Craigellachie 13

Maker: Craigellachie (Aberlour), Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland, UK (Bacardi)wpid-2015-10-30-20.16.53.jpg.jpeg

Region: Speyside (BenRinnes cluster)

Notes: Not chill filtered. The Last Great Malts series.

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $55

Appearance: Dark straw with clingy evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Leather, apricot jam, alcohol, lavender, dried date.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Ripe red peaches, oak, butterscotch, ground coriander seed.

Finish: Sweet malt, oak, then a light burn.

Parting words: Craigellachie named for a bluff overlooking the River Spey and there is a Craigellachie bridge (built in the early 19th century) and a Hotel Craigellachie that is often recommended as a good place to stay while exploring the Speyside area. The distillery itself has a remarkably boring history which I will not recount. It’s currently owned by Bacardi’s Dewars & Sons division and forms the heart of Dewar’s blends. It has been only rarely seen in independent or distillery bottlings over the years, but that may be changing with its two entries in Dewar’s The Last Great Malts series.

Craigellachie’s neighbors are more famous than it, like Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Aberlour. Unlike most of those, this is not a light and flowery malt. It’s got heft to it, like Balvenie and Mortlach. It’s often described as sulphury and waxy but I have trouble detecting either one here, though I have trouble detecting them anywhere, frankly. The heft and alleged sulphur come from the large stills (allowing for reflux), use of cast iron worm tubs to cool the spirit, and the relative dearth of copper in the worms, so I’m told.

Unlike Balvenie and Mortlach, there is no beef here. This is all thick custard, fruit and oak. Ex-bourbon casks take the lead here, but there may be a few sherry butts in the mix as well. If so, they are used judiciously. This is an exquisitely balanced, but flavorful and well-craft whisky. It pairs great with homemade shortbread too.

Considering all the garbage that is out there at twice the price, Craigellachie 13 is a steal. Considering how good this is has made me loose even more respect for Bacardi/Dewar’s. How can your blend taste so bad when your malt is so good? I don’t know, but I do know that Craigellachie 13 is great. Highly recommended.

Totally Roasted

Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-10-26-12.18.27.jpg.jpeg

Style: Cider with pecans, vanilla and cinnamon (sugar added).

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $11/4 pint cans (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold with a little effervescence.

Nose: Toffee apples, toasted pecans.

Palate: Still effervescent. Light and semi-sweet. Candy apple with nuts, but never sticky or cloying.

Finish: Crisp and clean with a lingering nuttiness.

Parting words: This is the third Vander Mill cider I’ve reviewed and they’ve all been good. This one is no exception. It’s flavorful without being obnoxiously so. What keeps the flavor in check is a solid dry cider base. It’s so well balanced that it even drinks well with a meal, not just after one. I had it with everything from Pierogis and Kielbasa to rum-soused halibut and it held up well. The price is fair for an artisanal cider of this quality. I like the pint cans too. Vander Mill’s Totally Roasted is recommended.

A Midwinter Nights Dram

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USAwpid-2015-10-23-17.15.39.jpg.jpeg

Distillers: MGPI, some Kentucky distillery or distilleries.

Style: Blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels.

Age: NAS

Act 2.9, Scene 234

Proof: 98.6 (49.3% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $82

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, cut grass, prunes, dried figs, tawny Port.

Palate: Fruity and rich. Apple-mint jelly, cinnamon disks.

Finish: Hot and spicy, then shifts to big menthol and eucalyptus flavors.

Mixed: Makes for a good hot toddy and Manhattan.

Parting words: High West’s Rendezvous Rye is one of my favorite ryes, and this is a finished version of that. Port finished bourbons were all the rage a couple years ago when this product was introduced, ushered in by Angel’s Envy. I have liked the products generally, and I like this one. The minty character of the high rye MGPI tends to run roughshod over everything else here. There’s a little bit of Port that shines through, but not too much (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

A Midwinter Nights Dram is good by the fire and would probably be good with a cigar if I smoked. The sweetness complements smoky environs nicely. I can’t really say that I like it more than Rendezvous Rye but I should if I’m paying $30 more for it. A Midwinter Nights Dram is mildly recommended.

Heritage HSR, 2010

Maker: Huber, Starlight, Indiana, USA.wpid-2015-10-20-18.40.58.jpg.jpeg

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot.

Place of origin: Indiana, USA.

ABV: 13.9%

Price: $40 (website)

Note: My wife and I received a complimentary tasting and tour and a 10% discount at time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark ruby red.

Nose: Oak, blueberries, black cherries, dark chocolate.

Palate: Blackberry juice, old oak, raspberry, blueberry juice, serrano ham, smoke.

Finish: Chewy and oaky with a faint background of fruit.

Parting words: Huber (not to be confused with Austrian winemaker Markus Huber) is one of Indiana’s oldest and most well regarded wineries. The have a couple stills too and make a variety of spirits, including excellent brandies and a good gin I reviewed here. Their strength is in their red wines, although their Chardonel and Traminette wines are also good. They produce varietal Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and in some years Tannat, among others. Their most expensive (and probably best) wines are their Meritage Heritage red blends. We were particularly impressed with the 2012 and this 2010. The wife liked this one better so we purchased it.

Heritage 2010 HSR a tasty, structured, well balanced wine that evokes the best in California blends of this type. We had it with a meal featuring NY strip steaks topped with wine cap mushrooms and it performed swimmingly. It’s drinking well now, obviously, but it will still be good in the next 5 or even 10 years if you’re feeling adventurous.

$40 is more than I like to pay for wine since it’s usually past the point of diminishing returns, but Huber’s Heritage 2010 HSR is close enough to being worth the money that I can recommend it.

The only thing I disliked about this wine was how the cork crumbled when I tried to open it. The cork forced me to strain the wine and then decant into another bottle. Get a new cork supplier, Ted.

Chaos Just Apple Hard Cider

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-20151020_180725-1.jpg

Style: Semi-dry

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $13/750 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak). Growlers available at the winery for $20, with $16 refills.

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Cut apple, light corn syrup, Pinot Gris wine.

Palate: Effervescent and medium bodied. Semi-dry. Mineral water, apple cider, underripe pear.

Finish: Crisp and clean with a lingering murmur of minerality and crisp apple.

Parting words: The next big thing in Michigan wine is cider. After two brutal winters in a row that have left many wineries scrambling for grapes, many have turned to apples to supplement their wine portfolios. Verterra in Leland, on the Leelanau peninsula, is one of those.

Verterra’s ciders were given the name of the winery’s successful Chaos series. Just Apple is Chaos’ flagship and the only unblended (or unflavored) cider in the fleet. As such, it seemed like a good place to start. I was not disappointed.

Calling it great might be an overstatement, but it is quite good. Just Apple does an excellent job of balancing the dryness one expects in a fine cider with the sweetness and apple character beloved by the masses. Goes with just about anything one can put on a plate. The price isn’t too bad either, especially the growler price at the winery, but the MBTBTR price is a perfectly fair. It tastes like a $13 bottle of cider should taste. Chaos Ciders Just Apple is recommended.

Arcturos Pinot Noir, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City/Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Michigan (68% Leelanau Co., 32% Grand Traverse Co.)

ABV: 13%

Price: $25 (website)

Appearance: Light burgundy with long clingy legs.

Nose: Toasted oak, strawberry juice, grape jelly, blackberry jam, blueberries.

Palate: Raspberry juice, oak, portabella mushrooms, red currants.

Finish: Wild blackberries, black currants, leather, cranberry juice cocktail.

Parting words: I gave a big positive review to the 2011 vintage of this last year and I think this one is even better. The 2011 was a bright spot in an uneven year for Michigan reds. It’s better integrated than in 2011. The tannic, earthy and fruity flavors are in perfect balance. It was more fruity and earthy when I first opened it, but it has become oakier as it sat. Either way, it’s a delicious wine that does well with food or without and is worth the price. 2012 Arcturos Pinot Noir is recommended.

Old Forester 1870

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-2015-10-09-17.57.32.jpg.jpeg

Style: High rye bourbon

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $45

Appearance: Medium copper with medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Alcohol, caramel, old leather, squirt of wild blackberry juice.

Palate: Soft and medium bodied on the palate with nougat, caramel candies, and vanilla but then moving into cassia and burn. Water brings out some nice chocolatey flavors.

Finish: Oak, chocolate chews, amaretto, burn.

Parting words: Old Forester occupies a unique place among American bourbons. It is the only nineteenth century brand that is still owned by the company that founded it. It was Brown-Forman’s (Forman was a one-time partner) first brand. Who Forester actually was has never been satisfactorily answered. Early batches had an extra r in the name, so it has been asserted that it was named after a physician named William Forrester or even confederate general, early KKK leader and war criminal Nathan Bedford Forrest.  At any rate, over the years, Brown-Forman gobbled up Early Times (founded by a Beam) and then, of course, Jack Daniels. The company is publically owned, but the majority of shares are still owned by the Brown family.

Brown, like many of his peers, began as a broker or rectifier. He bought whiskey from various distilleries and sold it under the Old Forester name by the barrel to retailers and taverns. The concept of branding was taking off at the time and Brown wished to protect his brand’s reputation against unscrupulous retailers and bar owners, so he began selling his bourbon by the bottle instead, to insure that he had total control over what was being sold as Old Forester. The idea spread like wildfire, of course.

This iteration, Old Forester 1870 is inspired by those early batches. It is composed of barrels drawn from three different warehouses, from different barrel entry proofs and production dates, corresponding to the three different distilleries from which Brown sourced his first batches. I would not be surprised if some of those barrels were from the old Old Forester plant (DSP 414).

As for the bourbon itself, I was underwhelmed at first but it has grown on me. It has a subtle richness that is very satisfying after dinner or as sipper to accompany a book or good TV. 1870 also stands up very well against its little sibling, the 86 proof Old Forester. Where the 86 is thin, simple and slightly astringent, 1870 is creamy and multi-faceted. It lacks the fruitiness in the Old Forester Single Barrel selections I’ve had, but it more than makes up for it in rich candy flavors. Frankly, I wish the 86 proof would taste more like this.

It’s pricy at $45 but I do think it’s worth the money (although not much more). Old Forester 1870 is recommended.

Chateau Aeronautique Riesling, 2012

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-10-05-11.35.10.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Nose: Mild. Touch of alcohol, smidgen of Riesling wine.

Palate: Apple juice that wasn’t refrigerated after opening.

Finish: Apple juice and maybe a little pineapple.

Parting words: A fellow Michigan wine blogger who I have a lot of respect for once told me I was brave to post reviews. My first thought was “Yeah, that or I’m just an ass.” There are times when I think I’m too easy on Michigan wines. I wonder if I’ve become a “homer” as it were and let my locovore sympathies get the best of me. I usually start questioning myself after hanging out with wine bloggers who aren’t interested in Michigan wines. Then there are some times when I taste something sub-par and I regain confidence in my palate. This is one of those times.

Chateau Aeronautique, like its founder, is eccentric. Lorenzo Lizarralde is a Texas-born MK (missionary kid) who currently works as a commercial pilot based in Detroit. Many wineries have turned themselves into agricultural attractions with U-pick produce, farm to table restaurants and the like. Chateau Aeronautique is an aeronautical attraction. He houses his vintage Cessna on site, and the winery itself is in a hanger.

CA’s wine portfolio is unusual too, including a Cabernet Sauvignon passito and a stab at Sauternes dubbed Chateau Blanc. Their strongest wines are two in the Aviatrix series: Crimson (a Merlot heavy red blend) and Rouge (a Cabernet Sauvignon heavy red blend). Each is a big, bold 787 of a wine, but quite enjoyable. There is also a cranberry infused red wine called Aviatrix Passion, which I haven’t had.

The website describes this wine as “Inviting Tropical Nose, Liquid Sunshine with a Smoldering Kiss of Sweetness”. I would describe it as dull. There’s really very little going on here other than sweetness and a relatively high ABV. No minerals, herbs or flowers and very little in the way of fruit on the nose or anywhere else.

I expect this sort of profile out of a cheap grocery store selection, but not out of a boutique winery known for its bold wines. $18 is not too expensive in the grand scheme of things, but more flavorful options are available for half the price. 2012 Chateau Aeronautique Riesling is not recommended.

An Evening With Domaine Berrien’s Crown of Cab

When my wife and I first became interested in Michigan wine, several years ago, we decided to take a weekend trip to southwest Michigan to visit the wineries there. We were looking forward to seeing the wineries we had grown to know and love via supermarket purchases. After a stop at Peterson & Sons in Kalamazoo (worth a stop for the tasting experience and Peterson’s idiosyncratic wines and mind), our first official stop in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA was Domaine Berrien in Berrien Springs, Michigan. We went in knowing nothing about the winery at all. As we sampled and chatted, we were very impressed with how seriously DB winemakers and owners Wally and Katie Mauer took red wines, and how good theirs were. We bought a bottle of Wolf’s Prairie Red and something else. We’ve been fans ever since, but since their wines were (almost?) exclusively available at the winery, we haven’t had an opportunity to drink DB as much as we would like.

We were both excited when we heard that the second Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room was opening in the very neighborhood we were about to move to and that they would be selling Domaine Berrien. I was even more excited when I got an email inviting me to a vertical tasting of DB’s red Bordeaux-style blend, Crown of Cab, at MBTBTR, Royal Oak (my tasting was complementary, but regular tickets were $35). The tasting was officially titled Crown of Cab: An Evolution and hosted by Wally Mauer. The tasting was originally supposed to be five vintages, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 but the Mauers came through with two additional vintages at the last minute: 2005 and 2006. One rarely gets the chance to taste Michigan wines at those advanced ages, so I was even more exited on top of two levels of excitement I was already feeling. The wines were all from the personal cellar of Michigan by the Bottle propriators Cortney and Shannon Casey. Cort says that she had no idea they had so much Crown of Cab from so many vintages when she stumbled across them in a section of the cellar. She said that she initially thought they should have a party to use up the wine, but I for one am very glad that they chose this vertical tasting instead!

We were seated around a number of small tables in the front part of the tasting room Seating was assigned, which I like because it’s a good way to meet new Michigan wine lovers. I was seated next to George Heritier of Gang of Pour. George was an excellent tasting companion. We didn’t agree on all of them but he’s an interesting cat. He’s a musician too. His music website is here. There was one other set of samples at our table, but they had no card in front of them. George thought they might be for Chris Kassel of Intoxicology Report, but he never showed. So after going through our own samples, we went divided the extras between ourselves.

The tasting began with some remarks from Cort and Sahnnon and then Wally took over. He gave an outline of the philosophy behind Domaine Berrien and this label in particular. All Domaine Berrien wines are from estate grown grapes. They grow a fair number of hybrids, but most of them end up in their blends aside from varietal Traminette, Vignoles and St. Vincent offerings. DB is notable for producing vinifera varietal bottlings of grapes that are not often seen in the northeastern U.S. like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc. Wally also repeated that DB runs a very clean shop and faces no “microbial pressure”. Somebody raised the issue of “brett”(see this brief tutorial from Wine Folly here) and how many of the French wines Wally and Katie are modeling their wines after show the influence of brettanomyces yeast. Wally said that’s fine for those wineries in which the fungus has become established, but as for his, he’d rather not have to worry about it.

Crown of Cab, as I mentioned above, is Domaine Berrien’s red Bordeaux-style blend. The 2012 vintage contained 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. Wally said that over the past few vintages he tried to alternate which bank of the Gironde Crown of Cab leaned toward. Even numbered years are supposedly right bank (Pomerol & St-Emilion, heavier on Merlot and Cab Franc) and odd are left bank (Médoc & Graves, heavier on Cab Sauv). That said, none of the vintages we tasted were more than 59% Cab Sauv (2005; cf. 80% for Latour, 75% for Margaux, 65% for Ducru Beaucaillou), and most of them were 42% or less, roughly declining over time. The percentages of the other grapes have varied considerably, but Malbec and Petit Verdot have remained in the single digits. He stressed that he doesn’t aim for consistency with Crown of Cab, he just tries to make the best blend he can with what the vineyards give him. The wine from each grape is put into barrels separately, then into neutral cooperage after bench blending. All Crown of Cab vintages spent a total of 24 months in oak.

The line up.

Anyway, on to the vintages themselves. They started out with a bang. 2005 was a good vintage all over Michigan and Crown of Cab was no exception. George loved it, and it remained his favorite throughout the rest of the tasting. At first sniff and taste, it seemed fragile and past its prime. Big, heavy cocoa and oak aromas but little else. As it opened up (or as the alcohol began to take effect), it began to taste more balanced. It grew on me, but it was still in the “drink immediately” category. The 2006 was an odd duck. George didn’t get this but the nose had big bell pepper and butter aromas on the nose. Curiously, the proportion of Cabernet Franc (infamous for bell pepper aromas) wasn’t especially high in 2006. On the palate it was very tannic and oaky, even more than its older sibling. Overall, I thought the 2006 was ok, but out of balance.

The 2007 was my favorite vintage and I wasn’t alone in that opinion. I still tasted some green pepper, but the wine as a whole was much more balanced. It was more like a very good tomato sauce but with a whiff of smoke. It just had more of what I’m looking for from a wine like this. More acid, fresh fruit and perfect integration of all the elements. I though the 2008 was very similar but with less tomato sauce, more supreme pizza. Bread, green pepper, sweet tomato sauce and button mushrooms. To continue the Italian food theme, 2009 was eggplant parmesan. Fresh marinara and pleasantly bitter eggplant, but with some new elements of vanilla and fresh berries coming in. I would have to give 2008 the edge over 2009, but in another year or two 2009 could overtake it.

The final two vintages were 2010 and 2012. 2011 was a banner year for white wines in Michigan but not as much for reds, so maybe it’s for the best that 2011 was excluded. George and I differed on this, but I got big dessert flavors out of the 2010. It was crème brulèe: vanilla, custard and smoke with strawberries on top. The finish was mild, like all of these wines, but 2010 was heavy on the fruit. We got a big pour of 2012 so I was able to spend a lot of time with it. I think it was the best one since 2008, and will only get better over the next two to five years. I highly recommend stocking up on 2012 Crown of Cab. Your patience will be rewarded but if you can’t wait, it is really good now too.

Vertical tasting are a great way to learn more about wine, especially about the differences in vintage and the effect age has on wine. They usually don’t include as many as seven vintages but it’s a nice thing when they do. When hosting vertical tastings of whiskey in the past, I’ve tried to limit the pours to a maximum of five so palate fatigue and intoxication don’t ruin the fun. Seven worked fine for wine, though. I would guess this is because of the lower alcohol content. That said, palate fatigue did start to set in about halfway through my big pour of 2012. The informational sheet was a big help too. It contained information pertaining to grape proportions, harvest dates, Brix at harvest, growing degree days, total acidity, pH, chaptalization, final Brix, finished pH, ABV and cases produced. The grape proportions for nine other wines were listed for the sake of comparison. They were Chateaux Haut-Brion, Margaux, Decru Beaucaillou, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Cheval Blanc, L’Angelus (all Bordeaux), 2007 Opus One (Napa) and 2006 Entrancia Meritage (Monterrey).

The sheet.

At any rate, it was a wonderful experience as always at MBTBTRRO. Vertical tastings, wherever they are held, are a fun and educational experience. See if you can find one near you, or better yet, host one yourself sometime soon! $35 was a good price for a tasting this large of a wine of this quality.

Thanks again to everyone else involved in putting the whole thing together, especially Cort and Shannon for opening their cellars and Katie and Wally for making the wine and also making the trip to talk to us about it!