Janneau VSOP

Maker: Janneau (distills, ages and bottles), Condom, Gers, France.20190621_175548.jpg

Region: Armagnac

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $56

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: French oak, raisins, vanilla, dried orange peel.

Palate: Mildly fruity. Fruit punch, oak.

Finish: Subtle. Sangria, alcohol, oak.

Parting words: Janneau VSOP is one of the better distributed Armagnacs in Michigan, which is admittedly a low bar. It’s a solid one, though. It’s relatively subtle on the palate and finish but it’s an enjoyable, fruity pour for a pretty good price. Its accessibility also makes it a good choice for newcomers to Armagnac. My biggest complaint is the squat bottle that takes up a lot of room on the shelf. Janneau VSOP is recommended.

 

Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)

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Photo courtesy of Diageo.

Style: Toast French oak cask finished Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $70 (MSRP: $60)

Note: Noble collection series

Thanks to Lisa Wendling and Diageo for the sample.

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: French oak, burnt orange peel, pine resin, creamed corn, grains of paradise.

Palate: Subtle. Custard, toasted oak, vanilla, cinnamon.

Finish: Cut lumber, burn.

Parting words: Despite mocking Diageo and lionizing Vijay Mallya on Twitter for years, the fine folks at Diageo graciously sent me a sample of Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished Canadian Whiskey.

I’m not a great fan of the regular CR or the special deluxe, but I have enjoyed several of the other expressions, like the Blender’s Mash and Northern Harvest Rye. This is another good one. The French oak (sourced from the Vosges) is not overwhelming and mixes with the classic roasted grain flavors of Canadian whisky to produce pleasant potpourri aromas. Unfortunately, like many Canadian whiskies, the palate doesn’t deliver on the promise of the nose. An extra 5% ABV would probably help in that regard. Still, it’s worth the MSRP, though the Michigan price is pushing it. Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished is recommended.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)20190621_175819.jpg

Style: Mix of standard and high-rye bourbon.

Recipes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, OESF

Age: 6 y/o (per hang tag)

Proof: 104 (52% ABV)

Price: $58 (The Party Source)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Underwhelming. Charcoal smoke with lighter fluid, asparagus, canned green beans, toffee.

Palate: Mild. Brach’s caramels, field mint, burn.

Finish: A little amaretto, burn, fiddleheads.

Parting words: I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed with a Four Roses bourbon, but I’m disappointed with this. First, this is an uncharacteristicly unflavorful Four Roses. It’s strong enough in a Glencairn glass, but it gets totally lost in a tumbler with ice in a way that no 104 proof bourbon should. What flavor is there is unpleasant. I blame the F yeast with its weird minty, vegetal character. I’ve never cared for this strain, especially not the OESF which tastes like something Heaven Hill might dump on the bulk market. My favorite Four Roses expressions have featured or at least included the sexy, floral Q yeast. I understand that its a PITA to deal with for the distillers, but nothing says Four Roses to me than that aroma that was such a big part of the 2008 and 2009 Mariage releases and the 2009 Limited Edition Single Barrel.

It breaks my heart to say this, but Four Roses Small Batch Select is not recommended.

 

Roger Groult, 8 y/o

Maker: Roger Goult, Valorbiquet (Saint-Cyr-du-Ronceray), Calvados, Normandy, France.20190620_214902.jpg

Place of origin: Clos de la Hurvanière, Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 41%

Price: $60 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Crushed cider apple, toasted oak, vanilla, nutmeg.

Palate: White chocolate apple, vanilla custard, burn.

Finish: Butterscotch hard candy, ginger, kiss of oak.

Parting words: Roger Groult is a family-owned Calvados producer in the Pays d’Auge, in the eastern half of the Calvados AOC. Groult produces a full line of apple brandies that often show up on the shelves of large liquor stores in the US.

I haven’t tried any of the other Groult brandies so I can’t comment on how this one compares to the others, but I did enjoy it. There’s nothing too distictive but there’s also nothing unpleasant. At 8 years I did expect a bit more oak, but I’m not big on oaky apple brandies, so that was fine with me. I just wish that there was a little more depth. $60 isn’t terrible for an age-stated Calvados so Roger Groult 8 year old Calvados is recommended.

Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider

Maker: Sidreria Gurutzeta, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain20190616_171204.jpg

Style: Natural Basque Spanish cider

ABV: 6%

Purchased for $12/750 ml at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana.

Appearance: Very hazy gold.

Nose: Apple cores, dried flowers, apricot, lemon thyme.

Palate: Apricot, Golden Delicious apple, chalk dust, pinch of sweetness.

Finish: Tangy. Siracha burn in the back of the throat as it warms in the glass.

Parting words: This is the second Basque cider (or Sagardoa as they call it) I’ve reviewed. The other one was in November of 2017. It was Isastegi Sagardo Naturala, made in Tolosa about 17 miles (27 km) south of Astigarraga. The two ciders are similar in style but Gurutzeta is more acidic and less funky than Isastegi. Neither have more than a trace of sweetness.

Basque ciders are not what I’d call good entryway ciders for most North American drinkers. While they’re not as dominated by tannin as Norman ciders, they do have much more of it than most English or American ones. and they tend to have high levels of acid and funk with virturally no sweetness. It may sound silly, but for those new to Basque cider I would suggest getting a solid feel for French cider before venturing into Basque Country. It will help you understand this unique tradition better. At any rate, Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider is recommended!

 

Crown Royal Blender’s Mash

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada. (Diageo)20190607_210110.jpg

Style: Canadian Blend

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Parting words: CR Blender’s Mash began life as CR Bourbon Mash but Diageo, which never seems to remember that it owns bourbon brands, was forced to change the name due to bourbon’s protected legal status. This decision was right and good, in my not particularly humble opinion. The decision was made after the labels were already printed and affixed to bottles, so if you enjoy collecting things that nobody cares about, try to seek out some of those bottles for your collection.

At any rate, Blender’s Mash is a Canadian blend starring one of CR Deluxe’s constituent whiskies. It has a bourbon-like recipe with 65% corn and 31% rye (malt makes up the rest). The result is a very bourbon-like product. It’s rather mild neat or on the rocks but it mixes surpringly well. It makes great Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. In Coke or in a Boulevardier it gets a little lost, but is still pleasant.

I don’t enjoy the standard Crown Royal or the Special Reserve, but this is enjoyable. It’s more refined and sweeter even if it is underpowered. $20 is $5 less than regular Crown and $25 less than Special Reserve, so this is a good QPR selection if you’re into that sort of thing. Crown Royal Blender’s Reserve is 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.

Midnight Oil

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan

Style: Peated bourbon (made with peated malt)

Age: NAS (dumped March 31, 2018)

Proof: 105.8 (53.4% ABV)

Purchased for: I forget (at distillery)

Note: bottle is boring, so no picture, at least for now.

Appearance: Dark copper, almost chestnut.

Nose: Freshly refinished hardwood floor, cherry jam.

Palate: Black walnut, a little peat, some smoke, brown sugar.

Finish: More peat and smoke, oak, a little bite.

Mixed: Very good in strong cocktails like Manhattans or Boulevardiers.

Parting words: This is the second of two bottles I got at Motor City Gas a few months ago. I was very impressed with it at the distillery. It seemed smokier and peatier (?) there too, probably because I tasted it after their rum-finished bourbon. It was still enjoyable at home, though. The peat blends seamlessly into its young, woody character to the point where it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the two. It doesn’t drink like 105.8 proof, either, which is dangerous. It’s at its best in cocktails, though, where it can stand up to just about any mixer, even amaro and black vermouth.

The price is high (even though I can remember what it was), but it’s barrel proof and the best peated bourbon I’ve had, although there aren’t very many to be had. Available only at the distillery on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Midnight Oil is recommended.