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.
Parting words: Practically everybody in Michigan grows Riesling. For some wineries in Michigan, Riesling is a part of their identity. Bowers Harbor is one of those. I reviewed BHV’s 2013 Block II dry Riesling a few weeks ago and the 2010 Block II a while back.
This wine has almost all the same aromas as those wines, but with the sweetness dialed up. It reminds me of a relatively dry German Kabinett, but with the signature characteristics of OMP Riesling.
Pairs well with spicey food and the price is very good for a wine of this quality. There should still be a few 2013s lurking on shelves around Michigan, but if you can’t find any, pick up a bottle or twelve of the 2016 Medium Dry Riesling. Bowers Harbor Medium Sweet Riesling is recommended.
Yes, it’s another head to head! This time I decided to pit a 2014 Gamay Noir from Chateau Grand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula against a 2014 Beaujolais-Villages from Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s biggest négociants (wine buyers/blenders/bottlers). I enlisted the help of friends of the blog Amy and Pete to help us out (last seen here). Just to make sure we were tasting the wine and not our biases, we tasted these two wines blind. I’ll review them that way too, revealing which is which (and price and ABV) at the end. I’ll integrate the co-taster’s notes into my own, noting if they differ from mine.
A: Dark rose.
B: Similar, but a little darker
A: Fruity, berries specifically. I also smelled pepper and a drop of balsamic vinegar (in a good way)
B: Very similar, maybe a little more oak and a little less balsamic.
A: Light bodied. Strawberry, blackberry, oak.
B: Same flavor palette, but a little drier, chewier and more intense. That said, none of us knew if I could tell these two apart in a wider tasting. They both grew tart as they warmed, shifting into raspberry.
A: Drying. Balsamic, oak.
B: Similar but drier and longer.
A= Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, 2014. 12.5% ABV. $16 (Holiday Market)
The CGT Gamay Noir performed slightly better, but as I wrote above, the wines were virtually identical. Both were delicious and paired well with the chocolate and cheese we nibbled on during the tasting. They’d both do well with grilled or roasted chicken, salmon or pork. Both are recommended, but why not save yourself a buck while supporting the Mitten state and pick up a bottle of CGT Gamay Noir the next time you buy wine!
A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.
From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.
For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.
FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)
BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)
Place of origin
FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.
BE: $50 (winery)
FR: Dark ruby.
BE: Darker. Plum.
FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.
BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.
FR: Tart. A little cherry.
BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.
Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.
FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.
BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.
Tasters other than me
Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”
Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.
Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.
My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.
BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.
I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.
Maker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.
Place of origin: Cave Spring Vineyard, Cave Spring Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.
Style: Off dry
Purchased for $17 from Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, Rochester, Michigan. $18 Canadian from the LCBO.
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: Fresh thyme, sage, orange-flavored spring water.
Palate: Minerals, marjoram, peach skins, lime juice, car wheels on a gravel road.
Finish: Tart but slightly herbal.
Parting words: Not many Ontario wineries get distribution in Michigan. Luckily one of them is Cave Spring. Cave Spring is famous for Gamay and most of all for its world class Rieslings. The estate bottled Cave Spring Wineyard Riesling is consistantly one of their best and best values. The herbs and fruit and acid are all in perfect counterpoint like a JS Bach concerto. Cave Spring’s 2013 Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling is highly recommended.
Maker: Boskydel Vineyard, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi sweet white wine.
Purchased for $12.75 at winery.
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Mango, papaya, peach, vanilla.
Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. Thyme, navel orange.
Finish: Dry. Fades to lemonhead candy.
Parting words: Vignoles is one of the better white wine hybrid grapes grown in the Northeastern US. It’s associated with the Finger Lakes wine country, but is grown fairly widely in the region and even a little bit in Ontario. It’s mostly used to make fragrant dessert or sweet table wines, but can be used for dry too.
Boskydel founder Bernie Rink (b. 1926) is a Michigan wine pioneer. A librarian by trade, he was the first to establish a vineyard on the Leelanau peninsula and, after a few years of experimentation, in 1971 he planted his twenty-five acre plot with the hybrid wine grape varieties he thought performed best, including Vignoles. He intially sold his grapes, but in 1976, Boskydel opened up as the first bonded winery in Leelanau, producing 639 cases that year. As the Leelanau wine industry grew around him, Bernie kept doing the same thing he had been doing all along, producing affordable table wines from Franco-American hybrid grapes. By the 1990s and 2000s Boskydel had become a bit of a time warp. Other than putting up new newspaper clippings, the tasting room with its piles of paper and formica had not changed. In the ’00s, Bernie became as famous for his gruff, forgetful persona as for his pioneering work thirty years prior. When I visited in 2017 Bernie was not working in the tasting room. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get the first hand Bernie experience I had heard so much about, but the tasting room and winery building were a refreshing change after a day of drinking in tasting buildings that looked like upscale condominiums.
It was announced in the summer of 2017 that Boskydel would end its winery operations and the tasting room would be closed effective December 24. It was announced that vineyard operations will continue so maybe we’ll see a Boskydel single vineyard bottling from Left Foot Charley or another winery soon! It would be a fitting tribute to Bernie Rink and his groundbreaking winery. In the meantime, this wine is a pretty good tribute itself. It’s affordable, light and sweet but not dull. Very food friendly too. The winery is closed but ask around. Maybe someone you know has a few bottles squirreled away in a spider webbed cellar. Boskydel 2015 Vignoles is recommended.