West Coast vs North Coast: A Pinot Noir Head to Head blind tasting

Four wines: A, B, C & D. Four tasters: Josh, Liz, Amy & Pete. Notes are a combination of mine and those of the other tasters.

Makers: Revealed at the end.

Grape: Pinot Noir

Places of origin (in no particular order): Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon, Russian River Valley AVA, California.

Vintage: 2016

ABV

A: 14.5%, B: 11.6%, C: 13.1%, D:  14.3%

Price

A: $23, B: $18, C: $15, D: $14

Appearance

A: Dark ruby.

B: Light. Translucent.

C: Medium dark red.

D: Darkest. Brick red.

Nose

A: Cherry jam, plum, cedar.

B: Wild blackberry, hint of brett (fades quickly), wet earth, black pepper, cedar.

C: Mild compared to the others. Crushed strawberry, a little oak.

D: Crushed mulberry, oak, coffee, pepper.

Palate

A: Cherry juice, black pepper, smoke, almost no acid.

B: Light mouthfeel. Broken grape stem, tangy. Raspberry, toasted oak.

C: Light bodied. Strawberry, red currant, lightly acidic.

D: Black current jam, blackberry, lemon, earth.

Finish

A: A little oak, black cherry.

B: Chewy. One taster noted an unpleasant aftertaste.

C: Toasted French oak, a little fruit.

D: Light. Fruity  with a little oak and leather.

20190322_172719.jpgTHE REVEAL

A: De Loach PN, Russian River Valley AVA, Sonoma County, California.

B: Domaine Berrien PN, Martha’s & Katherine’s Vineyards, DB estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan.

C: Chateau Chantal PN, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan.

D: Kirkland Signature PN, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon.

Parting words: I got idea for this head to head after I noticed that I had purchased a lot of 2016 Pinot Noir in the past couple months. I thought comparing an LMS Pinot to an OMP Pinot and comparing both of them to ones from Oregon and Sonoma might be a fun and educational excercise. They had to be around the same price, too, to keep us from tasting the price differences rather than the terroir and technique of the wine makers.

I know this is a Michigan wine blog, but I will say that my personal favorite was the Kirkland. It was the most balanced and was a delight to drink from beginning to end. My least was the De Loach. It tasted overripe and was nothing but sweet fruit. Of the two Michigan wines, the Chateau Chantal Pinot was the most balanced and drinkable, but it was very mild compared to the others. I’ve complained about this before. Domaine Berrien was good, but tasted a little green and unrefined compared to the others. I know from experience, though, the Wally’s wines can take a while to blossom, even in a warm vintage like 2016. Another year or two in the bottle is recommended for DB PN.

The other tasters varied in their choices, but the differences were all a matter of taste not of disagreement of quality or flaws. One taster liked the fruity sweetness of De Loach, but disliked Domaine Barrien strongly. Another found Chateau Chantal delightful, but Kirkland overbearing.

These are all good value wines. Kirkland and Chateau Chantal are recommended. Domaine Berrien is recommended with further cellaring and De Loach is mildly recommended.

 

 

Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling, 2016

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190320_195250.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Hawkeye, Kroupa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Sweet Late Harvest

Vintage: 2016

Notes: 22.3 degrees brix at harvest, 71 grams/liter residual sugar

ABV: 8.5%

Appearance: Pale gold with a few tiny bubbles.

Nose: Ripe peach, honey, lemon curd.

Palate: Full-bodied, sweet and tart. Ripe peach again, Orange Julius, gravel dust.

Finish: Sweet and citrusy.

Parting words: Peninsula Cellars is very good because they get their grapes from very good vineyards, Hawkeye and the family vineyard Kroupa in this case. This Late Harvest Riesling is sweet but not cloying. It has a nice balance of citrus, stone fruit and tropical flavors that can stand alongside most Mosel kabinett or spätlese Rieslings at twice the price. I have four bottles of this wine in my cellar currently and I’m looking forward to trying this wine again at 5, 10, 15 and maybe even 20 y/o if I live that long! Like almost everything Peninsula Cellars does, the 2016 Late Harvest Riesling is highly recommended.

 

Kirkland Irish Whiskey

Distiller: Not disclosed (likely Irish Distillers, Dublin, Ireland [Pernod-Ricard])20190313_214454.jpg

Style: Triple distilled Irish blend

Age: 4 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $40/1750 ml (comes out to about $17 for 750 ml)

Appearance: Dark straw.

Nose: Cream soda, dried flowers.

Palate: Mild, but pleasant. Lemon meringue pie, alcohol.

Finish: Vanilla, malt, toffee.

Mixed: I tried Kirkland Irish Whiskey with ginger ale, in a Blackthorn and a Paddy cocktail. I didn’t care much for the Blackthorn, but the other two were very good.

Parting words: Kirkland Irish Whiskey only comes around my local Costco in the month of March, but I wish it was available year round. It’s simple and relatively young, but still elegant. It tastes a little like Jameson, but the floral aromas are balanced with a sweet creaminess that is lacking in the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey. Not much else to say, but I’m enjoying Kirkland a lot more than the last Irish whiskey I bought, which was twice the age, incidentally. Kirkland Irish Whiskey is highly recommended.

 

Head to head: Cognac Park XO vs XO Cigar Blend

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190314_220844.jpg

XO= XO

XO Cigar Blend= XOC

Place of origin

XO: Cognac, France

XOC: Champagne, Cognac, France (“Fine Champagne”)

Age Category: XO (at least 6 y/o, for now)

ABV: 40%

Price (Binny’s)

XO: $90

OXC: $120

Appearance

XO: Burnt orange.

XOC: Lighter, medium copper.

Nose

XO: Dried fig, old oak, black currant jelly.

XOC: Toasted oak, Meyer lemon peel, leather.

Palate

XO: Grape, oak, anise, caramel.

XOC: Vanilla custard, pink peppercorns, salted caramel.

Finish

XO: Big old oak, cruished grapes.

XOC: Lemonheads, light oak, marmalade.

Parting words: This is part two of my three part series on Park Cognacs. Tonight we’re comparing two OX Cognacs, one that’s a standard XO blend and another Fine Champagne blend that was made with cigars in mind.

I don’t enjoy cigars. They smell like burning ass to me. Yes even the good ones. I tried to taste with the smell of fine cigars in mind but it didn’t really help. Compared to the regular XO, the cigar blend tastes thin and overly citric. The XO is pleasantly rich and more rounded. The Cigar Blend is $30 more too. The XO is recommended but the Cigar Blend is not.

 

Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine

Maker: Michigan Awesome, Holland, Michigan, USA20190306_200601.jpg

Winemaker: Fenn Valley, Fennville, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: True Blue Farms, Grand Junction, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-sweet blueberry wine

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $11 (winery)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Crushed blueberries, cedar.

Palate: Semi-sweet and tart. Blueberry jam with lemon juice.

Finish: Blueberry pie, wood.

Parting words: Michigan Awesome is a brand of wine, food, apparel, jewelery and just about everything else based in Holland Michigan. It’s all based around Michigan-ness with lots of stuff with the outline of the shape of Michigan on it.

All the Michigan Awesome wines, including their red blend, white blend, cherry wine, and blueberry wine are made by Fenn Valley in Fennville. They’re good winemakers, so I thought Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine might actually be decent. It is. It’s complex for a blueberry wine, meaning it doesn’t just taste like blueberry juice. It has some nice acid and woodsy notes that make it more enjoyable than most blueberry wines. I’d like it better if it was under $10 but $11 isn’t too bad. Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine is recommended.

Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey

Maker: Tommyrotter Distillery, Buffalo, New York, USA20190222_200053.jpg

Distilleries: Undisclosed distilleries in Indiana and Tennessee (hmm, which ones could they be?)

Style: Wine-barrel finished American whiskey. A mix of two Indiana bourbons and one Tennessee whiskey aged in new and used oak barrels and then the wine barrel, hence Triple Barrel.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Notes: No coloring or chill filtration added. Sample provided by Tommyrotter Distillery.

Price: $35 (Premier Group).

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Complex. Young toasted oak, tarragon, bubblegum.

Palate: Medium and fruity. Mixed berry jam, French oak, burn.

Finish: Sweet. Corn syrup, raspberry, cocoa powder.

Parting words: Tommyrotter was founded in 2015 by Bobby Finan and Sean Insalaco in Buffalo New York. They currently produce three regular products, vodka, gin, and this Triple Barrel Whiskey plus a line of limited releases (including a bourbon barrel gin to be reviewed in the near future).

Triple Barrel Whiskey is composed of three whiskeys. Two Indiana bourbons (one high-corn, one high-wheat) and one Tennessee whiskey. The high-corn is around 18 months old, the wheater is about 5 years old and the Tennessee 7 y/o. The bourbons are aged in new charred white oak, and the Tennessee Whiskey is aged in used charred oak barrels. They are mixed together and then finished in French red wine barrels. As Bobby Finan told me, Triple Barrel doesn’t count as a blend of straight whiskeys because of the youth of the high-corn bourbon. That could change in the future though.

The result is a delicious, easy-drinking whiskey. It’s young, but the rough edges are smoothed out by judicious use of cooperage. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough in the sample to do any mixing, but I suspect Triple Barrel would do very well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. I’m very glad Bobby reached out to me. Triple Barrel is recommended.

 

 

 

Head to head: Cognac Park VS vs VSOP

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190228_221515.jpg

Age Categories: VS (at least 2 y/o), VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price

VS: $35 (Binny’s)

VSOP: $45 (Binny’s)

Appearance

VS: Pale gold

VSOP: Bright amber.

Nose

VS: Raisin, resin, alcohol.

VSOP: Dr. Pepper, leather, alcohol.

Palate

VS: Mild. Alcohol bite, watered down apple juice.

VSOP: Sweater, more rounded. Brown sugar, oak, plum.

Finish

VS: Light and sweet. Honey, then burn.

VSOP: Dry. New oak, alcohol.

20190228_221538.jpgParting words: This is part one of a three part series of reviews of the six Cognac Park expressions that came in this nifty little six pack I bought a while back. I decided to start with these two since they’re standard expressions.

When I review VS brandies, I like to make a few mixed drinks, since that’s what young brandy is mostly used for. It’s hard to do that with only 5 cl to work with. The VS seems like it would get lost in cocktails with a lot of strong elements, but might do well in ones without. Neat it’s pleasant but not memorable. $35 isn’t terrible but there are better values that are easier to find. Park VS is not recommended.

The VSOP is much more enjoyable neat. It’s heavy on the brown/sugar caramel notes and I wish it was a little more complex but it’s a balanced, enjoyable after-dinner Cognac. Park VSOP is recommended.

Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA20190220_211053.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Sweet/semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold

Nose: Canned pear, gravel.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet but not cloying. Pineapple-mango-orange juice, mineral water.

Finish: Drying, peach.

Parting words: Bel Lago needs no introduction for long time readers of this blog. It’s one of my favorite Michigan wineries.

Like most of Michigan’s best, Bel Lago has a fine line of Riesling wines at varying levels of sweetness. Select Harvest is a style of late harvest wine roughly equivalent to German Auslese in terms of ripeness. As such, they are more age-worthy than dry Rieslings, which is why I waited so long to open this bottle. This wine is not especially complex (perhaps due to the brutal 2014 vintage) but it hits all the right notes for ripe Riesling: sweetness, citrus, and minerals. I have a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar and I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next 3 or 4 years. 2014 Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling is recommended.

 

Dupont Reserve

Maker: Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France20190218_100331.jpg

Style: Calvados-barrel-aged cider.

Apples: 67% bittersweet, 33% acidic

Place of origin: (Pays d’Auge) Normandy, France.

Vintage: 2016 (bottled 2017)

Notes: Unpasteurized, wild yeast fermented. Aged in Calvados barrels for six months.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $25/750 ml (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Parting words: Domaine Dupont is one of the big cheeses of Calvados and like many other Calvados houses, they make cider and pommeau as well. The domaine has been owned by the Dupont family since 1917. Current patriarch Éitienne Dupont modernized the estate when he took over from his father Jules in the 1980s. He handed the business over to his son Jérôme and daughter Ann-Pamy in 2002. Sadly, Jérôme was killed in an accident in August of 2018. Éitienne has come out of retirement to help Ann-Pamy and the management team to lead the company.

Dupont’s line of ciders consists of the entry-level Cidre Bouche (reviewed in 2014), an organic cider, Triple (triple fermented from 100% bittersweets), Cuvée Colette (champagne method), and this one, the Calvados-barrel aged Reserve. I didn’t care for the Cidre Bouche when I tried it (too dry and funky) but I really enjoy this cider. The barrel aging adds a wonderful creamy sweetness that balances out the chalky funk. The result is a well-rounded, complex but easy-drinking cider that anyone can enjoy.

That doesn’t come cheap, but Dupont Reserve is easily worth the price. Dupont Reserve is highly recommended.

 

Head to Head: Charbay No. 89 vs No. 83

Distiller: Charbay, Ukiah, Mendocino Co, California, USA (Karakasevic family)20190207_205341.jpg

Note: Samples provided by Charbay Distillery.

Grapes

83: Folle Branche (100%)

89: Pinot Noir (74%), Sauvignon Blanc (26%)

Place of origin

83: Mendocino Co, California, USA

89: California, USA

Age

83: 27 y/o (distilled 1983, released 2010)

89: 24 y/o (distilled 1989, released 2013)

ABV

83: 40%

89: 46%

MSRP

83: $475

89: $240

Appearance

83: Medium copper.

89: Light copper

Nose

83: Leather, Parmesan cheese, cola, lavender, ghost pepper.

89: Leather, woodruff, dried flowers, vanilla custard.

Palate

83: Dry and light bodied. Butterscotch, tarragon, oregano, old oak.

89: Mild. Dried flowers, lemon meringue, oak, crushed coriander seed.

Finish

83: Cola, burn, raisins.

89: Leather, Meyer lemon, burn.

Parting words: The Charbay Distillery is one of the oldest micro-distilleries in the US. It’s best known product is its distinctive line of whiskeys distilled from drinkable ( as opposed to distiller’s) beer sourced from local brewers with hops also usually added after distillation. As one might expect, they’re pretty weird. They are also very expensive, even by micro-distiller standards. The flagship expressions are the 6 y/o Charbay Releases I-V (brewed from a pilsner with hops also added after distillation). Release III sells for $375 per 750 ml bottle at K&L Wine Merchants in Southern California, with IV listed at $500 and V for $650 (the latter two are listed as out of stock). There is also the R5 made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA (1 y/o, $75) and Whiskey S made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Stout (2 y/o, $90). They also produce a line of infused vodkas.

I’ve had a couple of the Releases and I didn’t care for them. Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of funky hops or young, expensive whiskey, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On November 9, 2018 I saw some folks on Twitter talking about Charbay whiskey and I rattled off a snarky tweet in response: “Charbay is gross, there I said it.” It got a little interaction but I didn’t really think about it much afterwards.

Then on January 13, 2019 I got a response from the distillery asking if I was interested in trying any of their other products since I obviously didn’t like the whiskey. After some back and forth on the tl and in the dms, Jenni of Charbay kindly sent me samples of their two brandies, the Nos. 83 and 89.

No. 83, coincidentally distilled in 1983, was the first thing to ever come out of Charbay’s still. It was distilled twice and aged in Limousin oak for 27 years. It seems to fall into the quirky house style, but I’ll admit that I haven’t had enough 27 y/o brandies to truly make a fair comparison. It’s the most Cognac-like of the two, which should come as no surprise since it’s made from Folle Blanche grapes, one of the historic grape varieties of Cognac. Wood is prominent, but there’s enough herbs and spices to keep No. 83 from being one-dimensional.

No. 89 is a different animal altogether. It was distilled in 1989 from two popular wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir brandies are rare but not completely unknown, with fellow Ukiah distiller Germain-Robin producing a celebrated one. Sauvignon Blanc is more rare, but is still not completely unheard of as a source material for brandy. There’s slightly more fruit in 83 than in 89, but there’s still not a lot. What is there is a citric acidity that cuts through the oak to make for an enjoyable special occasion sipper.

I’m not going to do the thing I typically do in the final paragraph of a review and evaluate these on price. These are both special, one of a kind brandies and their prices reflect that. Both are outside of my price-range for any spirits, although I could see myself paying $240 for something exceptional if my wife got a big bonus or promotion or when we become empty-nesters. Nos. 83 and 89 are important pieces of micro-distilling history. If you get a chance to taste them, jump on it! You’ll never taste anything like them again.

One pairing suggestion: If you do pay full price for these bottles or over $50 for a pour in a bar, maybe make a matching donation to your favorite charity or local DSA chapter.