Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: 73% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc

Place of origin: Leorie Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $46 (Holiday Market)

Note: for more information on this wine and vineyard, read this post on Black Star Farms’ Blog.

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Cedar, black currant jam, clove, smoke.

Palate: Juicy but structured. Full bodied. Black currant, cherry juice, blueberry pie.

Finish: A little chewy, with some acid.

Parting words: Leorie Vineyard is in an old gravel pit on Old Mission Peninsula that has become one of Black Star Farms’ finest vineyards, especially for reds. It consistently produces ripe (a challenge for Merlot in Northern Michigan), disease-free Merlot that finds its home under this label year after year.

I’m afraid my notes don’t really do this wine justice. It’s fruity for sure but nicely balanced with spice and tannins producing an elegant but not austere red worthy of the Right Bank of the Gironde. It cellars well too, obviously. I’m looking forward to cracking my other bottle of Leorie in 2022 or sometime after that. $46 is expensive by Michigan standards, but that’s a good price for a quality Merlot blend from one of Michigan’s finest vineyards made by one of Michigan’s finest wineries. 2012 Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc is recommended.

Wiser’s 23 year old Cask Strength Blend

Maker: Wiser’s/Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Pernod-Ricard)

Distillery: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Style: Canadian blend

Age: 23 y/o

ABV: 64.3%

Michigan state minimum: $90

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Christmas spices, caramel, leather.

Palate: Very full bodied. Sweet custard and caramel, then burn. More spice comes out with water. Chinese five spice, brown sugar.

Finish: Horehound cough drops, eucalyptus.

Parting words: This is a brand new offering from Wiser’s in the US. I’m very glad this and the 35 year old Wiser’s are now available in Michigan, since the Canadian border is more or less closed to booze shoppers like myself.

I’m even gladder that these offerings are at a high ABV. It makes the premium price more palatable, and helps overcome the dull palate and finish that plagues many Canadian Whiskeys, at least the ones that make it to the states.

Bourbon may be overblown and Scotch prices tariffed out of control, but we are living in the golden age of Wiser’s. I can’t think of very many better ways to ring in a new year than with an elegant, perfectly balanced, and relatively affordable aged Canadian whisky like this. Wiser’s 23 is highly recommended.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc, 2019

Maker: Verterra, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Blanc (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA (100%), Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry sparkling wine.

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

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

Appearance: Light gold with moderate, steady bubbles.

Nose: Ripe mango, pear, custard, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Moderately effervescent with medium body. Off dry with lots of tropical fruit and just enough acid.

Finish: Semi-dry and fruity.

Parting words: The last time I spoke to Verterra Winery owner Paul Hamelin he was extremely excited about making his first sparkling wines. That was several years ago, and now the winery has a full line of blended sparkling wines, all of which are delicious. As far as I know, this wine is the only varietally bottled sparkling Pinot Blanc being produced in Michigan, although it is used frequently in blends.

I really enjoyed this wine, but unfortunately it is currently out of stock at Michigan by the Bottle’s Royal Oak tasting room. MBTBTR owner Cortney told me that they may get some more in soon, so watch for it! In the meantime, go buy some other Pinot Blanc, Verterra, sparkling wine or something else at your local MBTBTR! They are open for wine purchases on NYE & NYD, fyi.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2019 is recommended.

Rare Breed

Maker: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA

Style: Standard recipe straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 116.8 (58.4% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $45

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Leather, black pepper, grape soda.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet, then hot chile, caramel, grape jelly. Similar with water, but more corn syrup than caramel.

Finish: Hot with leather, chipotle powder. Sweeter with water.

Parting words: Oddly enough, it seems like I have never reviewed Rare Breed for this blog! I’m as shocked as you are.

For many years, Rare Breed was one of my favorite barrel proof bourbons. Then the quality at Wild Turkey began to slip and I nearly stopped buying Wild Turkey products altogether. Thankfully, the distillery has rebounded (getting a bigger, more productive distillery helped) and I’ve starting buying Wild Turkey again.

I’m glad I did, too. While this Rare Breed is not as good as the bottles from the mid and late 1990s, it’s well-balanced and powerful with the classic Wild Turkey profile. Prices on NAS barrel proof selections are absurdly high these days, often outweighing any value to be gained from buying less water, with spirit acquired from who knows where. With Rare Breed, you can rest assured that you’re not buying crap and you’re getting more than just a less watered down version of the flagship product.

Rare Breed is a classic bourbon that has returned to form. It is recommended.

Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, Serious Brandy selection, cask #2

Maker: Sarl Domaine Pasquet, Bellevigne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Distiller: Undisclosed small distiller in Petite Champagne.

Region: Petite Champagne, Cognac, Charente, France.

Grape: Ugni Blanc (100%)

Vintage: 1962

Age: 58 y/o (100% in oak)

Note: No chill filtering or additives.

Purchased for $244/700 ml (200€) via Cognatheque.

Appearance: Bright oxblood.

Nose: Dried figs, dates, old oak, lavender, chamomile.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry, but with a little fruit. Dried cherry, oak, walnut.

Finish: Big. Anise candy, horehound, oak.

Parting words: I think is bottle is both the most expensive and oldest (longest time in oak) spirit I’ve ever purchased. I’ve tasted bourbons distilled in the 1960s and earlier (I even tried one from the 1860s once), and 30+ y/o Scotch, but never a brandy this old. Truth be told, I’m not generally not a fan of ultra-aged spirits. I find most of them unbalanced and overpriced. Why should I pay three or four figures for a whiskey that is so woody, only a beaver would enjoy it.

Despite all that, I was very excited when the administrator of a Facebook group I’m a member of, Serious Brandy, decided to do a group buy of two casks of Cognac from the cellars of Jean-Luc Pasquet. Domaine Pasquet is currently owned by Jean-Luc’s son Jean and his wife Amy, who is a frequent poster in the group. Serious Brandy’s founder, Steve (aka retired whiskey blogger Sku) is someone whose palate and knowledge of brandy I trust, and in the grand scheme of things $244 is not a huge sum for a 58 year old spirit. Single Malt Scotch in that age range sells for 5 figures or more. Be that as it may, I only bought one bottle from the second cask selected due to budgetary constraints (i.e. my wife’s strong desire to pay off all our student loans at the end of this year).

So when I opened it for the first time, I was a little disappointed. It was very intense, and the experience of drinking it was like having old fashioned licorice shoved up every orifice. I was a little sad after that so I let it sit in my cabinet for a couple weeks. Then I tried it again, and it was better. Then a tried it again after another week or two and it was even better. Now, a few months after I opened it, it’s become very good.

The finish is still intense, but the nose and palate are much more balanced. It’s still clearly an old spirit, but it’s now more spry than senile. After a few months of enjoying it I’m putting it back into my cellar and I will put it back into rotation after I finish the next French brandy I have waiting in the wings, as it were.

Anyway, big thanks to Steve and the Pasquets for giving me the opportunity to own such a rare and interesting Cognac! Jean-Luc Pasquet Cognac, Lot 62, First Serious Brandy selection, cask #2 is recommended.

Yellowstone Select: Holiday Market single barrel selection

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA (Luxco)

Distiller(s): Undisclosed

Style: Standard recipe, single barrel bourbon.

Selected: June 14, 2019

Barrel 7166842

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted peanuts, Caribbean chilies, sawdust.

Palate: Full bodied. Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, burn.

Finish: Peanut brittle, alcohol.

Parting words: Yellowstone is an old brand with an interesting history. If you’re interested in that history, I would recommend entering Yellowstone Bourbon into a search engine it or buying a bourbon book that talks about it.

What matters for our purposes is that the Yellowstone brand is now owned by Luxco and made by their microdistillery, Limestone Branch. Limestone Branch was founded and is still run by Stephen Beam, a man with equally long and interesting roots in the distilling families of Kentucky.

Although the plan (I think) is for Yellowstone to eventually be made entirely at Limestone Branch and recreate the taste of old Yellowstone bourbon, it is currently selected from sourced Kentucky bourbon. And it’s selected well.

Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is much richer that most four year old bourbons. It is pretty peanutty, but I like peanuts so that’s a good thing to me. It coats the tongue and makes a bold sipper, and also serves as a good mixer for classic cocktails.

I really like this bourbon and I’m very excited for its future. Holiday Market’s Yellowstone Select is recommended.

Beacon 17 Riesling

Maker: Charlevoix Moon, Chalevoix, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Charlevoix Moon estate, Tip of the Mitt AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: (Semi-) Dry Riesling.

Vintage: 2017

Purchased for $24 at the Boyne City Farmer’s Market

ABV: Forgot to write it down.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Pear, old golden apple.

Palate: Golden apple, green apple, Meyer lemon.

Finish: Chewy and acidic.

Parting words: When the Tip of the Mitt AVA in Northern Michigan was announced, I was very skeptical as to whether most of the winemakers there would be interested in making serious wine or just emptying tourists’ wallets. As I familiarize myself more and more with the region and its winemakers, I realize more and more how unfounded my skepticism was. Barring some sudden climate catastrophe, Tip of the Mitt will never be able to produce the same sorts of wines as Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau or Old Mission, but that’s ok. They can produce their own sorts of wines, though. Almost all of them are/will be cold-hardy hybrids, and not European vinifera varieties.

Note that I said “almost all of them” in that last sentence. The “almost” is where this wine comes in. There are a scant few acres of Riesling in Tip of the Mitt, some of which belongs to Tom Jaenicke, owner and Man in the Moon of Charlevoix Moon Winery. The rest of the Riesling in Tip of the Mitt is owned by an unnamed vineyard owner who sells it to another winery that blends it away, for reasons that baffle Tom (and me).

This is a tart, chewy, very food friendly Riesling, reminiscent of Oregon or Alsace, but with a big acidic kick those don’t always have. Tom’s wines take a little bit of work to get a hold of currently, with farmer’s market season over and a pandemic raging, but they can be ordered from the Charlevoix Moon Website or over the phone (the number is on the website). Tom’s hybrid wines are also very good, but a Tip of the Mitt Riesling is a very rare bird, so be sure you include some with your order. You won’t regret it!

$24 is a very fair price for such a rare and delicious wine. Beacon 17 is recommeded!

Earnest Dry Cider

Maker: Tandem Ciders, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Apples: Brown Snout, Dabinette, Crimson Crisp, Russet Beauty, Kilcherman Select Penny Blend, Crimson Gold, Swayzee Russet, Harrison, Riene de Pomme, Fameuset, Fameuse, Honey Crisp (according to website).

Place of origin: Leelanau, Old Mission Peninsulas, Michigan, USA.

Style: Dry blend.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $13 (Westborn Market)

Appearance: Dark gold and lightly effervescent.

Nose: Intense. Cut apple wood, sourdough, apple juice.

Palate: Dry and tannic, but juicy. Bitter apple core, freshly pressed apple.

Finish: Dry and clean, with a little astringency.

Parting words: My laptop passed away right before Thanksgiving, so I haven’t been able to post for a few weeks. I appreciate your patience, dear readers!

Anyway, Tandem is one of Michigan’s best cider producers and this is one of their best ciders. It has everything a dry craft cider should have: Fruit, tannin, and yeasty funk. Of those, Tannin is in the lead. It’s never chewy, though, but crisp and a bit woody, although it didn’t spend in time in a barrel as far as I know. It doesn’t clash with food, but it’s better as a sipper than a table cider.

$13 is a good price for a quality dry cider like this. Earnest is recommended.

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.