New Riff Single Barrel, Red Wagon selection

Maker: New Riff, Newport, Kentucky, USA

Style: High rye bourbon.

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 102.2 (51.1% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Smoke, cut lumber, basil, bay leaf.

Palate: Full-bodied. Caramel, leather, jalapeno.

Finish: Expensive cigarettes, tarragon.

Parting words: New Riff is the newish micro-distillery associated with The Party Source liquor store in Newport/Bellevue, Kentucky. It was founded in 2014, and I had tasted a few samples here and there over the years, but none of them impressed me, and I even actively disliked one of them (the gin).

By the time retailer selections started showing up on Michigan shelves, word on the street was that the new stuff was very good and I should give it a chance. So I did. My first impression was that it was weird. My third and fourth impression was it was still kinda weird, but I liked it.

We are now in the put up or shut up phase of the micro- (“craft”) distilling phenomenon. New Riff is putting up and you love to see it. I’m excited to explore the rest of their line now and post reviews for you, my beloved readers. Regarding the price, yes, it’s only 4 y/o but it’s barrel proof and tasty. Hopefully it will go up in age or go down in price (ha!) at some future point and become a better value, but as it is $55 is a fair price for a truly micro-distilled bourbon like this. New Riff Single Barrel, Red Wagon selection 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.

45 North Pinot Noir Rosé

Maker: 45 North, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry Rosé

Vintage: 2018

ABV: 11.5%

Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Pale, orangey pink.

Nose: Strawberry, overdone mixed berry pie, cedar.

Palate: Full-bodied, pink raspberry, watermelon.

Finish: Semi-sweet with fruit and a little acid and oak.

Parting words: 45 North is located on Leelanau Peninsula about 2/3 of a way up the middle of the peninsula. It has a very nice tasting room with ample indoor and outdoor seating, fit for a senator.

At any rate, I really enjoyed this wine. Purely by accident, last weekend I was able to compare 45 North’s red Pinot Noir (2016) with this pink version. The red was good, but I think I like the pink even more. Northern Michigan is started to get very good at pink wine. $22 is an ok price, but remember, this isn’t pink supermarket plonk. 45 North Pinot Noir Rosé is recommended.

St. Julian Dry Sparkling Rosé

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin

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

Vintage: NV

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $8 (? Winery tasting room, Troy, Michigan)

Appearance: Orangy pink, effervescent.

Nose: Strawberry, mulberry.

Palate: Fizzy, medium-bodied and mild. White raspberry, mineral water.

Finish: Acid, a little tannin.

Parting words: I recall tasting this wine at the tasting room and I must have liked it a lot since I ended up buying three bottles of it! Oddly, two of those bottles are listed at $8 and one is listed at $14 in my Cellar Tracker account, so I’m not really sure how much I paid.

This is a decent, quaffable sparkling rosé that tastes best when chilled. There’s not much in the way of balance or integration, though, and the palate is a little flat. For $8 (if that’s what I paid for it), it’s fine. At $14, not so much. I’ll err on the side of generosity, though and give St. Julian Dry Sparkline Rosé a mild recommendation.

Note: This wine is no longer on the St. Julian website, but seems to have been replaced by something called Dry Bubbly Rosé. Hopefully the name change means that the wine has been revamped.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey

Maker: Woodford Reserve/Brown Forman, Versailles/Louisville, Kentucky, USA (Brown-Forman).

Style: “Barely legal” (~51% malt) American malt whiskey.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, sweet malt, caramel, leather.

Palate: Rounded and full bodied. Vanilla, orange sherbet, but without the sweetness and oak.

Finish: Semi-sweet, creamy.

Parting words: For years, Woodford Reserve has produced its Master’s Collection, an annual release of an off-beat experiemental whiskey. It was a popular bunching bag in the old days for its failed experiments (eg Sonoma Cutrer finish) and high price ($90 was laughable at the time).

Some of those experiments ended up eventually turning into regular offerings, though, and this malt whiskey is one of them. The WRMC ryes (which also gave birth to a regular expression), were packaged as a two pack of 375 ml bottles, one aged in new cooperage and one aged in used. The malts were annoyingly released as two seperate 750 ml bottles, which is why I never bought them or tried them and they kinda made me mad.

Despite all that baggage, I’m glad this experiment made it to prime time. This is a straight malt whiskey. That is, it is to malt what rye whiskey is to rye or bourbon is to corn. The recipe contains at least 51% malt and was aged in new charred oak for at least four years.

I give a lot of credit to Brown-Forman for releasing an American style malt instead of trying to ape Single Malt Scotch. I don’t see the point in US producers of any size trying to out-Scotch Scotch while the American straight malt whiskey category exists and has been moribund for so long. If this whiskey is any indication, there’s lots of potentional in the category.

$38 is a long way from $90 and a very fair price for this kind of quality. I like this whiskey a lot. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt is recommended.

Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky

Maker: Hood River Distillers, Pendleton, Oregon, USA

Distiller: Undisclosed Canadian distillery.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23

Appearance: light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, hot nagahyde, artificial lemon extract.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, plum, burn.

Finish: Very sweet. Purple stuff.

Parting words: Growing up in Central Indiana, Pendleton meant the massive state prision in Pendleton, Indiana. In Oregon, Pendleton apparently means a massive rodeo. So how better to honor one of America’s largest sporting events than with…[checks notes]…a sourced Canadian blend?

Anyway, Hood River Distillers are best known for owning Clear Creek and McCarthy’s single malt, which I dumped out in a previous review. Bafflingly, Pendleton has a couple of line extensions as well, 1910 and Midnight, if you’re interested.

I’ve had worse Canadian whiskies, but they were all under $10 a bottle. Nothing irks this reviewer more than overpriced booze. I’d rather drink a gallon of awful but cheap whisky than one shot of overpriced whisky. To me, it’s the unforgivable sin.

Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky is not recommended.

Mari Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, 2016

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

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

Grape: Riesling (100%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 10.5%

Notes: 22.5° brix at harvest, 4.2° residual sugar

Purchased for $28 (Winery)

Appearance: Very pale gold. Tiny bubbles visable after pouring.

Nose: Cut Granny Smith apple, pineapple, lemon thyme.

Palate: Full bodied, but not syrupy. Medium sweet. More tart apple, ripe peach, mango, limestone.

Finish: Sweet with a big hit of acid in the cheeks.

Parting words: Like the Mari Vineyards “Monastery”, everything that appears on Mari wine labels has some sort of symbolic meaning. The bird escaping the guilded cage on the Late Harvest Riesling label is meant to represent winemaker Sean O’Keefe’s professional journey. He left his family’s winery, Chateau Grand Traverse, in order to spread his wings and make his own wines at Mari. CGT more or less set the standard for Michigan Riesling and the O’Keefe’s are one of the first families of Michigan wine, hence the cage’s guilding.

Sean’s late harvest Reisling (English for Spätlese) is different stylistically from those produced by his family’s winery. He strives first and foremost for balance, something this style is not always known for. The wine is undeniably sweet, but that sweetness is balanced with acid, fruit and a pinch of minerality. In fact, Sean has been making his late harvest Rieslings drier with every vintage, and just today he promised that the 2019 will be the driest one he’s ever made, firmly in semi-dry territory. I can’t wait to taste it.

Mari’s wines are near the top end price-wise for Michigan but I’ve never been disappointed. I’d easily pay $28 for a high-quality Spätlese, so I have no qualms paying that much for a wine this good. It’s maybe the best LHR being made in Michigan. As a result 2016 Mari Vineyards Late Harvest Reisling is highly recommended.

Bel Lago Pinot Noir, 2016

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USAwp-1577138116082.jpg

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

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13.3%

Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Dark Burgundy.

Nose: Cedar, sauteed mushrooms, blueberries.

Palate: Cherry juice, pomegranate seeds, pinch of nutmeg

Finish: Sweet, then tart, then tannic.

Parting words: Nobody in Northern Michigan (maybe -Northern) does Pinot Noir as well as Bel Lago. This is a perfect cool climate Pinot with an elegant balance of wood, fruit, earth, and tannin wrapped together in a coat of acid. I’ve reviewed past vintages (2012 single vineyard and non-vintage, released in 2016). This isn’t in the same class as the Moreno single vineyard, but at less than half the price, I don’t think this wine is intended to be.

Still, it’s very good and well worth purchasing. 2016 Bel Lago Pinot Noir is recommended.

Domaine du Verger Brut

Maker: Val de Race Cooperative, Pleudihen sur Rance, Brittany, France20191122_102518.jpg

Place of origin: 90% Brittany, 10% Normandy

Apples: 90% bittersweet, 10% bitter

Style: Semi-dry apple cider

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $9/750 ml (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Appearance: Light amber

Nose: Apple juice, leather, cut tart apple.

Palate: Effervescent and lightly sweet. Medium tannins, very little acid, no funk.

Finish: More tannin and a little sweetness.

Parting words: I picked this French cider up on one of my trips to Indianapolis. It’s solid, easy drinking and accessible. It has more depth than cheaper French ciders but isn’t going to knock you over with funk and tannin either. It works best as a table cider or an afternoon sipper. The price is pretty good for what it is, but I’d like it even better for a dollar or two less. Domaine du Verger Brut is recommended.



Camus VSOP Elegance

Maker: Camus, Cognac, Charente, France.20191107_175812.jpg

Region: Various

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $48

Appearance: Cherry wood.

Nose: Grape soda, oak, alcohol, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Golden raisins, cola, vanilla.

Finish: Heat, cherry, French oak, brown sugar.

Parting words: Camus the Cognac has been produced by Camus the family since 1863. It’s a mid-sized house located in The Borderies with its own vineyards, although it does also source from other estates as well. Camus’ Elegence range consists of inexpensive (at least compared to the rest of the line) Cognac blends.

Camus VSOP Elegance is a pleasant step up from the VS which I reviewed here. I had fairly high expectations for the VSOP based on how good the VS was. Those expectations were met. It’s elegent and easy drinking, but relatively complex with lots of fruit and cola. The price of Camus VSOP Elegance is higher than most of the VSOP offerings from the big houses, but it’s also more interesting than most of those. That’s why Camus VSOP Elegence is recommended.