbons. The person I talked to at the store said they were “very similar” mash bills, but as you can see, they are not. The Pink Label is high rye, and the purple is lower in rye and higher in corn, though it doesn’t quite qualify as high corn, like the Buffalo Trace rye bourbon recipes. Interestingly (but not surprisingly given R & S’s and Four Roses’ shared Seagram’s heritage), Pink Label is very close to the mash bill of Four Roses’ B recipe bourbons and Purple is very close to the E recipe.

Vine & Table is one of the retailers that I will always buy a selection from. They very rarely, if ever, miss. One of the reasons for that is their spirits buyer, Dave Helt. I don’t know Dave especially well, but I was friends with his father, Tom (and I’m still friends with his mother Barb). Tom Helt was the embodiment of the spirit of the pre-boom bourbon enthusiast community. He was relatively tall, had a bushy beard before it was cool, and was legendarily generous. His palate was amazing, and his basement was a magical land of bourbons and Scotches that most people can only dream about now. In these days of the still-overheated bourbon secondary market, the value of his collection would be easily in the millions of dollars, maybe even higher. He, of course didn’t PAY millions of dollars for it, given when he started collecting. Tom was also well known for dry sense of humor and for making George T. Stagg Bananas Foster for the bourbon pilgrims who used to gather at the General Nelson motel in Bardstown, Kentucky twice a year. Sadly, Tom died of cancer in 2018.

Like I said, Tom’s palate and generosity were legendary and those qualities were passed down to his son Dave. These bourbons are both excellent examples of the R & S style , one that is very similar to that of my beloved Four Roses. If you don’t believe me, you can always try a little at V & T’s in-store tasting bar. You could even do your own head to head. I know Tom would be very proud of the bourbons Dave is bringing to V & T. At $40, these are easy buys. Bourbon World Purple label is recommended and the Pink label is highly recommended.

Hawthorne Gamay Noir, 2017

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Borrowed from 2016

Grape: Gamay (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $12.50 (Meijer)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Fruit punch, sweet cherry.

Palate: Sweet cherry pie, a little allspice.

Finish: Fruit and tannin.

Parting words: Almost a year ago, I reviewed the 2016 vintage of this wine for the second time. It had moved from being something of a fruit bomb, to something more complex and spicy. This wine is about halfway there. There’s still quite a lot of fruit, but a little spice is starting to develop. There are good things ahead for this wine, and given how good the 2017 vintage was, generally, it will probably end up being even better than its younger sibling. $12.50 is a steal for this wine. You’d be stupid NOT to buy a couple bottles of it at that price! Hawthorne’s 2017 Gamay Noir is recommended.

A & G Michigan Brandy Reserve

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw , Michigan, USA

Grapes: Chardeonnay, Pinot Gris, Vidal Clanc.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Note: Aged in Michigan, and French oak.

Michigan state minimum: $46

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Light. Raisins, leather, toasted almonds.

Palate: Semi-sweet, medium bodied. Vanilla, grape soda, toasted French oak.

Finish: Juicy and hot.

Parting words: When I first opened this brandy, I didn’t like it at all. I was reluctant to even review it, because I didn’t know if I wanted to post something that might serve as discouragement to Michigan brandy-makers. You see, I’ve been begging, pleading, and whining about Michigan brady for years now, and I didn’t want to complain about one of the few Michigan brandies currently being made!

I’m glad I didn’t review this brandy right when I opened it because it’s grown on me since then. It’s still not making any of my favorites lists, but it was pretty good mixed, and once I got past the sweetness, it was actually pretty good in a snifter.

A & G Reserve is not going to blow anyone away, but it’s a nice step up for someone used to Christian Borhters or Martell VS. It’s a little expensive for a mixing brandy but it does well mixed. It might make an interesting alternative to bourbon or rum in eggnog, too.

The standard craft distilling mark-up applies here, so I can’t really sneeze at $46. A & G Michigan Brandy Reserve is recommended.

Laurentide Reserve Meritage, 2016

Maker: Laurentide, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.

Place of origin: Leelanau AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Grapes: Cabernet Franc & Merlot.

Vintage: 2016

ABV: Undisclosed.(labed as table wine).

Purchased for $45 (MBTBTR wine club).

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, clove, white pepper, toasted oak.

Palate: Semi-sweet and medium bodied. Mixed berry jam, allspice, oak.

Finish: Well balanced. Sweet, tangy, and tannic.

Parting words: Laurentide is one of my favorite Leelanau wineries. They’re good people making good wine. The name is a celebration of the Laurentide glacier that shaped so much of the present landscape of Northwestern Michigan.

I’d been celaring this wine for a couple years, since I got it in my Little Sipper package from Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills. When I saw the Laurentide Instagram account post a picture of an open bottle of this vintage, I figured the time had come to open it!

This wine is sweeter than I expected in a “Meritage” blend. That’s not a knock by any means, you, dear readers, know that I am no sweetness snob. It’s just more of a heads up. There is nothing unharmonious about, though. It fits in that fun little pocket of wines that are beautiful and well made but also very quaffable.

At $45 a bottle, one needs to pace one’s self, though. I would like it better at a lower price but that applies to any wine, really. There’s nothing not to like, so 2016 Laurentide Reserve Meritage is reccomended.

Braganini Reserve Trempranillo, 2016

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Tempranillo (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $21 (Troy Tasting Room)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, red currants, cedar.

Palate: Medium bodied. Dry but fruity. Red currant jelly, black raspberry, clove.

Finish: Slightly chewy with a tang.

Parting words: Back in July, when we were visiting the Wyncroft/Marland winery and vineyards, I was talking with owner James Lester about some of more unusual European grape varieties that some vineyards have been attempting to grow recently. He mentioned a few varieties that were being grown and expressed skepticism at whether they could successfully be grown in Lake Michigan Shore. I mentioned Tempranillo (primarily grown in Spain, and he said, “Well…actually Tempranillo is grown in the highlands so it can probably do pretty well here.”

Judging by this wine, Tempranillo can indeed be successfully grown in Southwest Michigan. While no one would mistake this wine for a high-end Rioja Gran Reserva, this is a quality wine, roughly equivalent to a Crianza. It’s excellent with beef or rich pork dishes, from braised beef shank to pepperoni pizza. I didn’t notice any drop in quality over the three nights we drank it, either, which bodes well for its cellar life. That said, it’s drinking very well now, so I wouldn’t hold onto it for much longer than another 6 months to a year.

$21 is a fair price for a Michigan Tempranillo, given its rarity and quality. Braganini Reserve Trempranillo, 2016 is recommended.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength, Holiday Market selection

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Selected by: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Style: Toasted barrel finished Michigan straight, rye recipe, bourbon

Age: 3 y/o (Barreled 10/31/17, bottled 11/4/20)

Batch: 70139 (or TOB9)

Barrel: TOB62420-9

Proof: 125.2 (62.6% ABV)

Purchased for $45.

Note: Tasted with a splash of water.

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Oak, sawdust, wood varnish, ash, whiff of amaretto.

Palate: More sawdust and toasted oak, with some sweet dessert flavors lurking somewhere in the background.

Finish: Sawdust, then burn.

Parting words: Eastern Kille (Gray Skies until dumb Campari threatened them with a lawsuit over the word sky, which they apparently own now), is a distillery and bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like many other businesses of the type, Eastern Kille also gets distribution around the state. I thought I had reviewed one of their products before, but it turns out I hadn’t.

They seem to be one of the distilleries that is trying to do things “the right way” so I jumped at the chance to try a single barrel selection from one of my favorite places to buy spirits. The toasted barrel appealed to me because rebarreling can sometimes be a good way to give young whiskeys a little more depth and oak character. The downside is that if the whiskey is left in the second barrel too long or the finishing barrel is too small (or both) the wood can overwhelm the spirit, and turn it into what I call “beaver bourbon.”

Sadly, the latter is what has happened here. Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is an overly woody, unbalanced whiskey. There are some interesting things going on under all that oak, but they fade as soon as that finish hits like a 2×4. I tried mixing it with some success in a boulevadier, but that was all it was good in. The oak quickly overwhelms everything else, even a Manhattan made with a bold vermouth.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is not recommended. That said, I’m not giving up on this distillery. There’s a good, solid base here so I’m eager to try their standard bourbon. Watch this space for that review!

Chateau de Laubade, 2000

Maker: Chateau de Laubade, Sorbets, Landes, France.

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc.

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Vintage: 2000 (bottled at 20 y/o).

ABV: 52.4%

Thanks to Sku of Serious Brandy and Chateau de Laubade for the sample.

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Aromatic. Alcohol, oak, maple syrup, oatmeal raisin cookies.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet and fruity, then big burn. Largely the same with water, but longer mid-palate.

Finish: Dried figs, horehound. burn, star anise. Less burn with water, naturally

Parting words: This brandy was one of the highlights of the Serious Brandy Facebook Group tasting earlier this year. You can view that event here.

This one didn’t stand out as particularly unique, but it tasted like a good, solid example of a well-made (pretty) old Armagnac. It’s rich and mature without being unbalanced or weird like some very old French brandies I’ve tried. Weird isn’t always bad, of course, but as with Scotch, too much oak and oxidation can ruin my drinking experience. There’s nothing not to like here.

I was able to find a price of about $130 for a 700 ml bottle of this online. That makes it outside of my usual price range, for sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 20 y/o cask strength single malt for that much these days. With that in mind, Chateau Laubade 2000 cask strength is recommended.