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.

 

Old Westminster Somm Cuvée, 2013

Maker: Old Westminster, New Windsor, Carroll Co, Maryland, USA20190130_190651.jpg

Grapes: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot.

Place of origin: Maryland, USA (Northern Maryland according to back label)

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $32 (Glen’s Market, Washington, DC)

Note: 50 cases produced

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, cut green pepper, allspice,  a drop of vanilla.

Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. White cherry, blueberry wine, roasted red pepper, nutmeg, oak.

Finish: Chewy with a little fruit.

Parting words: New Windsor is a historic small town in Maryland, about 25 miles northwest of Owings Mills. It’s known for its hot springs and the presence of a Church of the Brethren mission center.

Andrew Stover, the sommelier behind the Somm Cuvée is based in DC currently but is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also the founder of Vino50 selections, a wine wholesaler that specializes in “regional” American wines.

I enjoyed this wine, but it was a little high in pyrazine (bell pepper aroma) for my taste when drinking solo. I don’t mind little bit of that aroma, but I expected something a little more refined in a wine this expensive and this rare. That said, it did pair very nicely with quinoa and lamb chops and homemade pork and beans. Maybe it just needed more time in the bottle. That might mean less fruit, unfortunately. So, I don’t know what exactly to tell you to do with this wine. Anyway, due to the relatively high price, I’m going to give this vintage at this time a mild recommendation.

 

No labels: The federal shutdown and selling booze.

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John J. Manfreda, TTB administrator since 2005

As I write this, the US federal government has been partially shut down for about twenty days, due to an impasse over President Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border.

One of the agencies affected by the shutdown is the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the division of the Department of the Treasury charged with regulating and taxing alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The TTB was created in 2003 when the old bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was split in two. The law enforcement functions of the agency were moved to the Department of Justice and retained the ATF name. The tax and regulation functions stayed within Treasury and were re-christened the TTB.

If you’re interested in my personal take on the politics of the shutdown check my Twitter feed and likes. You should be able to piece together my politics from those.

More interesting than my dumb opinions is how the federal shutdown, particularly the closure of the TTB, is affecting beverage producers in Michigan and elsewhere. So I reached out to some friends of the blog to ask how the shutdown has impacted their business. Here’s what they said:

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Sean O’Keefe

At this point our biggest concern (besides the unraveling of our civil society) is getting new labels approved by the feds. I’m glad that we don’t have too many new wines that we need to get to market soon.

-Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker, Mari Vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

I just found out about [the shutdown] yesterday (January 8, 2019). Government shut down, tax collecting part of the TTB not shut down so I still have to do my 5120.17 annual report. So if it does affect me, I am unaware of how.
Nathaniel Rose, owner & winemaker, Nathaniel Rose Wines, Suttons Bay, Michigan (via text).

Only real effect (so far) has been the slow-doon (sorry) of federal label approvals, which I believe is considered a non-essential governmental service. Obviously, if the shutdown continues indefinitely, you will not see the emergence of scores of new wine, beer and spirits labels. (This may in fact be the only real blessing of the shutdown.)

-Randall Grahm, president & winemaker, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Obviously not this one, but from the shutdown that happened while we were getting licensed I can say that the timeline for approval was extended 25%+ *after* things started back up. From memory it was the same for existing companies getting label approval. So even if the shutdown ends tonight I’d expect it would be the end of the month at least before everything was back to normal.

-Corey Bowers, formerly of Tualatin Valley Distillery, Hillsboro, Oregon (via Twitter).

The government shut down actually impacts us quite a bit. Unlike most other distilleries we release new products very often. Since we opened in March of 2015 we have released over 50 whiskies. Most of these required government approval on their labels before we can sell them. When the government shuts down so does review of our new labels. We actually have several labels currently out for review that we’ll need to wait for the shut down to end before we can release those products. We are also in the process of designing our second distillery expansion that will include additional barrel storage and a new still that will increase our production capacity. Depending on how long the shut down goes this could delay our plans as government approvals are required before we can start construction and order our still.

lisa wicker
Lisa Wicker ascending a staircase

-Rich Lockwood, owner, Motor City Gas Distillery, Royal Oak, Michigan

We are fortunate we had our pending approvals finished before the shut down, but I am certainly feeling it for the people in queue. The TTB always slows over the holidays, so if the shutdown ends soon, the catch up for them may be eased. But…if it continues for any length of time, there will be a mess. I know I’ve had product on allocation in the past and waiting on formula and process approvals to have to wait again on labels, a lesson in patience when things are normal so I’m guessing there are producers, let’s say politely, tearing their hair out!
-Lisa Wicker, president & head distiller, Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, New York
So, it seems that the shutdown is not yet a huge issue for winemakers and distillers without new products in the pipeline. The longer it drags on the greater the impact becomes, though, even after things start back up again. Here’s hoping they do soon.
Lisa Wicker photo used with permission.

Chateau Grand Traverse Ltd Ed Pinot Noir, 2016

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190108_200128.jpg

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%, looks and tastes like 100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Note: 5 months in oak

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $13 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby, like a good red Burgundy.

Nose: Very ripe strawberry, cherry syrup, crushed mulberry, nutmeg.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Dry but fruity. Strawberry fruit leather, black cherry, raspberry, actual leather, earth.

Finish: Fruity and leathery.

Parting words: Although I think it should be Gamay, Pinot Noir is probably Old Mission’s finest red wine grape right now. Chateau Grand Traverse produces some of the peninsula’s finest, and they should, seeing how long they’ve been at it.

This wine is like a quality vin de bourgogne, or even a village Burgundy at a similar age. There’s not much earthiness, but loads of fruit and cool-climate Pinot character. It should improve and show better integration over the next two or three years too, if stored properly. That said, it’s very tasty now and at a price where one doesn’t feel obliged to let it lounge in the cellar for a long time. I like this wine a lot. 2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Limited Edition Pinot Noir is highly recommended.

Cave Spring Gamay, 2015

Maker: Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada20190102_153901.jpg

Grape: Gamay Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Niagara Escarpment VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Price: $12.50 USD ($17 Canadian, LCBO)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Black pepper, earth, blackberry jam, peony.

Palate: Semi-dry and full-flavored. Reminiscent of Cru Chénas or Cru Juliénas. Earthy but fruity. Blackberry, mushroom.

Finish: Tart with a little spice. Fades pretty quickly.

Parting words: This is the last wine I have left from my last trip to the LCBO a few months ago. It was a part of my effort to give myself a crash course in Gamay. I expected it to be similar to the Gamay produced by Chateau Grand Traverse or Hawthorne on Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan, but it was not like those at all. Cave Spring’s was fruity but “darker” and spicier than I expected. I found that quality off-putting at first, but I grew to enjoy it over the time it was open. That’s where the comparison to Chénas comes in. I remember the first time I tasted one, I was shocked at how unlike it was from any other Beaujolais I had tasted before. I was intrigued, though, and at that moment began planning the crash course.

At any rate, this is a Gamay that one can easily drink with any sort of cuisine and at $12.50 (plus border toll) it’s affordable enough to be in weeknight rotation. 2015 Cave Spring Gamay is recommended.

 

Domaine Barrien Vignoles, 2015

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2015

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore (Berrien Springs)

Style: Semi-dry

Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Honey, camomile, lychee.

Palate: Semi-dry and medium bodied. Peach nectar (without the sweetness), mineral water, woodruff.

Finish: Strong lychee, drying.

Parting words: Vignoles is one of what I have dubbed on Twitter the “noble hybrids”, hybrid wine grape varieties that are capable of being good even when bottled as a varietal. The others on my list are Traminette, Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and Baco Noir.

Vignoles is often made in a sweet style but also does well in dry and off-dry styles, as in this wine. It’s not complex, but is very pleasant with food or for Saturday afternoon sipping any time of year. 2015 Domaine Berrien Vignoles is recommended.

Blue Water Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Maker: Blue Water Winery, Carsonville, Michigan, USA20181128_194004.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Classic Chard. Apricot, melon, ambrosia salad.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-dry. Peach, Meyer lemon, pineapple sage.

Finish: Dry and pleasantly bitter.

Parting words: There are a lot of wineries located in tourist areas in Michigan. Some of them are bad and serve no purpose other than to suck money from the wallets of tourists with garbage palates. Some are ok and take care to produce enjoyable, accessible table wines. Others are more ambitious and seek to join the ranks of their more established cousins in Northwest and Southwest Michigan. Blue Water is one of those. They haven’t always been successful, in my opinion, but they continue to try to produce fine wines with varietal and terroir character.

This unoaked Chardonnay is one of their successes. It has loads of fruity Chard character, is well-balanced, and is great with chicken and vegetarian meals. Blue Water Winery Unoaked Chardonnay is recommended.

 

Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve, 2013

Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA20181107_112736.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22 (winery)

Appearance: Dark reddish-purple.

Nose: Blackberry pie, clove, oak.

Palate: Medium-bodied and mostly dry. Baking spice, blackberry, mulberry.

Finish: Crushed blackberry, toasted oak.

Parting words: Fennville is Michigan’s only sub-appellation. It’s as old or older (sources conflict) than its parent AVA Lake Michigan Shore. It’s essentially a one winery appellation. That winery is Fenn Valley. It’s to the north and west of the big wineries in LMS, so it doesn’t get the same traffic as the others, but it’s very much worth a trip up the road to Fennville or to the tasting room in Saugatuck. Those are the only place one can reliably find Fennville wines. Judging by this one, it’s a prime spot.

This wine is a classic cool-climate Merlot. It has the chewy fruit one expects from Merlot, but with that cool climate (and cool vintage) tang that brings it all together and makes it a perfect match with pork chops, roast duck or sirloin steak. At $22, it’s worth every dollar and more. 2013 Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve is highly recommended.

 

Find Wild Fruit Traminette

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20181023_182657.jpg

Grape: Traminette

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

Vintage: 2013 (harvested October 6)

ABV: 20%

Purchased for $18 (Winery, received media discount)

Appearance: Pale lemon.

Nose: Funk, lychee, fresh Bartlett pear.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Limestone dust, bitter apple, pinch of ginger, cardamom.

Finish: Lychee. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: It would be weird to call this an Alsace-style Traminette, since Traminette is a hybrid, but that’s kind of what this is. Gewurztraminer is one of parents of Traminette, so it’s not really too much of a stretch. It has the body, funk and dryness one expects from Alsatian Gewurz. I was taken aback by those characteristics when I first opened the bottle but they grew on me quickly.

This wine comes from a batch of “wild fruit” Nathaniel was able to obtain and bottle. Its label is obviously inspired by the greatest educational DOS game of all time (sorry Number Munchers), Oregon Trail. Nathaniel always thought that finding wild fruit was the most interesting thing that happened on that game, so when he came accross some Traminette, he thought this label would be the perfect tribute to one of his favorite gaming moments.

This is a great wine from a great winemaker at a fair price. Find Wild Fruit Traminette is highly recommended. For more on Nathaniel’s operation see my visit to him here.

 

Round Barn Merlot, 2013

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, Michigan, USA20181002_174123.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $33 (with press discount) at winery.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry juice, smoked Memphis-style pork ribs.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little chewy. Fruit of the forest pie, vanilla, clove, aniseed.

Finish: A little sweetness and tannin in the cheeks.

Notes: Received complementary tour, free tasting and press discount at time of purchase. Grapes harvested October 21, 2013 at 20.5 brix. In French oak for 20 months.

Parting words: Merlot isn’t a grape that is very closely associated with Michigan but it does pretty well here, especially (but not exclusively) in the LMS AVA. It is often used in red blends where it serves to balance out the bold, savory flavors of the widely grown Cabernet Franc, which I suspect may be rounding out the blend here.

Vintners will tell you that 2013 was a tough vintage in Michigan, mostly on account of it being a cool one, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of very good wine made. Wines of 2013 in just took a little longer to mature than their 2012 (or 2016) compatriots. As a result, the 2013 Bordeaux variety reds are hitting their stride now, so dig into your cellar and drink up now!

This wine has the cherry and berry flavors one expects from Merlot, but with a touch of pork (yes, I know that sounds like a Pigs in Space porn parody) and spice with judicious use of oak. The price is too high, but not so high that I feel like I need to wag my finger at the folks in the Barn by only giving this a mild recommendation. 2013 Round Barn Merlot is recommended.