Nathaniel Rose Pinot Noir, 2013

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir.

Places of origin: Katherine & Martha’s Vineyard (58%), Hill Road Vineyard (42%), Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA.

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.3%

Bottle provided for review by Nathaniel Rose, via Marshall Wehr. Big thanks to them!

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Blackberry jam, stewed mushrooms, blueberry juice, allspice.

Palate: Medium bodied. Fruit of the Forest pie, clove.

Finish: Tart, but with grip.

Parting words: When it comes to Michigan Pinot, or other cool climate Pinots, one usually gets a light to medium bodied, pale (that’s not a bad thing!), high-acid, easy drinking wine. This is especially the case with the ones from Northern Michigan. Chateau Chantal’s Pinot Noir is a good example of the style. Even in Southwest Michigan, though, 2013 was a cool vintage that turned out a lot of high-acid wines.

That high acidity ended up doing a lot of favors for wines of that vintage, though. While they were slow to develop, the best ones developed beautifully, like this one. The acid is still there, but it’s moved into a supporting role with wild fruit and spice taking the lead. The result is a wine that has the sort of boldness one might expect from a 1er Cru or a beefier red village Burgundy. It did a great job sharing the table with both pork ribs, and lamb chops.

While 2013, wasn’t regarded as favorably as the previous two vintages were at first, time has shown that the cellar can elevate a well-made cool-vintage Michigan wine to some pretty lofty heights. Nathaniel Rose 2013 Pinot Noir is recommended.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Style: Rye recipe, straight bourbon whiskey, bottled-in-bond.

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV).

Michigan state minimum: $50.

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Charred oak, caramel, tarragon, alcohol.

Palate: Full-bodied, and well balanced. Leather, caramel, chilies, pinch of tarragon.

Finish: Field mint, fading into cinnamon disks.

Parting words: This is not the first time I have reviewed Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. The 6 y/o version was a favorite of mins for many years and I would stock up on it whenever I went to Kentucky, which was pretty frequent back then. I still have one bottle squirreled away in my basement for a rainy day or for some hopefully distant day when I get put into an old folks home. It was a pretty good bourbon, but it was an excellent value. 100 proof, 6 years of age, all for well under $20. It was my house bourbon for many years when company came over.

To their credit, when Heaven Hill decided to revamp their Heaven Hill line, they did add one year of age and give the label a fresh, modern (if a bit dull) look. Not to their credit, they more than doubled the price. HH was known for many years as the distillery of choice for cheapskates like me, because they offered a wide range of pretty good to very good bourbons at several dollars less than their competitors did at the same age/proof ranges. Now, they are unfortunately making a name for themselves by turning their ex-value bonds like Heaven Hill and Old Fitzgerald into super-premium products with prices to match.

All that said, there’s nothing wrong with this bourbon as it is. If it didn’t have the same name as one of the greatest bourbon values of all time, I might be more willing to cut it some slack. But with the almost always superior William McKenna 10 y/o single barrel bonded for only $10 more, it’s hard to recommend the current HH BiB. I’m not sure what the point of it is anymore, frankly. Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7 y/o is mildly recommended.

Gill’s Pier Riesling, 2012

Maker: Gill’s Pier, Traverse City, Michigan USA (defunct)

Grapes: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry.

Vinatage: 2012

Closure: Screw top.

ABV: 10%

Purchased for $10 in 2016 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Pear, stone fruit, limestone dust.

Palate: Full-bodied. Green apple, pear, ripe peach, lemon thyme.

Finish: Drying. coats the back of the throat.

Parting words: Gill’s Pier was one of my favorite wineries for many years before they closed down and sold the land to an alpaca operation back in 2013. That was the last vintage of wines produced there, making 2012 the second to last. If I recall correctly, Left Foot Charley’s winemaker made all of Gill’s Pier’s wines, but all (except one) were released under the Gill’s Pier label.

This will probably come as no surprise, but I have reviewed this wine before. That was the 2011 vintage, also a very good one in Michigan. Michigan’s variable weather makes vintage even more important here than in regions like California with a more consistent climate.

When the property was sold, I bought up as many GP wines as I could, reserving some for this project. I’m very glad I did. They’ve held up amazingly well, better than some reds under cork of the same vintage. I’m not sure why that is, but to me it proves that well-made wines with screw caps can hold up just as well as ones with cork. It also shows that well-made Michigan Rieslings can age just as well as their German cousins.

This wine is long gone from shelves but was a steal at $10 even back in 2016. The 2012 (semi-dry) Gill’s Pier Riesling is recommended.

Rebel Distiller’s Collection, Red Wagon selection

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

Distiller: Probably Heaven Hill.

Style: Wheat recipe straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (4-5 y/o?)

Proof: 113 (56.5% ABV)

Notes: Barrel 7533582, Filled 11/2/2016.

Michigan state minimum: $45 (Red Wagon, though I forget which one.)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Leather, caramel, amaretto, alcohol,

Palate: Full bodied. Cinnamon almonds, burn. Water adds chocolate hard candy and oak.

Finish: Oak, candy, alcohol.

Parting words: Rebel Distiller’s Collection is a single barrel selection expression that makes the rounds of the usual retailers. I don’t remember when I bought this one, but I think it was sometime in 2022. I like Heaven Hill wheaters, generally, but Rebel (Yell) hasn’t always been made with the best Heaven Hill has to offer. Modern Rebel has a well-earned reputation of being thin, rough, and sometimes undrinkable.

This bourbon, on the other hand, is actually quite good. It’s one of the best wheaters I’ve had recently. With a splash of water, it’s a well-balanced, beautiful whiskey that can stand up alongside other high-proof wheated bourbons without embarrassment.

That said, this is a single barrel product, so there will be variation between bottles. I’ve seen reviews of Rebel Distiller’s Collection that were all over the map. As always, find a retailer (or club) that has similar taste to yours, so you can be confident that you’re getting a good one. $45 is still $45!

Rebel Distiller’s Collection, Red Wagon selection is recommended.

P.S. If you’re interested in Lux Row, check out my post on when I went there with some friends here.

Signatory Vintage, Ardmore 2009, Vine & Table selection

Bottler: Signatory, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland, UK

Region: Highlands

Style: Peated single malt whisky.

Age: 8 y/o

Notes: Distilled: 10/22/09, bottled: 7/17/18, bourbon barrel cask, cask #706320, bottle 117/247.

ABV: 59.2% (cask strength).

Price: $94 (Vine and Table exclusive)

Appearance: Light straw.

Nose: Smoky peat, alcohol, sweet malt. With water: Still potent. Tobacco smoke, baked pie crust.

Palate: Full-bodied. Butterscotch, ash, burn. With water: sweeter and creamier. Vanilla icing, smoky dark chocolate.

Finish: Peaty and dry. With water: tamer, but still peaty.

Parting words: I bought this Scotch last year when I was in Indianapolis visiting family. I was looking for a sweet, creamy single malt to sit alongside a smoky one I had open already. This 8 y/o Ardmore was not that, but that’s been more than ok!

I wouldn’t call this Ardmore balanced, but it does have more going on than just peat smoke. There’s a creamy, desserty background to it that comes out with a healthy splash of water.

If I had paid $60 or $70 for this, I would be happy and it would earn a full recommendation. For $94, I expect more, though. More age, more complexity, something more than this.

Signatory Vintage, Ardmore 2009, Vine & Table selection is mildly recommended.

Rockway Small Lot Riesling, 2018

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

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA (“mostly estate fruit with a small portion coming from neighboring vineyards”), Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2018.

Style: Dry Riesling.

ABV: 10.5%

Purchased for $15 US (2020 vintage sells for $20 Canadian on their website.)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Pear, petrol, pineapple.

Palate: Medium bodied and dry. Golden apple, white mulberry, tangerine, limestone dust, lychee.

Finish: Quick but refreshing. Fruit and minerals.

Parting words: I picked up this wine when the family and I vacationed at Niagara Falls last summer. We had a great time. For more information on our visit to Rockway, take a look at this review of their Small Lot Syrah.

At any rate, I had to pick up some Riesling while I was there, being the Riesling nerd that I am. This Small Lot Riesling is a not quite estate wine that nevertheless does a great job of showcasing the terroir of the St. Catherines area.

I’m writing this review in March, but this wine would a perfectly refreshing summertime wine. It’s crisp (granted, it’s probably a little less crisp than it was a couple years ago,) but complex with a good balance of fruit, minerals, and a soft mouthfeel (maybe a little lees contact?).

$20 is a very good price for a wine this enjoyable. If you ever find yourself in St. Catherines, pick up a bottle or four of this wine. You won’t be disappointed. Rockway Small Lot Riesling is highly recommended.

Method and Madness Single Pot Still

Maker: Midleton, Midleton, Co. Cork, Ireland (Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard)

Style: Single pot still (mix of malted and unmalted barley), finished in chestnut wood.

Age: NAS

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $77/700 ml (comes out to about $82 for 750 ml)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Malt, chestnut shells, cut lumber, cinnamon sticks, vanilla.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Cinnamon gummies, old oak, walnut shells.

Finish: Nutty and drying.

Parting words: Method and Madness is a new-ish line of experimental Irish whiskeys from Irish Distillers, makers of Jameson. There are three expressions available in Michigan: single grain ($57), single pot still (this one), and single malt ($90). There are even pricier expressions, like the33 year old, very limited edition Mizunara oak finish edition single pot still.

As for this one, it’s more than I normally like to pay for a 46% ABV, NAS whiskeys, but the last Irish whiskey I purchased was cheap and dull, and I just got a vasectomy last week, so I decided to treat myself. Plus I’d never heard of a chestnut wood-finished spirit of any sort, so I was intrigued.

I’m glad I did. This is a luscious, rich whiskey with a unique (but not weird) nuttiness that comes through on all three levels of tasting. It’s a refreshing Sunday night or special occasion sipper, and as such is priced appropriately. If you’re looking for a change of pace for St. Patrick’s Day (or any day) this year, give Method and Madness a try. It is recommended!

Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)


Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $30 at winery.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Medium bodied and fruity. Cherry juice, fruit of the forest pie filling, mace, blueberry.

Palate: Cherry juice, ancho chili, toasted oak.

Finish: Juicy, then a nip of bitter oak.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is the next entry in the 2012 project, the goal of which is the see how Michigan wines age. I last reviewed this wine in 2017, when it earned coveted “highly recommended” status. See that review for more information on The Hog’s Back vineyard, and Peninsula Cellars, one of my favorite Northern Michigan wineries.

Going by that review, this wine has changed in a few ways. First, it’s not nearly as acidic (in taste anyway) as it was back then. The cherries and berries are still there, but it’s like the tang has been almost completely removed. The baking spice is also still there, but there’s a bitter oak taste in the finish that was surprising.

This is still a very good wine at over ten years old, but it is probably starting its inevitable downward slide. If you still have a 2012 Hog’s Back, it’s time to drink up! Still, Peninsula Cellars 2012 Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 is recommended.

New Riff Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: New Riff, Newport, Kentucky, USA (Ken Lewis, founder of The Party Source)

Style: Bonded, high rye bourbon.

Distilled in the spring of 2018.

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium brown.

Nose: Char, leather, caramelized condensed milk, dried chilies.

Palate: Caramel, white chocolate, ancho chili powder.

Finish: A bit of leather, a lot of chili powder.

Parting words: I last reviewed a New Riff bourbon in June of 2021, when I reviewed a Red Wagon selection of the single barrel, barrel proof expression. I liked it (eventually), but I thought it was strange. Very herbal, even for a high rye bourbon, and there was that cut lumber aroma I get out of a lot of young, “craft” whiskeys. The lumber isn’t completely gone, but the basil and tobacco are. The result is a much more conventional, but still tasty, bourbon.

Of all the macro-distilled bourbons on the market, it reminds me of Old Grand Dad the most. It lacks the yeastiness, but the spice and char is similar. I’ve had a few single barrel Four Roses expressions with a similar profile too.

$40 isn’t too bad for a quality BiB in 2023, either. Factoring in “craft” beverage inflation, it’s almost a bargain. While it’s not a Glen Buxton Riff, it’s still a solid Joe Perry one. New Riff Bottled-in-Bond is recommended.

Nathaniel Rose Right Bank, 2012

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Merlot (50%), Cabernet Franc (50%).

Place of origin: Abagail’s Vineyard, Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA.

Vintage: 2012

ABV: `13.5%

Note: 20 months in oak. 140 cases produced.

Purchased for $90 (Red Wagon of Rochester Hills)

Appearance: Brick red

Nose: Black currant jelly, allspice, toasted oak, cherry juice, ancho chili.

Palate: Juicy. Mulberry, then wild blackberry, then a growing leathery grip.

Finish: Delicate. Juice, then tannin, then fades.

Parting words: The time has finally arrived! The 2012 project has begun! Our first entry is the Right Bank blend from friend-of-the-blog Nathaniel Rose. For the post on my visit to his winery back in 2018, click here. For a review of his one-off Find Wild Fruit Traminette, click here.

Right Bank is modeled on right bank red Bordeaux blends, which tend to have a larger proportion of Merlot compared to Left Bank blends, which have more Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix. Right Bank wines tend to have more Cabernet Franc as well. Nathaniel’s wines come from the best vineyards around the state, which includes those at Domaine Berrien, of course. Both the Right and Left Bank 2012 blends were made from grapes grown at Domaine Berrien.

At any rate, the hallmarks of typical Michigan Merlot/Cab Franc blends are all here: berries, oak, and spice. Time has done interesting things to it, though. It’s “darkened” the fruit, for one, moving from cherry and blueberry to black currant and blackberry. For another, it’s smoothed out the edges and created a wine that shifts more on the palate from one taste to another, rather than everything popping out at once. Right Bank takes my palate on a nice little journey from aroma to aroma and flavor to flavor. There’s nothing for my brain to disentangle. Everything reveals itself in time. A big reason for that seems to be that the acid has mellowed considerably, even compared to similar wines at seven years old.

What it lacks in tangy punch, it more than makes up in sophistication. 2012 Right Bank may not be as hard to find as one might assume, if one lives close to a Red Wagon store. Last time I went to both of them, there were 2012 Right and Left Bank blends on the shelf.

The purpose of the 2012 Project is to taste through these wines and see how they age, so price is less of a factor in my review. Nevertheless, this is a very good wine that I don’t regret paying $90 for. It’s not a weeknight pizza wine, but I didn’t buy it to be that. I think the key with many of these wines is to buy them when they’re young and less expensive, then let them hibernate for several years in a well-regulated cellar.

At any rate, Nathaniel Rose’s 2012 Right Bank is recommended.