Longbranch

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Campari)

Style: Straight, standard recipe bourbon “refined” in oak and Texas (!) mesquite charcoal.

Celebrity: Matthew McConaughey

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o, but hang tag says 8 y/o)

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Parting words: Since the invention of what we now call bourbon, humanity has been asking one question: What if you took aged Wild Turkey and filtered it through oak and then Texas (as opposed to Mexican, I guess) mesquite charcoal? Thanks to Eddie Russell and movie star Matthew McConaughey, we now know the answer.

The process seems to be similar to the one behind Dickel Rye. Standard Dickel and Jack Daniels filter their whiskey before it goes into the barrel, which I don’t think they’re doing here, but the internet has not been particularly clear on this.

The target market seems to be the bougie casual bourbon drinker who isn’t a fan of assertive, high proof whiskeys (what Wild Turkey is known for) and values “smoothness” but still wants flavor and a fancy-looking bottle. In other words, Basil Hayden and Woodford Reserve drinkers. But why shouldn’t Wild Turkey have a share of that market?

At any rate, there’s nothing not to like about Longbranch. The price is even reasonable for Celeb Whiskey. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as fellow Texan Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River (a collaboration with Heaven Hill), but it’s still all right, all right, all right.

I apologize.

Longbranch is recommended.

Cabernet Franc Head to Head: Dablon vs 2 Lads

D= Dablon

2= 2 Lads

Maker

D: Dablon, Baroda, Michigan, USA

2 Lads: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape

D: Cabernet Franc (100%)

2: 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot

Place of origin (at least 85%)

D: Lake Michigan Shore AVA.

2: Old Mission Peninsula AVA.

Vintage: 2016

ABV

D: 12.7%

2: 13.5%

Purchased for

D: $23 (Holiday Market)

2: $38 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance

D: Dark ruby.

2: Very similar, maybe slightly lighter.

Nose

D: Plum, cedar, black currant

2: More subtle. French oak, cherry

Palate

D: Tart blueberry, red currant, leather.

2: More integrated. Chewy leather, unfoxy table grapes, ripe blueberry.

Finish

D: Drying with oak, a hint of ripe bell pepper.

2: Chewy. Clove, currant.

Parting words: Cabernet Franc is a “Workhorse” grape that does well in a wide variety of climates, particularly in cooler ones like Michigan. Many excellent examples of cool climate Cab Franc (like these two) are made here, in both the northwest and southwest parts of the state. That said, there are some big geological and climatic differences between the northern peninsulas and Lake Michigan Shore.

Although 2016 was a warm vintage and practically every vineyard in Michigan was able to get grapes as ripe as they wanted, I still expected Dablon’s Cab Franc to be riper and more lush, and 2 Lads’ to be more tart. I was surprised to discover that the opposite was true!

Dablon Cab Franc was quite acidic, but not unpleasantly so. 2 Lads was more elegant and subdued, perhaps helped in this regard by the addition of Merlot. The prices on these vary quite a bit, but every price I’ve seen for either has been within an acceptable range. If I had to pick a favorite between them, I’d say it was 2 Lads, but they’re both worth buying. Both go great with food too. They are both drinking well now, but probably wouldn’t come to any harm in another year or two (or more!) in the cellar. Dablon and 2 Lads 2016 Cabernet Francs are both recommended.

St. Julian Albariño/Riesling

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

Varieties: Albariño, Riesling

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

Vintage: 2018

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $19

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Meyer lemon, ripe peach, pineapple sage.

Palate: Medium bodied and dry. Pineapple, peach, lemon verbena.

Finish: Talk, a little chalk.

Parting words: There’s not a lot of Albariño being grown in Michigan, but it grows well in its temperate homeland in Northwestern Spain so seems like a perfect fit for our climate. Riesling, we already know, is perfect for our climate. So why not stretch that Albariño with the noblest of grapes?

There’s more than just stretching going on here, though. These two grapes are blended seamlessly into a crisp, dry, but still fruity white wine that is very food friendly. Albariño/Riesling is part of St. Julian’s experimental black label line, but it deserves to be a regular offering. I hope there’s enough Michigan Albariño around to do that!

St. Julian Albariño/Riesling 2018 is highly recommended.

Old Tub

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Style: Standard recipe, bonded bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: Not listed but available in the state. $30ish?

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: That mixed peanut butter and jelly stuff.

Palate: Alcohol, burnt peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Finish: burnt peanut brittle.

Mixed: Fine mixed, but plenty of better, cheaper, options for mixers.

Parting words: Beam was on a hot streak for a while but that streak seems to have ended here with Old Tub. The name was the original name of what’s now Jim Beam bourbon. It was first produced in 1880 by David Beam’s distillery, and became the flagship bourbon of the new Jim Beam distillery after prohibition. The name was changed to Jim Beam in 1943 to honor Jim, who passed away a few years later.

I think I get what they’re going for here, and I like the idea, but I don’t think it ends up being something worth buying, other than as an objet d’art. I like Bonded Beam, but I don’t like this. Old Tub is not recommended.

St. Julian Grüner Veltliner, 2018

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

Grape: Grüner Veltliner (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Oxley Estate vineyard, Michigan, USA.

Vintage: 2018

ABV: 12%

Price: $22 (Tasting Room)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Cut orange, butter, peach.

Palate: Medium-bodied. More peach, navel orange.

Finish: Dry. Peach cobbler.

Parting words: Grüner Veltliner is a wine most closely with Austria. Like Austrian Riesling, GruV is usually made in a dry, austere, style. Most domestic ones are made in the same style, or at least close to it.

This Grüner is different, though. If Austrian GruV is Chablis, this one is Sonoma. It has those dry-ish fruit notes, but there’s buttery and biscuity aromas as well. Maybe there was some lees contact or less than neutral oak used in making this wine, I’m not sure. Whatever it was, the result is surprising but pleasant.

It’s not the summertime quaffer I expected, but maybe this is a better style for the fall. 2018 St. Julian Grüner Veltliner is recommended.

St. Julian Michigan Grappa

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

Grape: Traminette

Style: Pomace Brandy

ABV: 40%

Price: $20/375 ml (only available at St. Julian tasting rooms)

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, grape stems, white pepper, ginger, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied, semi-dry. Yellow cayenne, pepper melange, lavender.

Finish: Fresh, clean, more lavender.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa

Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.

Semi-dry Riesling Head to Head: 2017 Shady Lane vs 2017Arcturos

S= Shady Lane, A: Arcturos

Makers

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

A: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Reisling (at least 85%)

Places of origin

S: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

A: Montana Rusa, Capellla, Leorie vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV

S: 10.8%

A: 12%

Price

S: $13

A: $15

Appearance

S: Medium light gold

A: Light gold.

Nose

S: Semi-sweet apple

A: Gravel, peach.

Palate

S: Full-bodied, semi sweet, a little chewy.

A: Full-bodied, drier. Underripe peach.

Finish

S: Sweet and apply.

A: Semi-dry, clean.

Parting words: A few weeks ago, I was perusing my cellar and I discovered I had two or three bottles of Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling and Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling so I decided to invite friends of the blog Amy and Pete over for some homemade jambalaya and a head to head tasting.

The jambalaya

Everyone seemed to enjoy both of these wines, but Arcturos won the night by a nose, as it were. It’s flinty dryness paired perfectly with the toasty spice of the dish and was a little more balanced and true to type. Shady Lanes’ Semi-dry tasted much more like how I expect a semi-sweet Riesling to taste and was a little chewy (a little lees contact maybe?), not a style that typically does as well with food.

That said, both of these wines are good and worth the price. 2017 Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling and 2017Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling are both recommended.

If you want to do more comparing, check out my review of the 2017 St. Julian Semi-dry Riesling!

Resort Pike House Cider

Maker: Resort Pike, Petoskey, Michigan, USA (Mackinaw Trail Winery)

Apples: Undisclosed

Style: Semi-dry farmhouse cider

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $7 (I think)/16 oz can

Appearance: Light in color with big initial fizz and then steady bubbles.

Nose: Clean, with cut apple and a little caramel.

Palate: Light and semi-dry. Green apple and sage, with some tannin and a little acid as it warms.

Finish: Sweetness and chewiness with a hint of funk.

Parting words: The last time Liz and I were Up North visiting friends-of-the-blog’s cottage on beautiful Walloon Lake near Boyne City, Michigan, we took an aftenoon side trip to Walloon Lake Winery. It was much too busy for our liking, so we drove to the new-ish cidery and winery Resort Pike, owned by the same folks who own Mackinaw Trail winery.

The front door and porch of the Resort Pike tasting toom

It was much less crowded but the indoor seating was already maxed out after ordering, so we sat outside at a picnic table in the pleasant courtyard outside the tasting room, near a pen with a couple well-behaved goats. We got a flight of ciders and they were all interesting but my favorite was this one, the House. It’s semi-dry with a touch of acid and tannin to hold it all together. The next time you’re in Petoskey, stop in and get some. Say hi to the goats for me, too.

Resort Pike House cider is recommended.

Rosé de Gris

Maker: Bel Lago, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Gris/Grigio

Style: Rosé

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13.6%

Price: $8 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Bright, translucent pink.

Nose: Hi-C Fruit Punch, cedar.

Palate: Mild, but full-bodied. Mulberrry, light oak.

Finish: Light and a little chewy.

Parting words: I like it when Michigan wineries make wines that aren’t the usual varietals or styles that every other winery makes. I can’t think of another winery off the top of my head that makes a rosé from Pinot Gris.

This may be obvious, but this wine tastes like a Pinot gris-ish rosé. It’s more subtle than most of the Pinot Noir rosés I’ve had, but a little subtlety can be good in these topsy-turvy times.

OK, sorry about that. I really like this wine. If I have a complaint, and I do, it’s that like the Bel Lago sparkling Auxerrois I reviewed recently, this elegant wine comes in a bottle with a janky label. Bel Lago generally has good-looking, well-designed labels. I’m not sure why these two don’t.

Anyway, 2017 Bel Lago Rosé de Gris is recommended.

Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Maker: Lux Row, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Luxco)

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Indiana high-rye straight rye.

Age: 2 y/o (“24 months”)

Proof: 90 (45%)

Michigan State Minimum: $15

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Butterscotch, tarragon, woodruff.

Palate: Full-bodied and fruity. Apricot, leather, serrano chili.

Finish: Hot, sweet and herbaceous.

Mixed: Yes.

Parting words: It’s cheap but not terrible. Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey is recommended.