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.

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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

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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.

Head to head: Laird’s Single Cask vs Laird’s Single Cask (Comrade Brandy)

GB= Generic bottle

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The Comrade Brandy sticker wasn’t my idea, I swear.

CB= Comrade Brandy bottling

Maker: Laird’s, Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Viginia, USA

Age

GB: 4.5 y/o

CB: 5.33 y/o

Bottled

GB: 12/11/18

CB: 5/20/19

Bottle

GB: 118/192

CB: 157/168

ABV: 65.8%

Purchased for

GB: $45

CB: $50

Appearance

GB: Pale copper.

CB: Darker. New penny.

Nose

GB: Alcohol, old oak, cider, young Calvados.

CB: Leather, crushed apples, middle-aged Calvados.

Palate

GB:  Caramel apple, burn.

CB: More middle-aged Calvados. Chocolate-covered candy apple, vanilla, honey.

Finish

GB: Sweet apples, alcohol, a bit of oak.

CB: Richer and leatherier. Dark chocolate, cider, burn.

Thanks to John Creek and Bhavik Patel for getting Comrade Brandy together.

Parting words: Laird’s is the bourbon-lovers’ apple brandy and I, a bourbon lover, love Laird’s. I was excited when it was announced that Laird’s was going to be releasing a high-proof single barrel edition, so as soon as it hit the stores and went out and bought a barrel. A few weeks later, I found myself in a Facebook group for a private barrel pick of that very same product. So I took the opportunity to write up another one of my beloved head to head tasting reviews.

I enjoyed both of these but Comrade Brandy had more Calvados-like depth and complexity than the off-the-shelf model. I’m very glad I decided to buy two bottles but I kind of wish I had purchased more. I was sent two I didn’t order accidentally, but I can’t just keep them, right? Right? Laird’s Single Cask selection is recommended.

 

 

Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir, 2016

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20190820_125139.jpg

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

Grape: Gamay

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $15

Appearance: Translucent ruby.

Nose: Black currant, black pepper, toasted oak, raspberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and juicy. Cranberry juice cocktails, blackberry, sauteed mushrooms.

Finish: Juicy, then jammy, then oaky.

Parting words: I last reviewed CGT’s Gamay Noir in 2011. That was the 2009 vintage. It was a good one, but how does the hot and steamy 2016 vintage compare?

Well, there’s no cherry in the 2016 like there was in the 2009, but they’re very similar in profile. The 2016 is a hair more complex with some earthiness on the palate. It’s the equivalent of a quality Beaujolais-Village or a value Morgon. Chateau Grand Traverse retains its title as the king of Gamay in Michigan. This wine is recommended.

 

Michigan Honey

Maker: Virtue, Fennville, Michigan, USA.20190825_201936.jpg

Apples: Variety of Michigan-grown apples.

Style: Partially barrel-finished apple cider with Michigan honey added (Not a cyser or mead).

ABV: 5%

Price: $13/12 12 oz can variety pack (Binny’s)

Appearance: Pale gold, like a lager.

Nose: Honey, sliced golden apples.

Palate: Lightly fizzy, medium bodied. Semi-dry. More balanced than the nose. Honeyed golden apple slices, lemon meringue pie.

Finish: Honey, dry apple slices, tannin.

Parting words: This is another Virtue cider out of the variety pack I bought for my June party. It’s my least favorite of the four included in the pack, but it’s still good. The honey is too strong in the nose but it and the barrel notes add depth and grip to what would otherwise be a pretty mild cider on the palate and in the finish. Good price for a quality cider. Virtue’s Michigan Honey is recommended.

 

Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.20190823_222646.jpg

Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Orangy copper.

Nose: Wood shop, licorice.

Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Licorice, cinnamon gum, strawberry candy.

Finish: Hot and woody.

Parting words: Journeyman is a whiskey distillery located in the heart of Southwest Michigan wine country. They’re in the perfect place to capitalize on tourist traffic but they don’t content themselves cottage-dwellers wandering in, they make an effort to produce unique, high-quality spirits.

The flavors are largely good, but it could be better integrated and have less sawdust in the nose and on the palate. That comes with more time in a full-sized barrel. I’m hoping they are allowing the Featherbone to linger longer and longer with every batch, so that future editions will be less harsh and more velvety.

The hardest thing about rating micro-distilled whiskeys is factoring in the price. I would not pay $50 for something like this from a big bourbon producer, but is it acceptable from a small one? Maybe it would be if it were 100 proof or higher, but at 90 proof, Featherbone garners only a mild recommendation.

 

Old Pulteney, 12 y/o (Cadenhead’s, 2006)

Distillery: Old Pulteney, Wick, Caithness, Scotland, UK. (Inver House)20190809_191605.jpg

Bottler: Cadenhead’s, Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK (J & A Mitchell & co)

Region: Highlands: Northern

Cooperage: Ex-bourbon casks

Age: 12 y/o (barrelled 2006)

ABV: 56.3%

Appearance: Very pale straw (no added color)

Nose: Malt, seaspray, oak, bourbon rickhouse, vanilla, apricot.

Palate: Creamy then hot. With water: toffee, big oak, peach.

Finish: Heat, then vanilla custard. Lighter and oakier with a little kelp.

Parting words: I bought this 200 ml bottle at the Edinburgh branch of Cadenhead’s while on vacation in Scotland back in the first week of July. This is me in front of the store (photo by Liz Wright).

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Cadenhead’s is a magical place. The Edinburgh store is small, but one wall is half covered with a chalkboard on which is listed just about every single malt distillery that has produced anything in the past thirty years. They’re arranged alphabetically and color-coded by region with defunct distilleries marked. The ABV and prices of full 700 ml bottles are list too. There is also a cabinet with a large selection of 200 ml bottles (almost all of them).

There were no ghost whiskies for sale that afternoon, but after I overcame my awe I was able to pick out three 200 ml bottles with the help of a couple staff members. If you’re traveling by plane, I would highly recommend the 200 mls to stretch your dollar and not stretch your luggage. We even bought a 200 ml of Cadenhead’s Highland blended malt to enjoy in our hotel room. We finished it before we went back home.

This Old Pulteney was one of them. I asked the staff for something complex but well-balanced and that is this malt to a T. The nose and finish are wonderful, as is the palate, even if it’s a little less complex. I don’t remember how much we paid for it, but I love this malt. Cadenhead’s Old Puteney 12 y/o, bottled 2006 is highly recommended.

 

 

Virtue Cider Michigan Apple

Maker: Virtue Farms, Fennville, Michigan, USA20190802_165759.jpg

Apples: Unnamed heirloom varieties.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry cider.

ABV: 5.5%

Price: $13/12 can case (variety pack including three other Virtue ciders at Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold like a lager.

Nose: Apple wood sawdust, applesauce, gravel.

Palate: Effervescent and semi-dry. Chewy tannin, some sweetness and fruit.

Finish: Dry with a tart tang in the front.

Parting words: I’ve reviewed Virtue ciders before on this blog, but this is the first canned cider of theirs I’ve done. I bought a variety pack of Virtue cider for my annual party in early June (you’re all invited next year). A few were left over, so I’m planning on working my way through the survivors in a series of reviews.

I was very impressed with Virtue’s Michigan Apple. It has a tannic grip that a lot of other American ciders in its category and price range don’t have. There’s no yeasty funk, but this is Michigan Apple, not Pomme de Normandie. This is a very enjoyable cider and I highly recommend it.

Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Peerless, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20190802_215134.jpg

Style: Sweet Mash standard recipe (?) bourbon

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 109.8 (54.9% ABV)

Price: $70 (IIRC)

Big thanks to Mike Matsumoto for letting me borrow his bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, leather, walnuts, pine resin, serrano pepper.

Palate: Dry, more pine resin, horehound, alcohol.

Finish: Oak, salted caramel, hot sauce.

Parting words: Peerless is a micro-distillery that has revived an old Henderson, Kentucky (west of Owensboro) bourbon brand. Founders Corky Taylor and his son Carson are descendents of the Kraver family who originally owned that brand and distillery. The orignal distillery shut down during World War I, never to reopen. When Corky and Carson decided to revive the brand, they acquired the name and the old DSP number (50) and an old building in Louisville to put their new distillery in.

The story is similar to many others and one might expect Peerless to be putting out sharp, small barrel whiskey or weird gin or “craft vodka” or whatnot. They’re not doing that. They’re doing it the right way. Their rye was released in 2017 and was delicious. Their first release of bourbon was earlier this month, July 2019. My pal Mike was on the guest list for the intial bourbon release and he graciously allowed me to borrow his bottle and take samples for blogging purposes.

I’m very glad he did. This is easily one of the best micro-distilled bourbon’s I’ve ever had. The down side to doing it the right way is that the product ends up being expensive. The rye has a Michigan state minimum price of $118 (it is barrel proof, though) and this bourbon is $70 at the distillery, which is less, but still high for a four year old, even at barrel strength. It is mature beyond its years, though, and if I had an opportunity to buy a full bottle myself, I probably would. The price alone is what keeps it out of highly recommended territory for me. As it is, Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is recommended.