Parting words: Chateau Grand Traverse has a history of producing uncommon wines along with quality grocery-store varietals. This is one of the former, obviously. Before this bottle, I’d had late harvest Gewürztraminer and Riesling, obviously, but I had never even heard of late harvest Chard.
The result is very nice. It’s fuller-bodied than the usual style of Chard with big tropical fruit drenched in butter. I expected it to be sweeter than it was, but that may be due to the cool vintage. I’m eager to try a 2016 CGT Late Harvest Chard. Pick me up a bottle if you see one. 2013 Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Chardonnay is recommended.
On Saturday, June 9, Liz and I headed up to Traverse City, Michigan for the fourth City of Riesling Festival (For my review of the first, click here). We had a great time. We drank wine, we walked on the beach, we drank more wine, we learned about wine. On Sunday we also visited Good Harbor and Chateau Fontaine wineries and drank and bought wine.
On Monday we had one more wine stop: Nathaniel Rose winery at Raftshol Vineyards. Nathaniel Rose started his own business operating out of Brengman Brothers winery were he worked at the time. Last year, he purchased the Raftshol Vineyard in Suttons Bay in Leelanau and is now using it as his HQ (and homestead!).
The tasting room with its awards, photos and piano.
Warren Raftshol (top).
Raftshol is one of the oldest wineries and vineyards in Leelanau. It began at the turn of the last century as the dairy farm of Anders Raftshol. In 1930 the cows left home and the farm was converted to a cherry orchard. In 1975 the cherry business was bad so the trees had to go. Sometime after that, hybrid grape vines were planted. Anders’ grandsons, Warren and Curtis were not happy with the results so in 1985 they planted vinifera instead, being the first commercial vineyard on Leelanau to do so. Instead of the usual practice of grafting vinifera vines onto native rootstock, they grafted them onto the existing hybrid ones. Rose believes this unusual set up may contribute to the high quality of the fruit produced by the estate. When Warren decided to sell last year, Rose jumped at the chance to own some of the oldest vinifera vines in the state, including Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Rose, the vineyards had been neglected for the past ten years, but he’s in the process of whipping them back into shape using careful pruning.
Nathaniel behind the bar.
Liz in front of it, tasting the orange Marsanne.
Nathaniel Rose’s namesake project is mostly about making quality, single-vineyard red wines. They are currently sourced from vineyards in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and almost entirely red except for an orange Marsanne and a dry Traminette (we bought a bottle of Traminette for $13 minus trade discount). Rose has worked at nine different wineries in various capacities over the years, including Raftshol and Brengman Brothers, which he operated out of until purchasing Raftshol. His extensive knowledge, experience and contacts in the Michigan wine industry allow him to get quality fruit from quality vineyards. His wines There may also be a Chardonnay in the works, but Roses says he doesn’t really have the proper equipment for whites at the moment.
The carefully pruned vines
Rows of Cabernet.
Pruned hunk of vine
Sandy vineyard soil.
Everything we tasted there was wonderful, but my favorites were his excellent Syrahs (we purchased a bottle of the single barrel #4 Syrah at $85 minus trade discount). They were the best Michigan Syrahs I’ve tasted and maybe the best Michigan reds I’ve tried overall. For the single barrel, Rose was aiming for a wine reminiscent of Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône valley, so he cofermented the Syrah with Viognier. When we were tasting, he helpfully provided a bottle of Côte-Rôtie for comparison and the two wines were indeed very close and I would be hard pressed to say which I liked better.
Left & Right Bank
Back labels featuring actual photo of Nathaniel performing a feat of strength.
His signature wines are his Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Left Bank and Right Bank. They were both very good. Rose is rightfully very proud of these, especially the Left Bank. He loves to tell the story of the tasting he attended with several sommeliers (including a Master somm), winemakers, writers and other experts in which his 2012 Left Bank Blend went up against a group of Second Growth Bordeaux and cult California Cabs, including Cardinale (~$250), Ridge Monte Bello (~$250), and Jos. Phelps Insignia (~$190), all of the 2012 vintage. None of the experts could pick Left Bank out of the lineup blind and tasters could not tell the difference between it and the 2012 Cardinale Cab at all. Rose believes that Northern Michigan and his new vineyard in particular (which is not the source of Left Bank) has a climate that is very similar to high elevation viticultural areas in California and is capable of producing reds of the same high quality.
Left Bank sells for $150 (we also purchased a bottle of this at a trade discount) which puts it at or near the top of the price range for Michigan wines, even higher than wineries like Brys Estate or Mari Vineyards. When I asked him if he thinks consumers will be willing to pay that much for Michigan wines, regardless of quality, he responded with a few points. First, that his wines are plainly worth the money as tastings like the ones he’s entered Left Bank into prove. Second, that he’s had no trouble selling any of his wines so far. Finally, he pointed out that, while he is selling it at the Raftshol tasting room, the primary purpose of a wine like Left Bank is to enter into contests and tastings to bring attention to the quality of his wines. In other words, he’s not expecting Left Bank to fly off the shelf. It’s intended as a showpiece, not pizza wine (although it would be good with pizza!).
Nathaniel Rose’s winery is one of the most exciting things happening in Michigan wine right now. I’m a cheap skate but his wines are as good or better than ones from more prestigious and expensive regions and if any wines deserve to push the price envelope in Michigan, Nathaniel’s do. A visit to Nathaniel Rose at Raftshol Vineyards is highly recommended! Joining his wine club is also recommended, so you can get the generous club discount!
Maker: Chateau de Leelanau, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Chateau de Leelanau estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $26
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Watermelon, cranberry juice cocktail, cedar.
Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Cranberry/raspberry cocktail, cherry juice, toasted oak.
Finish: Dry, oaky, slightly tart.
Parting words: In Michigan, 2016 is beginning to be spoken of in the same breath as 2012 as one of Michigan’s greatest vintages. Wines like this juicy beauty are why. It’s refreshing but never boring. It’s food friendly but also great for porch sipping. It’s all you want in a summer rosé. It’s very good now, but will surely improve or at least maintain its quality with another year or so in the bottle. 2016 Chateau de Leelanau Rosé of Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA.
Grape: Vidal Blanc
Place of origin: Michigan (At least 75% Michigan Vidal by law)
Price: $16 (current vintage on website)
Appearance: Pale yellow.
Nose: Peach, mango, papaya, wet limestone.
Palate: Full-bodied. Like pineapple syrup and mango nectar, but not cloying.
Finish: Clean, slightly tangy.
Parting words: Vidal is one of the best-known hybrid grape varieities in this part of the world. It’s most famous for its use in Canadian Ice wine, and is grown as far north as Nova Scotia and Sweden for that purpose. As you might have guessed from that last sentence, Vidal is cold-hardy and was able to produce good wine like this even in a Polar Vortex year like 2014. It’s grown fairly widely in Michigan, often for use in dessert wines, but not always, as in this case.
This Sandhill Crane Vidal is heavy on tropical fruit, but not overly sweet, which makes for nice porch sipping and pairs well with pork and chicken. $16 is a fair price, but much more would be pushing it for a non-AVA hybrid wine, even one of this quality. 2014 Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc is recommended.
Finish: Also dry. Meyer lemon, pinch of clove as it fades.
Parting words: There’s not much about the history of Jackson-Triggs kicking around on the internet, but what there is doesn’t seem to be too exciting anyway. The winery was established in 1993 by Messrs. Jackson and Triggs. Jackson-Triggs’ parent company Vincor (also founded by Jackson and Triggs) was purchased by Big International Booze Company Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Corona, Black Velvet, High West) for $1.52 billion Canadian in 2006. With Jackson-Triggs’sibling wineries Sawmill Creek and Inniskillin, Consetellation brands is the largest producer of Canadian wine.
Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is a crisp, but relatively flavorful white blend. good for summer porch sipping or accompanying roast chicken. This particular wine is no longer sold under this label, but has been rebranded as Crisp and Lively White and is currently selling for $14.25. Still a fair price. 2014 Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is recommended.
For my review of the 2011 vintage of J-T’s Vidal Ice Wine, click here.
Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $35 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Cherry jam, bubble gum, cedar.
Palate: Medium-bodied. Blackberry jam, cherry juice, grows tannic as it hangs around in the mouth.
Finish: Tart, then cheek-filling tannins.
Parting words: Despite my lack of enthusiasm over this increasingly popular grape, I am continuing to drink and review wines made with Lemberger/Blaufränkisch. My thinking is that if I never actually like them, I can at least understand them and appreciate how they should taste.
I expected this wine to be another exercise in “understanding” but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it! It had the same rustic, tannic character as the other Lembergers I’ve tasted, but this time balanced with acid, which made all the difference. I didn’t even have to chill it. I don’t know if it was the cooler vintage, the terroir, vineyard management, or the skill of the winemaker, but this Lemberger transcends its peasant heritage and becomes a sophisticated, balanced wine even Blau-skeptics like me can enjoy. Hawthorne Vineyards’ 2013 Lemberger is recommended!
Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Chateau Chantal estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Oaked Chardonnay
Purchased for $30 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills).
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: Oak, roux.
Palate: Buttered toast with marmalade and a slice of melon on the side.
Finish: Sage, lemon zest. Fruit fades, but butter lingers.
Parting words: Last week I reviewed Chateau Chantal’s 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling, so this week it’s the Chard’s turn. I usually like to review wines that have spent more time in the bottle than these, but since they’re special releases that will likely sell out quickly, I thought I should go ahead and review both.
It helps that they’re both very good! The Riesling, while good now, is a year or more away from its peak as I said in my review last week. This Chardonnay is firing on all cylinders right now. I’m sure it would hold up fine with another year or two in a cellar, but why wait? It’s already delicious. For me to enjoy an oaked Chard, there have to be other things going on besides oak and butter. Oak and malo flavors are in the foreground here without question, but there is enough fruit and acid to round things out. More than that, this is one of the best examples of this style in Michigan.
Like the Riesling, the only place to get this wine is at the Chateau or at the Auburn Hills location of Michigan by the Bottle. Unlike the Riesling, the 30 year Chard is on the menu, so I would guess that more of it was produced, but why wait? Go out and buy some now. Chateau Chantal 30 Year Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay is highly recommended.
Parting words: Chateau Chantal is one of the oldest estates on the Old Mission Peninsula and in Northern Michigan wine country. Founded in 1983 by Nadine and Robert Begin (a former nun and former priest respectively) as Begin Orchards, it was incorporated as a winery in 1991 and named after their daughter Marie-Chantal (now the winery CEO).
The vineyard this wine and its sister wine the 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay, come from a vineyard on the estate planted in 1986. Luckily for the Chateau, the 2016 vintage was a stellar one, so the anniversary can be celebrated properly with two (or more?) wonderful wines.
Thirty-year-old vines are pretty old for Michigan, due to the climate and youth of the wine industry in the state. This wine shows the characteristics one would hope for in an old vine selection. It has complexity, depth and a surprising intensity. It tastes great now, especially with food, but with another year or two in the cellar the flavors should intergrate a little better to make a truly great wine.
So drink now or cellar? Yes. Head up to Chateau Chantal or to the Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room in Auburn Hills (the only two places to find this wine) and grab yourself two or more bottles. Hurry though, this wine was produced in very limited quantities! Chateau Chantal 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling is recommended.
Look for a review of the Chardonnay in the near future.
Place of origin: Smith-Madrone estate, Spring Mountain District AVA, Napa Valley, California, USA.
Purchased for $30.
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: Underripe pear, lemon thyme, lemon zest.
Palate: Medium-bodied. Lemon-sage butter.
Finish: Lemon meringue.
Parting words: I don’t review many California wines on the blog, but when I do, there’s always a story behind it. This one comes out of an experience at the 2015 City of Riesling festival in Traverse City, Michigan. I first tasted this wine (from an earlier vintage) at one of the Salon Riesling sessions on the final day of the event. Here’s how it went:
After tasting a bone dry 2013 Domaine Wachau (Austria) and the very dry and very good Domaine Weinbach Personal Reserve (Alsace) we tasted a Riesling made by an old family winery in the Spring Mountain area of Napa. I thought it tasted like those awful buttered popcorn jelly beans that used to come in the Jelly Belly variety packs. [Vineyard owner and importer] Barry [O’Brien] had us taste it and asked what we thought. There were a few seconds of silence then I piped up. “I thought it was awful. Didn’t like it at all,” then I gave my jelly bean note. Eric Crane got a quizzical look on his face and said something like “That’s surprising” and sniffed the wine a couple times. Brian Ulbrich [of Left Foot Charley] piped up and told a story about a great experience he had working at that winery and others mentioned how great the family was and how great it was that they gave prime Napa vineyard space to Riesling. Karel [Bush of the Michigan Wine Council] then said that stories like those are the ones we need to tell to consumers to change perceptions. None of them said anything about how the wine actually tasted, though.
Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is almost universally loved, at least online, so I figured I needed to give it another shot. So I did. I liked it much better this time, but the butter note was still there, albeit hiding at the back of the palate. It might have been the abrupt change from the very dry Austrian and Alsatian wines in the tasting that made the butter so shocking at Salon Riesling or maybe it was the vintage.
I can appreciate the care that went into this wine and the importance of supporting independent growers and winemakers. I still found the butter note distasteful. It doesn’t make the wine bad, but it does mean I will probably not be paying $30 for this wine again with so many better local options. 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling is mildly recommended.
Maker: Cidres Dujardin, Jurques, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France
Place of origin: Brittany, France.
Style: Perry (poire en français)
Purchased for $5/750 ml (Trader Joe’s)
Appearance: Medium gold. Fizzy on first pour. Head fades quickly but bubbles keep going strong.
Nose: Canned pear syrup, grated lemon zest.
Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Cut pear with a little lemon juice. Traces of yeast, tannin.
Finish: Sweet but drying. Overripe green pears.
Parting words: I reviewed the tasty Dan Armor apple cider three years ago. This perry is sweeter and less complex (as perries often are) but enjoyable. Sweetness and fruit dominate, but tartness (as it warms in the glass) and tiny whiffs of funk and tannin keep Dan Armor poire from being one-dimensional. It’s hard to ask for more from a $5 perry. Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire is recommended.