Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_161540.jpg

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.

Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.

Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.

This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.

 

 

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Seventh Hill Farm Riesling, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_175835.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85% by law)

Place of origin: Seventh Hill Farm vineyard, Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11.4%

Purchsed for $20 at Holiday Market

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee,  minerals, dried apricot,

Palate: Mineral water, mandarin oranges, lemon thyme, underripe peach.

Finish: Peachy and mineral-y.

Parting words: I’ve said before that I think Left Foot Charley is the best winemaker in Michigan. Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is more evidence to support that claim. 2013 was a difficult vintage for many growers in the state, but one that ultimately produced many wonderful whites (and some good reds too!) According to the label, this wine was fermented for a relatively long time to soften the edgy nature of the vintage. What has emerged is a sophisticated, complex (but not busy) semi-dry Riesling that offers up everything you’re looking for: minerals, herbs, fruit and acid in perfect harmony. This wine is like that extremely chill friend who is at his or her best just lounging in the backyard with you some summer afternoon and talking or even not talking. No awkward silences at Seven Hill Farm.

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is drinking great right now but would probably hold up for at least another year or two. It goes very well with food (we drank it with grilled porkchops) and is a fair price. There still lots of 2013s hanging around (it’s still available on the LFC website) so buy some if you see them! I’m not sure if there’s going to be a 2016, but if there is, it’s sure to be great too. 2013 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is highly recommended.

Chateau Aeronautioque Syrah, 2013

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA20171122_200800.jpg

Grape: Syrah/Shiraz (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

ABV: 14.8%

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room Sipper Club)

Appearance: Deep burgundy.

Nose: Black currant, plum, cedar, white pepper, coriander seed.

Palate: Medium-bodied and medium dry. Fruit of the Forest pie, button mushrooms, clove.

Finish: Tart and oaky, then earthy.

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique is a part of the cluster of wineries located in and around Jackson, Michigan. Owner/winemaker Lorenzo Lizarralde is known for bold reds and this Syrah is Lorenzo at his best. This wine is bold but never belligerent. The big, spicy flavors are balanced with fruit and earthiness to make for a very food-friendly, enjoyable wine that’s good to drink right now. Good to visit right now is Chateau Aeronautique’s brand new Irish Hills tasting room in Onsted, Michigan on Pentecost Highway between Sand and Evans lakes, south of US 12! 2013 Chateau Aeronautique Syrah is recommended.

 

Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling, 2013

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171116_190716.jpg

Grape: Riesling (German clones)

Place of origin: Block II, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Dry

ABV: 12%

Price: $32 (winery)

Note: received complementary media tour in conjunction with 2015 City of Riesling festival (see here).

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, lemon thyme, dry gravel.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Mineral water, Meyer lemon, fennel, winter savory, clementine.

Finish: Dry and tart. A little pineapple.

Parting words: Block II is a very sandy section of the Bowers Harbor estate, known for its old (by northern Michigan standards) stand of Riesling vines, planted in 1991. Block II is one of three single vineyard Rieslings BHV currently produces. The others are Smokey Hallow (also dry) and Langley Vineyard late harvest.

This is the second review of Block II Riesling I’ve written. I did a review of the 2010 vintage in 2015. It was running out of gas at that point but still good. The 2013 seems to be at its peak or close to it right now. While the 2010 tasted a little tired, this one is vibrant and still full of fruit, with lots of mouth-puckering acid, especially at room temperature. That combo makes for a classically food friendly wine, one that would make for a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

With some work, you can probably still find a few 2013s kicking around but your better bet is to stock up on 2016s which are sure to be fantastic. The 2016 vintage of Block II Riesling is selling for $26 on the BHV website which is more than fair for a wine of this quality. If you love dry Riesling, stock up now! 2013 Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling is highly recommended.

 

Lawton Ridge Vintner’s Select Chardonnay, 2013

Maker: Lawton Ridge Winery, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA20171113_102251.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2013

Style: Oaked, malolatic fermented Chardonnay

ABV: 12.7%

Price: $15 (winery)

Appearance: Very pale gold.

Nose: Creamy, slightly bitter, French oak, lemon thyme.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Oak, citrus peel, white peach, pineapple sage.

Finish: Clean and fruity with a hint of oak.

Parting words: Lawton Ridge winery is located west of Kalamazoo, Michigan, but thier vineyards (around 10 acres planted) are near Lawton, Michigan, south of Paw Paw. It has been in commercial operation since 2005 or so. According to their website, they pride themselves on producing terroir-focused food-friendly wines.

This Chardonnay was one of my favorites when we visited the tasting room last year. It’s a departure from their standard, all stainless Chard. According to the label, this wine is finished in oak barrels for three months immediately before bottling. It’s a good example of judicious use of oak in Chard. It has a hint of the brown butter aroma that California Chardonnay is known for, but it’s balanced by fruit and herbal aromas. It’s one of the best oaked Michigan Chards I’ve had and a steal at $15. 2013 Lawton Ridge Vintner’s Select Chardonnay is highly recommended.

 

Arcturos Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171107_164857.jpg

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (56% Leelanau Co, 44% Grand Traverse Co), USA

ABV: 13%

Price: $28.50 (website, 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Dark burgundy. Opaque.

Nose: Roasted red pepper, sautéed mushrooms, raisins, crushed blueberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Chicken jambalaya, oak.

Finish: Tangy and oaky.

Parting words: Chicken jambalaya is a weird tasting note, I know, but I think it’s apt for the combination of vegetal (bell pepper, celery), sweet (tomato, onion), tart (tomato), toasty (toasted rice) spicy (bell pepper, black pepper) and earthy (tomato, celery, chicken) flavors I got in this wine.

I reviewed the 2004 Arcturos Three Black Lot Old Mission Peninsula Cab Franc back in 2011 in the early, halcyon days of this blog. It was more subtle and refined than this wine, but it was also two years older. At the time I thought it was too old, but my palate has shifted toward lighter, fruitier reds so it sounds really good to me right now. The 2012 Cab Franc is good right now but I think it will continue to improve into the first couple years of the next decade. $28.50 is a fair price, especially if one holds on to it for a few more years. There are probably a few 2012s still kicking around, but 2016 and 2017 should be as delicious as this vintage and as age-worthy. Goes well with beef, pork, turkey and spicy Latin chicken dishes. 2012 Arcturos Cabernet Franc is recommended.

 

 

 

Sandhill Crane Syrah, 2012

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA20171027_174701.jpg

Grape: Syrah (at least 75% by law)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.9%

Purchased for: $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Plum, blueberry, cedar, mace.

Palate: Medium-bodied, medium sweet. Blackberry, cherry juice, French oak, nutmeg, clove.

Finish: Juicy, then oaky with a little tang.

Parting words: Sandhill Crane’s home is in Jackson, Michigan, in a small cluster of wineries including Chateau Aeronautique and Sleeping Bear Winery. They make wine from a mix of estate grown grapes and grapes from other areas of Michigan. They’re known, at least to me, for their reds which are consistantly some of the best in the state. They have a large, swinging tasting room with a restaurant and frequent events. It’s less than ninety minutes from most places in the Detroit Metro area and not far from Ann Arbor and Lansing either, making it a popular destination for those interested in a relaxing Saturday afternoon away.

Syrah’s home is in the Rhöne valley, but tasting this wine left me wondering if its second home could be in southern Michigan. This is cool climate Syrah to be sure, fruity and slightly acidic, but still with the grape’s spicy calling card. The Rhöne vallery isn’t as hot and dry as many people assume anyway. Syrah doesn’t seem to do well in northern Michigan, but in the south and southwest it seems to do better and in the hands of a skilled winemaker like Holly Balansag it can be delicious. We had this wine with chicken tacos and it paired very well. Sandhill Crane Syrah also pairs well with beef and pork. 2012s are going to be hard to find now, but 2016 and 2017 are looking as good as 2012 was or even better. Make sure you give it a good four or five years in the cellar to enjoy it at its best! 2012 Sandhill Crane Syrah is highly recommended.

 

Peninsula Cellars Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171019_172611.jpg

Grape: Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22.50 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blueberry pie, tomato, black pepper. “grapes when you eat them” -nosing note from my 7 y/o daughter.

Palate: Blackberry juice, wild mushroom, pink peppercorn, a little tartness.

Finish: Tannin, then acid.

Parting words: What do Pinot Blanc and Lemberger have in common? They’re both popular grapes that I just haven’t been able to get excited about. Both grow well in Up North, West Michigan and southern Michigan wine countries and both have been floated as “signature grapes” for the state. I’m not a fan of the concept of regions promoting one “signature grape” in general, but if I had to pick, neither Lemberger or Pinot Blanc would be in my top five.

As I do with a lot of things, I’ve been questioning myself over my disinterest in Lemberger and Pinot Blanc and wondering if it meant that my palate was flawed or I’m some kind of moron. So I’ve been trying to drink more of both kinds of wine. This bottle is a part of that effort.

Austria is considered Lemberger’s home turf, although it probably originated farther south and east. It’s known as Blaufränkisch in Austria where it is the second most planted red wine grape. The first is Lemberger’s offspring, Zweigelt.

While I may have had a breakthrough regarding Pinot Blanc, Lemberger’s appeal remains elusive. This is a well made wine, better than the last Lemberger I tried, but I still find myself wondering why it’s such a favorite of some Michigan wine drinkers. For me it’s too rough around the edges. In the past year or two I’ve been moving into sweeter, fruitier wines (Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, cool climate Cab Franc and Merlot) and this wine’s tannic finish and unbalanced earthiness were an unpleasant surprise to my palate. Chilling it did eliminate much of that roughness but I would rather not have to chill a red wine at this price.

I think much of Lemberger’s popularity in Michigan is being driven by how well it grows here (which is a good thing!) but as for me, I still prefer it in blends rather than bottled as a varietal. Austrian Blaufränkisch often improves with extended cellar time, so maybe this one needs more time. Luckily I have another bottle of this in my cellar so I can test that theory in a couple years. Anyway, as it is now 2013 Peninsula Cellars Lemberger is mildly recommended.

Blackbird Blackberry

Maker: Walloon Lake Winery, Petosky, Michigan, USA20171018_094013.jpg

Purchased August of 2016

Variety: Marionberry

ABV: 12%

Price: $19 (winery)

Appearance: Dark purple, almost opaque.

Nose: Crushed blackberries.

Palate: Sweet with a tang. Blackberry jam.

Finish: Tangy. Fills the cheeks.

Parting words: Walloon Lake is a medium sized lake (6.67 square miles), oddly shaped, spring-fed lake in northern Michigan east of the much larger Lake Charlevoix (27.88 square miles) and south of the much much larger Lake Michigan (22,404 square miles). It’s one of northern Michigan’s prime locations for vacation homes, including one owned by the Hiltons and Windemere, the Hemmingway family cottage . It is also home to more modest cottages including Greentree, co-owned by friends of the blog Amy and Pete.

panoramic walloon lake
Walloon Lake, as viewed from Greentree cottage.

Walloon Lake Winery is located east of the North Arm of the lake, outside of Petosky. They’re a part of the Bayview Wine Trail and the Tip of the Mitt AVA. For my thoughts on that AVA, see here. Walloon Lake pulled out a surprise win earlier this year when their North Arm Red (made from hybrid Marquette grapes) won best dry red at the state-sponsored Michigan Wine Competition. The name Blackbird comes from Blackbird Road which runs from the North Arm of Walloon up to Lake Michigan just west of the winery.

screenshot_20161103-104818.jpg
The tasting room at Walloon Lake Winery

Taking notes on fruit wines is difficult because most of them just taste like an alcoholic version of fruit juice. There are some differences between cherry wines, but even those are more subtle than in wine grapes, even across different cherry varieties. That said, Blackberries are my favorite type of berries and its fairly rare to see a blackberry wine so I thought it was worth a review. Walloon Lake also makes cherry, blueberry and sparkling peach wines.

Blackbird Blackberry does great service to a great berry. It’s full-bodied and balances the sweetness, tartness and that earthy musk that makes blackberries so distinct. $19 is expensive for a fruit wine but I think it delivers. Blackbird Blackberry is recommended.

Tempesta, 2012

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA.20170926_160931

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, others.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

Style: Red blend.

Note: Spent 32 months in French and American oak.

ABV: 13.2%

Price: $44 (Michigan By the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Wild blackberries, toasted oak, sautéed mushrooms.

Palate: Medium bodied and well-balanced. Blackberry jam, raspberry juice, light oak, seared steak.

Finish: Fruity and tart, then chewy and oaky.

20150725_135829
Il bel lago

Parting words: Bel Lago is located on the shores of Lake Leelanau, in the Leelanau peninsula. The view certainly lives up to the name! Owners Charlie Edson and Amy Iezzoni are known for their cherry wine (Amy practically invented the stuff), field blends and their committment to ripeness. That committment is clearest in the Bel Lago’s rich, rounded Pinot Noir and Auxerrois (Blanc) wines.

Tempesta is not estate grown and not a field blend, obviously, but it does have that trademark ripeness. Oak is present, but not used to cover up anything, just to enhance the savory quailities of Cabernet Franc. Fruit and earthy flavors are in the lead, yoked together by Tempesta’s mid-palate tartness.

$44 is a lot for a non-AVA Michigan red. One could find similar wines from California at a lower price. I still think Tempesta is worth the price in a good vintage like 2012 when cellared for at least four years. 2012s may be nearly impossible to find now, but 2016 was a stellar vintage and 2017 is looking like it may be as well. Bel Lago’s 2012 Tempesta is recommended.