1792 Bottled in Bond

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: High malt (?) bonded bourbon.

Age: At least four years old (all from one distilling season).

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, sweet malt, cayenne powder.

Palate: Cola, alcohol. With water. Caramel, cola, less burn.

Finish: Sweet and custardy. Sweet cola (yes again) with melted ice cubes.

Parting words: For many years, the Bottled-in-Bond category was a guarantee of quality among American whiskeys. Then, when I was getting into the hobby, it was most common as a sign of a good value. The pendulum has swung back a bit these days and premium bonds are making a comeback. The new, pricey Old Fitzgerald and Heaven Hill BiBs, Henry McKenna, and now 1792.

I like the standard expression well enough, and I have really enjoyed the single barrel and barrel strength editions I’ve had. Sadly, the Bottled-in-Bond doesn’t live up to those. It’s not bad, it’s just not enough of an improvement on the Small Batch to warrant $8 more dollars and the hard work of trying to locate a bottle. Ironically, it may be hampered by being bonded and restricted to one distilling season. There’s a lack of complexity that the addition of older bourbon might be able to fix.

1792 Bottled-in-Bond is only mildly recommended.

Moon Shadow Rosé

Maker: Charlevoix Moon, Charlevoix, Michigan, USA

Grape: Marechal Foch (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Charlevoix Moon estate, Tip of the Mitt AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Style: Rosé

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $23 (Boyne City Farmers Market)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Raspberry jam, sweet cherry, light oak.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. A little oak, Fruit of the Forest pie, and white pepper.

Finish: Long. A little oaky, with some acid and sweetness.

Parting words: I talked about Charlevoix Moon when I reviewed one of their Beacon 17 Reisling here, so I won’t do that again. I will say that this is more of the sort of wine I expect to come from good producers in the Tip of the Mitt. That’s not a slam, just a statement of my expectations.

Better red hybrids like Foch are at their best in table-ish blends and varietal bottlings like this. There’s maybe a little more oak than I would like, but this is a well-made, food-friendly rosé that would pair well with grilled chicken, pork, or salmon. It even did well with the Reubens we ate tonight. Don’t scoff at the $23 price tag. This wine is well worth it. Charlevoix Moon’s 2019 Moon Shadow Rosé is recommended.

Michigan Merlot Head to Head: Crane vs Lane

C= 2016 Sandhill Crane Merlot

L= 2016 Shady Lane Merlot

Makers

C: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA

L: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes

C: Merlot (at least 75%)

L: Merlot (at least 85%)

Places of origin

C: Michigan (at least 75%)

L: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV

C: 13.7%

L: 12%

Purchased for

C: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

L: $26 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance

C: Translucent ruby, almost like a Pinot Noir.

L: Darker, more purplish.

Nose

C: Cedar, blueberry, oak.

L: Cherry jam, Hawaiian Punch, white pepper.

Palate

C: Tart. Black currant, smoked ham.

L: More balanced and better integrated. Oak, BEAR jam, clove.

Finish

C: HiC, oak. Fades quickly.

L: More harmonic. Blackberry, oak, nutmeg.

Parting words: Merlot is a grape that, if it gets ripe, can produce wonderful Michigan wines. In some years that’s a big IF, but 2016 was not one of those years, to the relief of vineyard owners who had just come off two Polar Vortex years in 2014 and 2015. 2016 was hot by Michigan standards, and the wines of that year are generally full of ripe fruit flavors. These two wines are great examples of that.

I tasted these two with a meal shared with friends-of-the-blog Amy and Pete. The dish was potato chorizo tacos (one of my favorites) made with my own homemade chorizo. Both of these wines performed well, and easily stood up to spiciness of the sausage and earthiness of the potatoes.

All of us agreed that Shady Lane was the superior of the two wines. There was nothing unpleasant about Sandhill Crane Merlot, but it lacked the depth and integration of flavor Shady Lane had. I would classify Sandhill as a good BBQ wine and Shady Lane more of a steak dinner wine. I was surprised when I saw there was only a dollar difference between the two, but there’s no need to make the great the enemy of the good, so to speak. Sandhill Crane Merlot is worth the price, it’s just that Shady Lane is worth much more than its price. Both Sandhill Crane and Shady Lane 2016 Merlots are recommended.

Chateau Aeronautique Syrah, 2010

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA

Grape: Syrah (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (at least 75%)

ABV: Not listed (“Table wine”)

Purchased for $28 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club selection)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Cedar, pink peppercorn, cherry juice, mulberry.

Palate: Juicy and a little tannic. Red currant, wild blackberry, leather, white pepper.

Finish: Leathery, with a little acid and spice

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique is the project of airplane pilot Lorenzo Lizzaralde. He’s been at it for quite some time now and the ChA empire has expanded to include a brew-pub and coffee shop in downtown Auburn Hills, Michigan, both joint operations with the Caseys of Michigan by the Bottle.

Lorenzo’s wines are, generally speaking, bold. I like spicy Syrah, but my favorites are balanced with fruit and acid. This wine may have started out a little brash, but ten years in a bottle has done it a lot of favors. The oak is a little heavier than I prefer, but everything else is nicely balanced and great for drinking with or without food. $28 is a fair price for a wine of this age. Chateau Aeronautique Syrah, 2010 is recommended.

Knappogue Castle 14 y/o: Twin Wood

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA (Pernod-Ricard)

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth

Style: Triple distilled Irish single malt, aged in sherry and bourbon casks.

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Wood varnish, sawdust.

Palate: Full-bodied and mildly sweet, then big oak.

Finish: Apricot custard under a mountain of sawdust.

Parting words: I love Irish Whiskey and I especially love Knappogue Castle. I’ve gushed over their whiskeys before so when I saw this 14 y/o version on the shelf I was nearly giddy with excitement.

So imagine my surprise when I tasted my first sip of this sawdust bomb. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a whiskey, especially an Irish one. There’s a solid custard base here, but it’s nearly completely overwhelmed by the heavy-handed (to say the least) use of oak. It’s reminiscent of the sharp, shop class floor aromas in young micro-distilled bourbons that have been aged in small barrels as a shortcut. There’s no excuse for an Irish whiskey of this age to be this oaky, and there’s no excuse for it to be so poorly integrated either. I could continue to rant about this but in the spirit of mercy I will end my review here. Krappogue Castle 14 Twin Oak is not recommended.

Ultima Thule, 2013

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: 45% Nebbiolo, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $60 at winery (minus 18% [IIRC] media discount)

Thanks to Sean O’Keefe and everyone else at Mari for the generous media discount.

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Plum, black currant jam, blackberry, white pepper, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and tart. Raspberry, black currant, mulberry, tart cherry, oak.

Finish: Acidic and relatively short. Chewy on the back end.

Parting words: The islands of Thule were first mentioned by the Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia (died c. 285 BCE). It was as six days sail north of Great Britain and was the most northern point known to people of the ancient Mediterranean. It’s unclear what, if any, real place Thule was. Iceland, Greenland, Orkney, Shetland, or some island off Norway have all been suggested. One later geographer suggestions the name may come from an old name refering to the Polar night, the sun never sets for weeks or months on end in high latitudes. When we were in Orkney, locals refered to it as the “simmer (summer) dim” when the sun never completely sets but just hangs around the horizon all night. We actually experienced a bit of this ourselves during our brief time there. I remember waking up around 2 am or so to see sunlight peaking through the blinds in our B & B.

On ancient and Medieval European maps, Ultima Thule became a fixture in the northwest, representing the northernmost inhabited bit of land. While the Old Mission Peninsula is much closer in latitude to Bordeaux or Torino than to Orkney or Iceland, Mari’s vineyards are at the northernmost point of Old Mission and this wine represents the ultimate expression of their nellaserra (hoop-house) system. Northern Michigan has enough sun to ripen Nebbiolo, but the cold springs present a big problem for the grape, which needs a relatively long time to ripen. The hoop-houses act as large cold frames and enable Nebbiolo to get the head start it needs to ripen.

As for the wine itself, it’s complex but not busy. It’s more acidic than I expected, but 2013 was a very cool vintage that saw pretty tart and but very long-lived wines. It’s not bracing or pucker-inducing by any stretch, though. The acid is firmly grounded in the fruit, and rounded off with judicious oak and spice.

$60 is a lot of money for a Michigan wine, or any wine period, really. I think it’s worth the money, however, and I think there’s three reasons why. First is rarity. To my knowledge there are no other Nebbiolo vines in Michigan besides those belonging to Mari Vineyards. Second is longevity. Cab Sauv and Nebbiolo are known for their ability to age for long periods of time so I originally planed to open this wine in the fall of 2023 but I just couldn’t wait that long. I have no regrets about opening it when I did but I think it could have gone for two or three more years at least. This is born out by how good it still tasted one and even two days after open.

Finally, this wine is worth at least $60 because it’s just so good. It’s good with food, by itself, in a box, with a fox, however you want to drink it. Mari Vineyards Ultima Thule, 2013 is recommended!

Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection

Maker: Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming, USA.

Style: Wheat recipe bourbon.

Age: 5 y/o (according to paragraph on back label)

Proof: 107.72 (53.86% ABV)

Selected for Red Wagon stores, Troy & Rochester, Michigan, USA.

Barrel #4743

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, custard.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, brown sugar, candy cake decorations, then burn. With water: Even sweeter with more oak, but with less burn, obviously.

Finish: Clean and hot. With water: blondies, oak.

Mixed: Outstanding in classic cocktails, Kentucky mule, and even with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: During the first wave of micro-distillers there were a lot of distilleries making bourbon who were trying to find shortcuts to get product on the market as soon as possible. They resorted to gimmicks like weird grains, small barrels, magical cave water, historical fiction, overpowering finishes, ill-conceived technologies (eg TerrePure®) and flat-out lies to try to ride the bourbon wave to profitability. I grew very tired of these cheesy “craft” distilleries very quickly.

There were a few micro-distilleries that seemed to be committed to doing things the “right” way, though. They used full-sized barrels, planned on aging the whiskey properly, used unique but not gimmicky recipes, and, most importantly, they hired people who knew that they were doing. It was clear from the beginning that Wyoming Whiskey is in that second category, so I made a mental note to watch for their bourbon on shelves. A few months ago, I was perusing Red Wagon’s Rochester location and to my delight I saw a Wyoming Whiskey selection in an in-store display! I grabbed it and brought it home.

I have to admit that I was disappointed at first sip. There was a strong wood varnish note that was very off-putting neat, so I laid off the bottle for a while after that. The next time I poured from it I used it in a Manhattan and it was great. Next I tried an Old Fashioned and it was even better. By the time I tried it neat again, it had blossomed into a beautiful, classic, but still distinctive, wheater. Now I can’t wait to try some more selections and I’m fantasizing about possible future releases with ages in the double digits.

Anyway, I like this bourbon a lot, obviously. I’m less of a fan of the price, but factoring in the high proof, wheat recipe, age and the usual micro-mark-up, I think $60 is a fair, though more than that might be pushing it. Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection is recommended.

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic

Maker: Claque Pépin, Écouché-les-Vallées (formery Serans), Orne, France. (Benoit Louvet, owner)

Region: Calvados AOC, Normandy, France.

Age: NAS (around 6 y/o according to the Heavenly Spirits website)

ABV: 40%

Purchased for $41 (Vine & Table)

Michigan state minimum: $47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Caramel apple, bouquet garni.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Caramel, apple juice, wood, cassia.

Finish: Spicy and juicy.

Parting words: Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve is, according to the aforementioned Heavenly Spirits website, the first certified organic Calvados available in the US. Claque Pépin, named after a French heirloom apple variety, is not a very old company by Calvados standards, but owner Benoit Louvet worked in the industry for many years before starting his own cidery and distillery in 2005, and his family has roots in the area.

Overall this is a very pleasant Calvados. It’s simultaneously full-bodied and delicate, bold and elegant. It lacks the depth of older brandies, but there’s more than enough flavor to make up for that. It stands out vs the big VSOPs like Bushnel and Coquerel and the price is competitive. The fact that it’s organic and from a small producer are added bonuses. I really like this Calavados.

Claque Pépin Vieille Réserve Organic is recommended.

Aberfeldy 12 y/o

Maker: Aberfeldy, Aberfeldy, Perth & Kinross, Scotland, UK (Dewars/Bacardi)

Region: Highlands, Central.

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, old oak, apricot.

Palate: Full-bodied, lightly sweet. Butterscotch, peach, apricot, lemon meringue pie.

Finish: Medium hot. Creme brulee, oak, burn.

Parting words: Aberfeldy is Dewar’s flagship distillery, and as one might expect, Aberfeldy is one of the backbone malts of Dewar’s blend. It’s full-bodied and fruity, but it relies on malt for sweetness rather than strong sherry, as befits a Highland (as opposed to Speyside) malts.

Aberfeldy 12 is easy drinking and affordable but not boring. It has a spicy edge that makes it more fun to sip than many other big corporate malts which sacrifice flavor for accessibility. You know which ones I’m talking about. Aberfeldy 12 is recommended.

Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: 73% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc

Place of origin: Leorie Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $46 (Holiday Market)

Note: for more information on this wine and vineyard, read this post on Black Star Farms’ Blog.

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Cedar, black currant jam, clove, smoke.

Palate: Juicy but structured. Full bodied. Black currant, cherry juice, blueberry pie.

Finish: A little chewy, with some acid.

Parting words: Leorie Vineyard is in an old gravel pit on Old Mission Peninsula that has become one of Black Star Farms’ finest vineyards, especially for reds. It consistently produces ripe (a challenge for Merlot in Northern Michigan), disease-free Merlot that finds its home under this label year after year.

I’m afraid my notes don’t really do this wine justice. It’s fruity for sure but nicely balanced with spice and tannins producing an elegant but not austere red worthy of the Right Bank of the Gironde. It cellars well too, obviously. I’m looking forward to cracking my other bottle of Leorie in 2022 or sometime after that. $46 is expensive by Michigan standards, but that’s a good price for a quality Merlot blend from one of Michigan’s finest vineyards made by one of Michigan’s finest wineries. 2012 Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc is recommended.