Marland Sauvignon Blanc & Semillion, 2020

Maker: Wyncroft/Marland, Fennville, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc (75%), Semillon (25%)

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

Vintage: 2020

Note: Aged in acacia barrels.

ABV: Not disclosed (table wine loophole)

Purchased for $19 (winery).

Appearance: Very pale straw

Nose: Golden delicious apples

Palate: Pear, touch of wood, honey.

Finish: Honey, gravel, clementines.

Parting words: Marland Sauv Blanc/Semillon is basically the less expensive, non-estate version of Wyncroft Shou (pronounced “show”) white. To my knowledge, Wyncroft’s James Lester is the only winemaker in Michigan who uses acacia barrels to ferment and age a white blend like this. He does it because that’s how many wineries in Bordeaux make their white blends. I don’t drink a lot of white Bordeaux, but the technique works very well in this wine, and its more expensive cousin. It adds a rich mouthfeel without any of the toasty tastes and aromas one gets from French oak barrels.

I’m not sure how much of this vintage is still kicking around, but 2020 was a great one for pretty much everything, so if you see this, pick it up! It’s a good all-season white that goes beyond the typical summertime porch-sipper. 2020 Marland Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is recommended.

For more information on Wyncroft/Marland, see the write up of my visit there last year here.

Rockway Small Lot Syrah, “Alter Ego”, 2017

Maker: Rockway Vineyards, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada.

Grapes: Syrah with Viognier skins added during fermentation.

Place of origin: Rockway Estate, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2017

Notes: Spent 18 months in French and American oak. For more information, click here.

Purchased for $30, Canadian. Listed at $36 on website.

Other note: Liz and I received a complimentary tasting at the time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Chocolate covered cherry, blackberry.

Palate: Dry to semi-dry. White cherry, red currant, chocolate orange.

Finish: A little chewy and a little tart, with a hint of oak.

Parting words: The family and I visited Rockway back in July on our way to Niagara Falls for a vacation. We went there to pick up a bottle of When Pigs Fly Rosé and Ruff Pinot Noir from 80x, the wine company co-founded by friend of the blog André Proulx.

I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to myself in situations like that, especially outside of Michigan where even fewer people know who I am. It was lunch time, so we got a table at the winery restaurant and I ordered a glass of Gewürztraminer. After we ordered our food, I walked over to the tasting bar and mentioned that I was picking up two bottles from André and might want to buy another bottle or two. That’s when wine club manager Bonnie Bates sprung into action.

After a sip at the bar, she offered to move the rest of the tasting to our table and we accepted. Liz was included in the tasting as well, and we weren’t changed or given any sort of limit for it. This is a dangerous situation for yours truly to be in, but I managed to keep it in second gear so my palate wouldn’t get tired or my head dizzy.

In addition to the Gewürz, we also tried the Pinot Gris, Gamay Noir, Small Lot Syrah, Meritage, Cab/Shiraz (featuring Cabs Franc and Sauvignon), Pink Ribbon Rosé, and this wine. They were all good, but the standouts to me were the Pinot Gris and Alter Ego. Liz liked the rosé better than the Gris, so we bought a bottle of that, Alter Ego, and a bottle of the surprisingly tannic (in a good way) Gamay Noir which I was eager to try again in a different setting.

On the way out I attempted to tip tasting room manager Mike (he had taken over from Bonnie who had wine club managing to do), but I was waved off. That said, always tip your tasting room pourer, or at least try to!

Anyway, don’t let the touristy vibe of Rockway and its golf course fool you, there is seriously good wine being made there, and seriously good hospitality too. It’s worth a leisurely stop if you’re driving through the area or you could stop at the tasting bar after a round of golf, if you’re into that sort of thing.

As for this wine itself, the unique process is a twist on the way Syrah is often made in the grape’s traditional home in the Rhône valley. Rhône Syrah is often co-fermented with Viognier for added complexity, a rounder mouthfeel, tamer tannins, and to stabilize the color. The practice is most associated with the sub-region of Côte-Rôtie in the northern part of the valley. It’s not done as much in that area anymore, but it’s still done in many places, including Northern Michigan, where Nathaniel Rose uses that technique with his Syrah.

$30 CA works out to about $22 US at the time of writing, so this is an easy buy. It’s very good now but you could probably cellar it for another year or two if you really wanted. Rockway’s 2017 Small Lot Syrah, “Alter Ego” is recommended.

When Pigs Fly Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2021

Maker: 80x Wine Company, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Made at Rockway, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%)

Place of origin: 82% Crispino Vineyard (Vinemount sub-appellation), 18% Rockway Vineyard (Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation), Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2021

ABV: 12.6%

Price: $28, Canadian (myarchives.ca)

Thanks to André Proulx for the complimentary bottle!

Appearance: Orangey pink.

Nose: Cherry gummies, orange sherbet, rose pedals, gravel.

Palate: Dry. Strawberry, white mulberry, underripe cherry, rosehips.

Finish: Dry and flinty with a little stone fruit.

Parting words: Back in the spring of this year, 2022, Liz floated the idea of a family vacation to Niagara Falls. We had a lot of fun there as a couple early on in our marriage, but had never been with the kids, so it sounded like a great idea. What also made it sound like a good idea was the opportunity to visit some of the great wineries in the area.

Since winery time was limited, I decided to get an insider’s advice on where to go. So I sent a message to friend-of-the-blog friend-of-the-blog, wine writer André Proulx. I first met André over Twitter, via the old Wines of Ontario Wednesday night chats there. We were even on opposite sides of a friendly debate over the topic of signature varieties. I’ve also been a fan of his podcast with Michael Pinkus, Two Guys Talking Wine, for years.

André gave me some good tips, and also offered me complimentary bottles of this wine and his red Pinot Noir as well. They’re from 80x, a partnership of Vadim Chelekhov, Guillaume Frenehard, and André. Adam Kern of Lundy Manor makes the wine, and all winemaking decisions, for them at Rockway, although André told me, “I love getting my hands dirty on the crush pad.”

The company was founded as a way to make some excellent wine, of course, but also for André to get hands on experience in the Ontario wine industry, as a wine writer. He told me via Instagram: “We started the company to learn more about how the industry works. I was (and still am) a wine critic and as DMX said ‘talk is cheap motherf***er’. I also wanted to learn about the legislative and bureaucratic nightmare that is Ontario wine. We took a loss on our first wine and regrouped to start making rosé.” André says he likes Pinot Noir rosé for its consistency across vintages.

This is the only vintage of this wine I’ve had but if it’s always this good, André and the lads have a hit on their hands. As I’ve mentioned before, I usually prefer rosés of Cabernet Franc to Pinot Noir, but this Pinot might change my mind. It’s dry and flinty, but retains loads of fruit flavor without ever getting sweet. It’s my favorite wine oxymoron: fruity but dry.

I love rosé but my wife Liz LOVES it. She was so excited to try this wine, she passed up a perfectly good Leelanau Riesling that was already chilling in the fridge to open When Pigs Fly the moment it appeared in our dining room wine rack. And it went fast. I’m glad I was able to get a few sips in and I’m very glad I reached out to André before we went to Niagara. Big thanks again to him and to the folks at Rockway for their hospitality!

$28 Canadian comes out to about $20 US, which is an excellent value. When Pigs Fly rosé is worth seeking out the next time you’re in the neighborhood. 2020 When Pigs Fly Rosé is highly recommended.

Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market, barrel 4884

Maker: Woodinville, Woodinville, Washington, USA

Style: Single barrel, barrel strength, straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least four years old).

Proof: 121.28 (60.64% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Caramel, hot pepper jam, mace, cassia.

Palate: Full bodied and lucious. Caramel and cream, with big burn on the end. Water calms things down a bit, but doesn’t rob it of its richness. It also brings out the char and a little chocolate.

Finish: Sweet and oaky, in the “dusty” bourbon way.

Parting words: Woodinville is a farm-to-bottle distillery in the wine country near Seattle. Like many micro distilleries around the US, they claim the late Dave Pickerell as a formative influence on their business. After parting ways with Maker’s Mark in 2008, Pickerell went into business as a travelling consultant and worked with scores of start up distilleries over the next ten years, Woodinville included.

I’m not very well acquainted with Woodinville, and this is the first bottle I’ve purchased, so I had no expectations upon opening it. When I first opened it, I drank it mostly on the rocks, and I was not particularly impressed. Once I started drinking it in a Glencairn glass with a splash of water, my opinion changed immensely.

It has a richness that reminds me a lot of some of my favorite old “dusty” discontinued bourbons. I don’t remember how old it is, but I don’t really care, frankly. It’s one of the best “craft” bourbons I’ve had. $70 is a perfectly reasonable price given the quality and proof. I really like this, and I can’t wait to try more Woodinville selections. Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market selection (barrel 4884) is highly recommended.

Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016

Maker: Bel Lago, Lake Leeland, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Cabernet France (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA. (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $44 (Michigan by the Bottle Royal Oak)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, violets.

Palate: Dry but fruity. Blueberry, mulberry, tiny nip of tannin.

Finish: Tart and a little chewy.

Parting words: Bel Lago consistently makes some of the best wines from Burgundian (and Burgundy-adjacent) grape varieties in Northern Michigan. Their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Auxerrois are all sought after by Michigan wine enthusiasts.

Judging by this wine, they have some work to do with their Bordeaux varietals. While perfectly drinkable, it lacks the depth and complexity of Bel Lago’s Pinots and Auxerrois. It’s virtually all fruit, without anything in the way of spice, minerals, or oak, despite spending 34 months in the latter. 2016 was a hot vintage, and Charlie, Bel Lago’s co-founder, likes his grapes ripe (and the microclimate of the estate is happy to oblige him) so perhaps they had a little too much hangtime.

As I said before, there’s nothing flawed or unpleasant here, it just doesn’t quite live up to my expectations of Bel Lago or of $45 wines. That said, I’m definitely trying the 2017 if I see it. 2016 Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016 is only mildly recommended.

2 Lads Sparkling Rosé, 2018

Maker: 2 Lads, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Chardonnay (90%), Pint Noir (10%).

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

Style: Dry Sparkling Rosé.

Vintage: 2018.

ABV: 12.2%

Purchased for: $32 (winery).

Appearance: Dark pink (yes, that’s a thing).

Nose: Fresh bagette, strawberry, white mulberry.

Palate: Dry to semi dry (in the brut range). Very effervescent. Limestone dust, white raspberry.

Finish: Dry, but juicy and tart.

Parting words: We picked this bottle up from the winery back in July, when we were showing my sister and her husband around Old Mission Peninsula. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we stopped in and I asked what they had that isn’t available at Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room. The man I asked (looked like he wasn’t older than 23) gave me a puzzled look. When I explained what that was he said he didn’t know 2 Lads was distributed that far “downstate”.

Anyway, this is an easy-drinking dry, but not too dry, traditional method (I think) pink sparkler. It pairs well with just about any food, including stir fry and Indian food. It is at its best at the table, but is a good porch sipping wine too.

I like the pop-cap closure. It adds to the bottle’s contemporary look and makes opening the bottle much easier. I’m usually a romantic when it comes to these sorts of things, but I’ve wasted too much of my life screwing around with tiny cages and big corks. More caps, please, winemakers.

$32 isn’t cheap, but this wine doesn’t taste cheap either. Drink now through 2023 or so. 2018 2 Lads Sparkling Rosé is recommended.

Kirkland Small Batch: Barton 1792

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: Standard recipe straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $28/1 liter. Comes out to $21/750 ml

Appearance: Shiny copper.

Nose: Pretty hot for a 92 proofer. Cinnamon imperials, baking spice.

Palate: Cinnamon disks, cayenne pepper, oak.

Finish: More candy notes, but some oaky tannin and caramel.

Parting words: When Costco announced that they were going to be releasing a new line of Kirkland bourbons, all distilled at Barton 1792, I was excited, even though there were some who shrugged their shoulders. As you know, dear readers, I love Very Old Barton. Unfortunately, it’s highly allocated in the Great Lakes State where I live. As much as I love it, I find it hard to motivate myself to drive all over the metro area looking for a $14 bourbon. Kirkland Small Batch is slightly easier to find, but at least it comes in bigger bottles.

The question on my mind when this line was announced was which recipe was going to be used for it, Barton or the high malt 1792 recipe. After spending a couple months with this bottle, I can firmly say that I have no idea. If pressed on the matter, I would say Barton, given the sweetness and spice.

Either way, this is pretty much what I expect in a $21 bourbon. Some oak and spice, but a little thin. Strangely enough, I actually like this bourbon better on the rocks. Everything seems to be much more harmonious and integrated.

At any rate, Kirkland Small Batch: Barton 1792 is recommended! I really hope my local Costco gets some of the Bottled-in-Bond, or Single Barrel in soon!

Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé, 2019

Maker: Blustone, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%).

ABV: 12.5%

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

Appearance: Pale rust.

Nose: White mulberries, strawberry, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Dry, crushed orange raspberries, limestone.

Finish: Tart, and dry.

Parting words: I don’t usually let my rosé get this old, but we bought a big pack of pinks from MBTBTRRO and the beginning of the pandemic as they had switched entirely to retail. Because of my overly complex system of rotating wine through my cellar, liquor cabinet and then china cabinet we still had a couple of those bottles left at the beginning of the year.

This is a very good pink Pinot Noir. Time seems to have dried it out and muted the fruit flavors somewhat, but this is still very refreshing and fantastic with food or just chilling on the back porch on a sweaty afternoon. Given the amount of crap being sold these days at well over $20, this was a steal. The 2022 vintage is selling for $22 currently, which is less of a steal, but still a good price for a good wine. 2019 Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé is recommended.

Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Maker: Nelson’s, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Distiller: Undisclosed (Dickel? Prichard’s? Somewhere else?)

Style: Wheat recipe Tennesse whiskey.

Age: NAS (not labeled straight so no minimum age)

Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $30

Thanks to Amy for giving me this bottle!

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Tarragon, grape soda.

Palate: Roasted corn, dried cherry, cayenne chilies.

Finish: A bit rough, then mellowing into more grape soda.

Mixed: It was fine mixed with Benedictine, but what character it had got lost. Other than that I didn’t have a chance to try it mixed.

Parting words: Nelson’s Greenbrier is the bottom shelf (ok more lower middle shelf) offering from Nelson’s distillery in Nashville Tennessee. They’re best known for their very good Belle Meade Bourbon line, one of which I thought I had reviewed at some point, but I guess I didn’t. No place to start like the bottom, though, right?

To be clear, this isn’t really the same stuff as the Belle Meade bourbons. Greenbrier is put through the famous Lincoln County Process (filtration through maple charcoal) and is made with wheat as the “flavor grain” unlike most TN whiskeys which use rye. None of the Belle Meade are made with wheat or given the LCP treatment.

Nevertheless it does sit at the lowest price point of the Nelsons’ offerings in Michigan, and it tastes like it, frankly. It’s not terrible, but it’s much closer to the level of quality of a $10 bourbon from a major distillery, than other bourbons or TN whiskeys priced in the $30s. Dickel #s 8 and 12 are both cheaper than this, as is Jack Daniels black label. Gentleman Jack is around the same price but it’s even more vile than the regular Jack Daniels, so I don’t think it’s a good comparison.

If you’re looking for a mixing Tennessee whiskey with a beautiful (it really is gorgeous) label, this is for you. Otherwise, you’re better off saving a few bucks and buying a Dickel. Nelson’s Greenbrier is mildly recommended.

Eastern Kille Bottled In Bond

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Style: standard recipe, pot distilled straight bourbon.

Age: Not disclosed but at least 4 y/o by law.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $48 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sawdust, anise, over-roasted almonds.

Palate: Full-bodied and mild. Caramel, barrel char, dark chocolate, dash of amaretto.

Finish: Hot and woodsy.

Mixed: Performed pretty well in Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, with Coke, and with Cherry Coke.

Parting words: To me, the moment when a new bourbon distillery comes of age is when it can release a bottled in bond bourbon. So I was very excited to try this from Michigan’s own Eastern Kille. It feels like they’ve arrived.

But where have they arrived? I’m split. The nose and finish have that sharp sawdust note that I used to associate with small barrel bourbon, but I’m not so sure that’s where it’s from anymore (mashing maybe?). I don’t fine that aspect very pleasant, and it occasionally interfered with mixers. The palate is silky and chocolatey and very good, though, so I don’t know where to land.

Water turns the sawdust down but it also turns down the chocolate and char. So I think I’m going to give Eastern Kille’s BiB a recommendation, with a few drops of water or with strong mixers (boulevardier, Manhattan with good vermouth, or Cherry Coke!). There are some really nice things going in this bourbon, and I hope they continue refining it until it’s highly recommended!