Cave Spring Gamay, 2015

Maker: Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada20190102_153901.jpg

Grape: Gamay Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Niagara Escarpment VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Price: $12.50 USD ($17 Canadian, LCBO)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Black pepper, earth, blackberry jam, peony.

Palate: Semi-dry and full-flavored. Reminiscent of Cru Chénas or Cru Juliénas. Earthy but fruity. Blackberry, mushroom.

Finish: Tart with a little spice. Fades pretty quickly.

Parting words: This is the last wine I have left from my last trip to the LCBO a few months ago. It was a part of my effort to give myself a crash course in Gamay. I expected it to be similar to the Gamay produced by Chateau Grand Traverse or Hawthorne on Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan, but it was not like those at all. Cave Spring’s was fruity but “darker” and spicier than I expected. I found that quality off-putting at first, but I grew to enjoy it over the time it was open. That’s where the comparison to Chénas comes in. I remember the first time I tasted one, I was shocked at how unlike it was from any other Beaujolais I had tasted before. I was intrigued, though, and at that moment began planning the crash course.

At any rate, this is a Gamay that one can easily drink with any sort of cuisine and at $12.50 (plus border toll) it’s affordable enough to be in weeknight rotation. 2015 Cave Spring Gamay is recommended.

 

Crispin Pacific Pear

Maker: Crispin, Colfax, California, USA.20181223_193746.jpg

Fruit: Unknown apple and pear varieties.

Style: Pear cider (Pear & apple)

ABV: 4.5%

Price: $11/6 pack of 12 oz bottles (Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Mild cut Bartlett pear.

Palate: Light-bodied. Dessert pear, semi-dry Riesling.

Finish: Clean, a little sweetness.

Parting words: As I learned from the comments on the last pear cider I reviewed, there is a difference between a pear cider and a true perry. This is the former. It’s a relatively dry and crisp, although no one would ever mistake it for a dry English or Norman cider. Pacific Pear has a good amount of pear flavor but still sticks to the Crispin house which is crisp and easy-drinking. This is a fine entry pear cider or good for pounding back at a summer BBQ. Pacific Pear is recommended.

Old Forester: The Statesman

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181221_182753.jpg

Age: NAS

Proof: 95 (47.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Peanut brittle, toffee, tarragon.

Palate: Caramel, date, fig, five spice powder.

Finish: Hot and sweet with tarragon.

Parting words: The Statesman was intended to be a limited release to promote the film The Kingsmen: The Golden Circle in 2017. The movie got mixed reviews, but the bourbon was popular so they kept it around.

It’s richer and spicier than the 86 and 100 proof Old Forester expressions and it occupies a place at the top of the price range of the main Old Forester line, ten dollars above Old Forester Single Barrel. It pushes a bit on its $55 price, but it’s full-flavored and good for sipping or high-end mixing with nothing unpleasant at all. It does get a little thin if it hangs around too long in the bottle, but drink it before it gets to that point and it’s not a problem. Old Forester: The Statesman is recommended.

Domaine Barrien Vignoles, 2015

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2015

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore (Berrien Springs)

Style: Semi-dry

Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Honey, camomile, lychee.

Palate: Semi-dry and medium bodied. Peach nectar (without the sweetness), mineral water, woodruff.

Finish: Strong lychee, drying.

Parting words: Vignoles is one of what I have dubbed on Twitter the “noble hybrids”, hybrid wine grape varieties that are capable of being good even when bottled as a varietal. The others on my list are Traminette, Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and Baco Noir.

Vignoles is often made in a sweet style but also does well in dry and off-dry styles, as in this wine. It’s not complex, but is very pleasant with food or for Saturday afternoon sipping any time of year. 2015 Domaine Berrien Vignoles is recommended.

Big Peat

Maker: Douglas Laing, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20181128_194107.jpg

Distilleries: Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay.

Style: Blended Malt

Note: No color or chill-filtering.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70 ($60 at Binny’s)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Anti-septic, peat, vanilla, tar.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy. Peat, creme brulee, smoke, leather, alcohol, lemon juice.

Finish: Big smoke, fading into amaretto.

Parting words: Big Peat was Laing’s breakthrough blended malt and it remains the blender’s flagship. There’s even an annual Big Peat Christmas edition at 53%. It’s even harder to find than the regular Peat!

If ever a name summed up the taste of a whisky, it’s Big Peat. Peat is the dominant aroma and taste by a long shot but judicious blending has resulted in strong supporting roles from smoke, lemon and cream. It’s probably worth $70, but it tastes even better at $60. Big Peat is recommended.

Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181128_194202-1.jpg

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan state minimum: $38.52 (?!)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: New leather, alcohol.

Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Mild, high-corn bourbon, toasted oak, sugar plums, toffee.

Finish: Raisins, touch of oak, burn.

Mixed: Tried in an old fashioned, B & B, something else I forgot, eggnog. Good in everything except eggnogg.

Parting words: The first Copper & Kings brandy I reviewed was Floodwall Apple Brandy. I didn’t care for it because I found the sherry finish to be overwhelming. I like this a lot better. This brandy is simple, unadorned aged grape spirit. It lacks the richness and complexity of a well-aged Cognac or Armagnac, but it’s a perfect brandy for people who are stepping up from (or skipping over) brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J.

C & K American Craft does well in most cocktails and is cheap by micro-distillery standards. There’s nothing not to love. Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy is recommended.

Blue Water Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Maker: Blue Water Winery, Carsonville, Michigan, USA20181128_194004.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Classic Chard. Apricot, melon, ambrosia salad.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-dry. Peach, Meyer lemon, pineapple sage.

Finish: Dry and pleasantly bitter.

Parting words: There are a lot of wineries located in tourist areas in Michigan. Some of them are bad and serve no purpose other than to suck money from the wallets of tourists with garbage palates. Some are ok and take care to produce enjoyable, accessible table wines. Others are more ambitious and seek to join the ranks of their more established cousins in Northwest and Southwest Michigan. Blue Water is one of those. They haven’t always been successful, in my opinion, but they continue to try to produce fine wines with varietal and terroir character.

This unoaked Chardonnay is one of their successes. It has loads of fruity Chard character, is well-balanced, and is great with chicken and vegetarian meals. Blue Water Winery Unoaked Chardonnay is recommended.

 

Santa Rosa Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA20181121_114225.jpg

Apples: “Late season varieties”

Style: Sparkling apple cider fermented with plum skins.

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $10/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Little head, but persistent bubbles.

Nose: Apple juice, citrus blossom.

Palate: Effervescent and semi-sweet. Semi-tart table apples, pinch of tannin, pinch of yeast.

Finish: More acid and tannin with lingering sweetness.

20181121_114524.jpg
The exact location of the plums at Blake’s!

Parting words: Blake’s Foraged series includes ciders made with fruit “foraged” from Blake farms. There’s Nova, made with Nova raspberries, and then there’s this cider made with the skins of Santa Rosa plums also grown on the estate (see map). Santa Rosa is a 112 y/o variety created by Luther Burbank, inventor of the russet potato. Santa Rosa was very popular through most of the twentieth century but it doesn’t ship well so it’s not often found in grocery stores. It’s soft and sweet and has tart, slightly tannic skin.

The specific varieties that go into this cider are not disclosed on the label but we are told that they are late-season varieties. Whatever they are, they work perfectly with the plum skins, adding tartness and tannins to produce an elegant, balanced cider with a beautiful pinkish color. There is no plum flavor at all here, there’s just added depth and structure.

Santa Rosa pairs very well with food and I even served it at Thanksgiving this last year. $10 is a great price too. I love this cider. Blake’s Santa Rosa is highly recommended.

 

 

Traverse City Whiskey Co. North Coast Rye

Maker: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Traverse City Whiskey Co., Michigan, USA20181114_115315.jpg

Style: High-rye blended rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Oak, peppermint, woodruff, alcohol, basil.

Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, burn.

Finish: Starlight mints, oak.

Mixed: Adds a pleasant minty note to classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Undistinguished with ginger ale.

Parting words: When sourced Traverse City Whiskey Co. whiskey first hit shelves, I was very skeptical of whether they would ever actually distill anything, let alone anything good. I’m glad to see my skepticism was unfounded! I reviewed their first release, Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon back in 2012, with friend-of-the-blog Amy, on the shores of Walloon Lake. Watch it here.

If you like Bulleit Rye, you’ll like this. It’s in the same minty style. The label says that it was distilled by TCWC themselves and is a blend of 100% (non-straight) rye and straight rye. My first suspicion was that this was a blend of Indiana rye and TCWC’s own distillate, but I’ll take the label at its word.

Assuming it’s all accurate, more micro-distillers should be making good blends like this instead of rushing underaged bourbons and ryes to the market for inflated prices. Speaking of the price, it’s not terrible when one factors in the usual micro-distiller inflation, although Bulleit is $13 less. North Coast Rye is recommended.

Artez Historical Varietal Set

Maker: Artez, Arthez-d’Armagnac, Landes, France

Grapes: Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche, Baco (Blanc)

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Age category: Napoleon (10 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price: $50/3 200 ml bottles

UB= Ugni Blanc, FB= Folle Blanche, BB= Baco

Appearance

UB: Bright copper.

FB: Bright copper.

BB: Slightly darker.

Nose

UB: Oak, caramel, Amaretto, leather.

FB: Cherry, plum, oak,

BB: Blackberry, anise.

Palate

UB: Semi-dry. Balanced, alcohol, cream, vanilla, leather.

FB: Mild. Grape, tarragon, leather.

BB: Richer, Grape/apple juice, burn.

Finish

UB: Eucalyptus, bitter oak.

FB: Oak, raisin.

BB: Very mild, dark fruit, touch of oak.

Parting words: Artez is a small producer of Armagnac (and a few other things) with vineyards in the west of Lower Armagnac. They grow three varieties of grapes on their estate: Ugni Blanc (best known for Cognac), Folle Blanche (the original Armagnac variety) and Baco Blanc (the most common variety in Armagnac currently). So a three bottle set like this is an obvious thing to put out.

Going in, I was skeptical as to whether I would be able to tell the difference (if any) between these three bottles from the same maker at the same age. I actually was! To summarize each in one word: UB is creamy, FB is fruity and BB is spicy (anise specifically). All three and the set as a whole is recommended.