Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky

Maker: Hood River Distillers, Pendleton, Oregon, USA

Distiller: Undisclosed Canadian distillery.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23

Appearance: light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, hot nagahyde, artificial lemon extract.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, plum, burn.

Finish: Very sweet. Purple stuff.

Parting words: Growing up in Central Indiana, Pendleton meant the massive state prision in Pendleton, Indiana. In Oregon, Pendleton apparently means a massive rodeo. So how better to honor one of America’s largest sporting events than with…[checks notes]…a sourced Canadian blend?

Anyway, Hood River Distillers are best known for owning Clear Creek and McCarthy’s single malt, which I dumped out in a previous review. Bafflingly, Pendleton has a couple of line extensions as well, 1910 and Midnight, if you’re interested.

I’ve had worse Canadian whiskies, but they were all under $10 a bottle. Nothing irks this reviewer more than overpriced booze. I’d rather drink a gallon of awful but cheap whisky than one shot of overpriced whisky. To me, it’s the unforgivable sin.

Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky is not recommended.

Mari Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, 2016

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Irish Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (100%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 10.5%

Notes: 22.5° brix at harvest, 4.2° residual sugar

Purchased for $28 (Winery)

Appearance: Very pale gold. Tiny bubbles visable after pouring.

Nose: Cut Granny Smith apple, pineapple, lemon thyme.

Palate: Full bodied, but not syrupy. Medium sweet. More tart apple, ripe peach, mango, limestone.

Finish: Sweet with a big hit of acid in the cheeks.

Parting words: Like the Mari Vineyards “Monastery”, everything that appears on Mari wine labels has some sort of symbolic meaning. The bird escaping the guilded cage on the Late Harvest Riesling label is meant to represent winemaker Sean O’Keefe’s professional journey. He left his family’s winery, Chateau Grand Traverse, in order to spread his wings and make his own wines at Mari. CGT more or less set the standard for Michigan Riesling and the O’Keefe’s are one of the first families of Michigan wine, hence the cage’s guilding.

Sean’s late harvest Reisling (English for Spätlese) is different stylistically from those produced by his family’s winery. He strives first and foremost for balance, something this style is not always known for. The wine is undeniably sweet, but that sweetness is balanced with acid, fruit and a pinch of minerality. In fact, Sean has been making his late harvest Rieslings drier with every vintage, and just today he promised that the 2019 will be the driest one he’s ever made, firmly in semi-dry territory. I can’t wait to taste it.

Mari’s wines are near the top end price-wise for Michigan but I’ve never been disappointed. I’d easily pay $28 for a high-quality Spätlese, so I have no qualms paying that much for a wine this good. It’s maybe the best LHR being made in Michigan. As a result 2016 Mari Vineyards Late Harvest Reisling is highly recommended.

Jack Daniels Rye

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennesee, USA (Brown-Forman)

Style: High rye (70%) straight rye whiskey

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Potpurri, leather, tarragon.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Spearmint, cinnamon disks.

Finish: Shamrock Shake.

Mixed: Performed adequately in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and in a highball.

Parting words: Long time readers will know that, generally speaking, I don’t like anything with Jack Daniels on the label. Despite that fact, perhaps in an effort to punish myself or as a service to you, dear readers.

Despite my poor expectations, this rye isn’t bad. It’s much better than the George Dickel rye, which was slapped together by running aged MGP rye through a large vat of charcoal. The result was a confused, maple-flavored mess. Brown-Forman took their time putting this rye whiskey together and it shows. Not that it’s great, but it’s a perfectly servicable rye, on par with Jim Beam or Rittenhouse rye at about the same price. For once I gotta hand it to JD. Jack Daniels Rye is recommended.

Busnel VSOP

Maker: Busnel, Cormeilles, Eure, Normany, France

Region: AOC Pays d’Auge, Calvados.

Age: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel, parsley, leather, English lavender.

Palate: Mild. Sage, French oak, pecans, toffee.

Finish: Caramel apple, eucalyptus.

Parting words: Pays d’Auge is the most prestigious apellation in Calvados. Its brandies are required to be distilled twice in pot stills (unlike the column stills used elsewhere), and the fruit (mostly apples) that goes into it must all come from the region of the same name in east-central Calvados (duh). Pears are allowed into the mix, but unlike the neighboring AOC Domfrontais, there is no minimum percetage that must be used. My understanding is that very few pears are used in Pays d’Auge anymore.

At any rate, Busnel is one of the leasing producers of Calvados, or at least one of the most commonly seen brands in the US. They’ve been distilling since the early 19th century, although brandy has been made in Calvados since at least the 17th, and probably earlier than that. They produce a full line of all the age categories, although VSOP is the only expression available in Michigan.

From my tasting notes, it may seem like this brandy is a bit cattywampus, but it really is integrated into a seemless whole. Busnel VSOP is the perfect example of a spirit that is elegant without being dull. It’s worth all $50 I paid for it, and maybe even a little more. Busnel VSOP is highly recommended.

Peninsula Cellars Lemberger Rosé, 2017

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

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

Grape: Lemberger/Blaufränkisch (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room Sipper Club)

Appearance: Dusty pink.

Nose: Strawberry candy, raspberry, cedar, cilantro.

Palate: Watermelon, mineral water.

Finish: Dry and clean.

Parting words: Despite having a fresh new haircut, I have decided to pivot back to text reviews at least for the time being. Video reviews may pop up again from time to time, but text is much better for my erratic summer schedule.

Lemberger is a grape that’s growing in popularity in Michigan due to its affinity for our cool, easy-going climate. My favorites have been ones with enough acid to smooth out the grape’s rustic edges. That makes it a prime candidate for pink wines like this one.

This wine drinks like a typical Michigan rosé, but with some of the rustic character of Lemberger. The only weirdness is the pinch of citrantro at the back of the palate, but that might have just been because of something I ate.

For a high-quality rosé from Peninsula Cellars, $20 is good price. While Riesling will always be first in my heart, dry pink wine is poised to become a Michigan specialty. Get in on the ground floor for this syle and this grape with Peninsula Cellars 2017 Lembeger Rosé. It is recommended.