St. Julian Reserve Riesling

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA20190717_201947.jpg

Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Style: Semi-dry.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $9 (Costco)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: peach cobbler, roux.

Palate: Peach, citrus, lemon butter, grave.

Finish: Clean and dry. Lemon thyme.

Parting words: This wine was also a part of June 2019’s Twitter Riesling Roundtable. It was the most impressive Riesling from LMS in the tasting. I dodn’t usually go for buttery Riesling but this wine was so perfectly balanced that I didn’t mind the butter. In fact, it worked with the fruit notes to create baked good aromas and flavors. $9 is hard to beat for a wine this good. As I’ve said before, don’t sleep on St. Julian. Tbere’s a lot more to them than Blue Heron. St. Julian Reserve Riesling is highly recommended.

Block II Riesling, 2017

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20190626_203810.jpg

Place of origin: Block II, Bowers Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $16 (Holiday Market)

Thanks to Holiday Market Wine for ordering this for me.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Golden apple, orange zest, lemon thyme, peach,

Palate: Full-bodied. Meyer lemon, Valencia orange, mineral water.

Finish: Drying with a little tartness.

Parting words: When I heard that 2017 Block II was going to be a part of a Riesling Roundtable hosted by the Michigan Wine Collective on Twitter on June 24, 2019, I was very excited. Block II is one of my all-time favorite Michigan wines and is the gold standard for dry Riesling in Michigan, in my opinion. I reviewed the 2013 vintage a couple years ago and I’ve been madly in love ever since. I also reviewed the 2010 vintage back in 2015.

The 2017 vintage is already showing itself to be another strong one, if this wine is any indication. I love the freshness and acid here and I can’t wait to see how the other bottle I bought will develop in my cellar. Drink now or cellar for another year or two. 2017 Block II Riesling is highly recommended!

 

 

 

Boathouse Pinot Noir, 2012

Maker: Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.20190612_222115.jpg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: cedar, blackberry jam, blueberry pie, clove.

Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.

Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.

Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!

This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.

Shady Lane Riesling Reserve, 2015

Maker: Shady Lane, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20190506_170116.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

Style: Dry Riesling

ABV: 11.4%

Purchased for $26 (Michigan By The Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Golden Delicious apples, lemon thyme, mineral water.

Palate: Mandarin orange, lime, chalk dust.

Finish: Drying and rocky. A little tartness.

Parting words: As I’ve written about before, 2014 and 2015 were essentially lost vintages in Michigan due to the infamous Polar Vortex. There were a few vineyards in Northern Michigan that didn’t get hit as hard as others, though. According to a tasting room employee last year, Shady Lane’s vineyards were among them.

The grapes and vines on Shady Lane survived, but it was still a cold vintage, and the wine reflects that. It has developed nice and slowly and hasn’t lost any of its fruit in its 3+ years in the bottle. It also has retained plenty of acid without being an acid bomb. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is great with food but also has the depth and complexity for solo sipping. It’s everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is recommended.

 

Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer, 2016

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190415_162818.jpg

Grape: Gewürztraminer (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $20 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Quite pale gold.

Nose: Big lychee, woodruff, roasted ginger.

Palate: Peach pit, bitter orange, orange thyme.

Finish: More lychee, orange pith.

Parting words: Gewürztraminer is one of my favorite grapes. Its wine is spicy and tastes like no other grape (except Traminette). Next to Riesling, it’s my favorite white wine grape. Like Riesling it’s made in a range of sweetness levels, although it doesn’t reach the sublime heights of high-quality German Spälese or Auslese. LFC Dragon-label Gewürz is firmly on the dry end of the spectrum. The LFC website recommends cellaring this wine until 2022-2024 (!). I prefer Gewürz with a little bit of fruit to balance the spice so I opened mine in 2019, but if I find another bottle I may let it sit for a couple more years.

I’ve had a lot of Michigan Gewürz over the years and this is the best one that I can remember having. It’s good on its own but it is spectacular with spicy food. The first bottle I purchased was taken to a Chinese New Year celebration and was gone in a flash. It paired perfectly with the spicy hot pot at the center of the meal. $20 is more than fair for a high quality wine like this. Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer (dragon label) is highly recommended.

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.

 

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.

john_m_med.jpg
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:

20170707_120535
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.