Sandhill Crane Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA20191130_071255.jpg

Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

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

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Toasted oak, walnut, crushed black cherries, dark chocolate.

Palate: Medium bodied. Tart and a little chewy. Balanced. Blackberry, black pepper, mushroom.

Finish: Tart, then a little tannic.

Parting words: Sandhill Crane is located in Jackson County Michigan, in the south central part of the state. While Jackson doesn’t have the lakefront and glacial features of Southwest and Northwest Michigan wine country, it does have three fine wineries, Lone Oak (in Grass Lake), Chateau Aeronautique, and Sandhill Crane.

Sandhill Crane is the biggest of the three with a wide variety of blends and varietals, including this Cabernet Sauvignon. Michigan isn’t known for this grape, but it is grown more widely than one might think. Still, it’s rare to find it bottled as a varietal here, so when it is, it’s almost always worth picking up. This wine is no exception.

No one would confuse this wine for a Napa Cab or a Left Bank Bordeaux, but it has some very nice varietal and cool climate notes with fruit, acid and tannin pleasantly balanced. It would probably hold up for another year or two at least, but this vintage is drinking very well right now, so sear yourself a steak and crack open your bottle if you have one. The 2016 and 2017 vintage should be able to age this long too if you have one of those. 2012 Sandhill Crane Cabernet Sauvignon is recommended.

 

 

 

The Glenlivet 14, Cognac Cask Selection

Maker: The Glenlivet Distillery, Moray, Scotland, UK (Pernod Ricard).20191122_101623.jpg

Region: Speyside

Style: Cognac cask finished single malt.

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $55 (purchased at Costco)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: oak, malt, sweet paprika, dried fig, dried oregano, alcohol.

Palate: Medium-bodied and lightly sweet. Oak, grape soda, apricot, vanilla.

Finish: Classic Speyside. Oak, toffee, burn.

Parting words: I don’t find myself reaching for The Glenlivet malts much (I generally find them dull) but when I saw one of this age finished in a Cognac barrel my interest was piqued. As long-time readers know, I have been exploring the world of brandy lately and I don’t like sherry so this seemed right up my alley.

It is. The Cognac finish is used judiciously adding depth without overwhelming the malt. The price isn’t terrible either. At $55 it comes in under many other comparable single malts from big producers. The Glenlivet 14 y/o Cognac Cask Selection is recommended.

 

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye, 2018

Maker: Jim Beam, Boston/Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20191108_192435.jpg

Style: Kentucky-style Rye (low rye rye)

Age: 9 y/o (? barreled 2009, released 2018)

Proof: 119.6 (59.8% ABV)

Purchased for $70 ( Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Oak, black pepper, cayenne, tumeric. With water, a little more sweetness. Caramel and anise.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy, then hot. Still creamy, but with toffee, a little citrus and clove.

Finish: Heat and not much else except a little sweetness at the end. With water: Red pepper, oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: I love Knob Creek rye, so I was very excited when I saw this limited edition release. I was less excited when I started drinking it. KCR is already very bourbon-like but this edition is even more so. I like bourbony ryes, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself why you’re not just drinking bourbon (which is usually cheaper).

The strength of this editon of Knob Rye is its lucious mouthfeel. It’s a show-stealer, and it even holds up with a generous does of water. Aside from that, there’s not much here that isn’t in the standard Knob Creek Rye. I think I might like the standard edition better, even without factoring in the much higher price. It’s pleasant, but I really can’t recommended it at $70, even mildly. Hopefully the next edition of cask strength Knob Creek Rye will be better.

 

Camus VSOP Elegance

Maker: Camus, Cognac, Charente, France.20191107_175812.jpg

Region: Various

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $48

Appearance: Cherry wood.

Nose: Grape soda, oak, alcohol, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Golden raisins, cola, vanilla.

Finish: Heat, cherry, French oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: Camus the Cognac has been produced by Camus the family since 1863. It’s a mid-sized house located in The Borderies with its own vineyards, although it does also source from other estates as well. Camus’ Elegence range consists of inexpensive (at least compared to the rest of the line) Cognac blends.

Camus VSOP Elegance is a pleasant step up from the VS which I reviewed here. I had fairly high expectations for the VSOP based on how good the VS was. Those expectations were met. It’s elegent and easy drinking, but relatively complex with lots of fruit and cola. The price of Camus VSOP Elegance is higher than most of the VSOP offerings from the big houses, but it’s also more interesting than most of those. That’s why Camus VSOP Elegence is recommended.

The Quiet Man, 8 y/o

Maker: Niche Brands, Derry, Northern Ireland, UK (Luxco)20191101_223603.jpg

Distillery: Undisclosed.

Style: Single Malt Irish

Cooperage: First-fill bourbon cask finished

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Butterscotch, seaspray, apricot, leather, ginger.

Palate: Full-bodied. Toffee, Sauternes, oak, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Apricots, burn.

Parting words: This is the older sibling of the NAS Quiet Man I reviewed back in January of 2019. I didn’t really care for it at first. I thought it was overoaked and hard to drink. It’s opened up a lot since then and gotten fruitier and more complex. I like it a lot now and $38 isn’t too bad for a good Irish malt these days. The Quiet Man, 8 y/o Single Malt is recommended.

 

 

Scriptorium Riesling, 2016

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20191023_205658.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Style: Semi-dry Riesling. Light lees contact.

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $26 (winery)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, canned pears, gravel, pineapple sage, pinch of epazote.

Palate: Full-bodied and lush. Underripe bartlett pear, mandarin orange, and lemon sherbet but without the sweetness of all those things. A little tarragon too.

Finish: Acid first, then gravel.

Parting words: Scriptorium is a semi-dry Riesling, but it drinks like a lucious late harvest one. There’s a lot of fruit and big acid up front with some minerality and herbs bringing up the rear.

Riesling might not seem to fit the profile of Mari Vineyards at first glance. Mari is known for elegant red blends, especially ones featuring grapes not commonly grown in Michigan like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (they can grow these grapes because of their nella serra system). Riesling very much fits the profile of Mari winemaker Sean O’Keefe, though. His family founded, and still owns, Chateau Grand Traverse just five miles up the peninsula from Mari. So when he was hired as winemaker at Mari, he knew he had to make Riesling too. It’s in his blood.

I’m very glad it is too. Scriptorium is a wonderful wine that is a bargain at $26. Drink it now or drink it later, but just drink it! 2016 Scriptorium Riesling is highly recommended.

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled in Bond

Maker: Wilderness Trail, Danville, Kentucky, USA20191025_165431.jpg

Style: Single barrel, sweet mash, wheated, bonded bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Barrel #15A23, Bottle 147/269

Price: $50 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Cayenne, caramel, new oak, wintergreen.

Palate: Fruit punch, cherry, caramel, burn. Water brings out more wood and sweetness, but makes it less complex.

Finish: Hot but fruity with peppermint. Water shifts the finish away from peppermint and towards wintergreen.

Mixed: Excells in every cocktail I tried it in. I did not try it in cola or ginger ale because it’s $50.

Pating words: Wilderness Trail began operations in 2013 and has distinguished itself as one of the distilleries doing things the right way by distilling their whiskeys themselves, aging in standard 53 gallon barrels and letting them sit in those barrels for at least four years. WT’s stated goal is to get their regular releases up to 6-8 years old. That’s right in my bourbon sweet spot, so I’m really looking forward to that.

As for the bourbon itself, WTBiB doesn’t fit the profile of a standard wheater. There’s more fruit, mint and spice than I expected. If I had to compare it to another wheater, it would be Larceny or Rebel Yell, but I don’t think Wilderness Trail could be mistaken for either of those. It has a unique, but still bourbon-y profile.

I do wish it was closer to Larceny in price. Hopefully the price will come down as their stocks go up. Factoring in its unique character, unusual Sweet Mash process, and the standard micro-distillery inflation, Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond is recommended.

Mari Vineyards: Row 7

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20191016_155851.jpg

Grapes: Unknown

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

Vintage: 2013

Style: Red field blend

ABV: 13.9%

Purchased for $60 (winery, -media discount)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Subtle. Toasted oak, black currant jam, blueberry, sweet cherry.

Palate: Well-balanced and elegant. White mulberry, blackberry, leather, clove, nutmeg, white pepper.

Finish: Fruity and a little chewy with a pinch of spice.

Parting words: Row 7 comes from a mishap when Jamieson vineyard was being planted. An unknown assortment of red wine vines were planted in Row 7. Instead of figuring out what they were and moving them accordingly, the vines were left in place and used to create this wonderful field blend, one of Mari’s most popular wines.

I’m not going to try and guess what varietals are in this wine, but it tastes like a Rhone or a lighter Bordeaux blend. It has a firm tannic backbone, but shows a lot of acid, fruit and a little baking spice. Row 7 is expensive for a Michigan red, but I think the quality justifies the price. Maybe it goes without saying in Mari’s price range, but this wine is one that you should cellar for a few years after purchasing. It tastes good right out of the box, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re spending this much on one bottle of wine, it’s wise to get the most out of your investment. This one could probably go another year or two even! Mari Vineyards Row 7, 2013 is recommended.

 

Highland Park 12 y/o: Ness of Brodgar’s Legacy

Maker: Highland Park, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, UK20191004_223353.jpg

Region: Islands

Style: Peated single malt

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 46%

Purchased for £55 (around $68)

Appearance: Medium, slightly murky copper.

Nose: Apple cider, peat, leather, smoke, sherry.

Palate: Sweet malt, butterscotch, peat, heather, smoke, seaspray.

Finish: Peat, a bit of sherry, smoke, peat, oak.

Parting words: Highland Park has been my favorite single malt distillery every since I started seriously exploring Scotch back in my 30s. I love its elegance and balance and relative affordability compared to malts I love (Springbank).

So when Liz and I were planning a trip to Scotland, I had thought it might be fun to add a side trip to Orkney. Not just for the distillery, of course, but for the food, the old buildings and the archaeological sites. They were out of scallops when I was there, but everything else was magical. If you don’t mind the weather (50° in the winter, 55° in the summer and wind wind wind), it’s a highly recommended.

20190703_153355.jpg
The Ring of Brodgar

When I said old buildings, I meant old buildings. Buildings that were already old when the pyramids were built. Some of them are not quite that old, but the main island (called Mainland) seems like it’s full of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval, Early Modern and later structures. The sexiest are the standing stone circles, the largest of which is the Ring of Brodgar. It’s a wide circle composed of stones that were brought from different locations around the island.

To the southeast of of the ring is the Ness of Brodgar. It’s an archaeological site that is

20190703_101927.jpg
Our Highland Park tour guide with a chunk of peat.

about six acres in size (so far). The dig has been going on since 2003 and there are still many buildings that haven’t been excavated yet. That made it the perfect candidate for Highland Park’s annual charity bottle. For every one of the five thousand bottles produced, Highland Park’s parent company donates to the Ness of Bodgar Trust, which funds the dig. Bottles are only available at the distillery.

As for the whisky itself, it’s a more peated version of the classic twelve year old Highland Park expression. It’s well-made like everything Highland Park produces. If you find yourself in Orkney this year, pick up a bottle! Highland Park Ness of Brodgar’s Legacy is highly recommended!

 

 

 

Domaine Berrien Merlot, 2014

Maker: Domaine Berrien Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2014

ABV: Unknown

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Black currant, cedar, pick peppercorns, sauteed mushrooms.

Palate: Medium-bodied and juicy. Blackberries, raspberries, leather.

Finish: Oaky and tannic.

Parting words: In a vintage like 2014, it’s close to a miracle that any estate wines were produced in Michigan at all, let alone one this good! It’s pretty chewy for a Merlot, but the combination of acid and tannin makes for a pairing with beef or lamb. A little more sweetness might have made for a more balanced product but, hey, this is 2014. $20 is a bargain. 2014 Domaine Berrien Merlot is recommended.