Free Run Cellars XO

Maker: Free Run Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA (Round Barn)

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Grape: Vidal Blanc.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 50%

Price: I forgot.

Note: At time of purchase, I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch, and discount on purchases. See my visit to Round Barn cellars here.

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Golden raisins, alcohol, oak, Juicy Fruit gum.

Palate: Light bodied and mild. Banana pudding with vanilla wafers.

Finish: Also mild. Alcohol, oak, fruit punch.

Parting words: Free Run was founded by Matt and Christian Moersch, sons of Round Barn founder (and former Tabor Hill winemaker) Rick Moersch. The name is a play on the “free run” juice of the initial grape crush and the brothers being given “free run” of the cellar by their father. Free Run began by specializing in estate, single vineyard wines, but has since branched out. Free Run’s “Epicurean” tasting room in Berrien Springs is more than the traditional “belly up to the bar” set up. It offers a culinary experience for groups (with paired wines of course) but it’s only open seasonally. Free Run’s Union Pier tasting room is more conventional.

At any rate, the label describes this brandy as “Cognac style” which it sort of is, though it would fall on the fruity and mild end of the Cognac spectrum, in spite of the high ABV. While I don’t like it as much as I liked the Free Run grappa (review here), it is an easy-drinking, even refreshing sipper that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend were it more readily available. I’m not sure if it’s made anymore, but if it isn’t I hope it gets put into production again but in bigger bottles and with wider distribuition. Free Run Cellars XO Brandy is recommended.

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Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling, 2013

Maker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.20171228_181501.jpg

Place of origin: Cave Spring Vineyard, Cave Spring Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Grape: Riesling

Style: Off dry

ABV: 12%

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.

 

 

Rich & Rare

Distillery: Unknown. (Hiram Walker? Brand owned and bottled by Sazerac).20180105_160402.jpg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $7.50

Mixed: Did very well mixed. Brings fruit and vanilla to Manhattans, old fashioneds and even eggnogg. I didn’t care for it with ginger ale or on the rocks for that matter.

Parting words: Rich & Rare is a pretty old brand. It was founded in the 1920s by Harry Hatch of the Godderham and Worts distillery in Toronto. G & W stopped distilling whisky in 1950 and R & R was moved to the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor. Sazerac now owns the brand, but chooses not disclose the distiller. It seems reasonable to assume that it’s still being made at Hiram Walker, though.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good R & R was straight and in classic cocktails. In the <$10 category, Canadian blends tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they’re flavorless or have a sappy pungency that resembes burnt creamed corn or kitchen garbage that should have been taken out two days ago. R & R has a bit of that pungency, but it’s kept in check by vanilla and fruit. The result is a wonderful, full-bodied (and cheap) sipping and mixing whisky. H2O is not R & R’s friend, though, causing the whisky to virtually disappear. It can be a little hard to find here in Canadian Club country, but it’s worth picking up. There is also a Rich & Rare Reserve (R & R R) available for $2.50 more in Michigan that I hope to review soon. Rich & Rare is highly recommended.

Boskydel Vignoles, 2015

Maker: Boskydel Vineyard, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA20171216_175831.jpg

Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi sweet white wine.

ABV: unknown

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.

20171214_162151.jpgParting 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.

For more information on the history of Boskydel, see here: https://www.michiganwines.com/docs/About/history_boskydel.pdf

Some journalistic tributes:

http://www.record-eagle.com/news/the_biz/boskydel-vineyard-bids-farewell-at-year-s-end/article_8773a494-54fb-544e-acf6-59d168e733bd.html

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/life/food/wine/2017/12/29/boskydel-winery-leelanau-peninsula-michigan-hybrids/109012252/

http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/July-2017/Last-call-for-Leelanaus-oldest-winery/

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Boskydel winery and tasting room.
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View of the vineyard from the tasting room parking lot with Lake Leelanau in the background

 

 

Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)20171205_161353.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: Around 11 y/o (per store owner)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum (for standard ERSB): $31

Thanks to Marshall for the gift of a 375 ml bottle!

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Leather shop, charred corn on the cob, blackberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Fruitier with less tannin than the nose. Alcohol, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, oak.

Finish: Vanilla custard. Medium length.

Parting words: Rural Inn is a small liquor store and bar east of Downtown Indianapolis at the corner Rural and Michigan. It has been in operation since 1949, but it seems older than that. I was first brought there by friend-of-the-blog Marshall, even though I drove past it frequently in High School, usually en route from my parents’ home in Broad Ripple to the house of a southeast side girlfriend (there were a few).

Owner Ray has a revolving selection of store picks and every one I’ve had has been good. This Eagle Rare is one of the best and most surprising. Fruit is a rare set of notes to find in bourbon, but it does appear from time to time. The fruitiest bourbons I’ve had have been Old Forester and Four Roses single barrel selections. I have tasted cherry in Buffalo Trace products before but it was more cherry cough syrup than fresh fruit (looking at you Charter 101). I’ve never gotten anything fruity in Eagle Rare Single Barrel so this was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t think there is anymore of this selection left (it was purchased in 2016) but be sure to pick up an ER the next time Rural Inn picks one! Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn selection is highly recommended.

For a fun head to head tasting featuring a selection from another Indianapolis store, check out this video review from the summer of 2013 filmed at Walloon Lake, Michigan with Liz, Amy, Jennifer and myself.

 

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.

 

 

Brixx Gin

Maker: New Holland Distillery, Holland, Michigan, USA20171205_161207.jpg

Style: Dry gin finished in red wine barrels.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Pinkish orange, like a light rosé.

Nose: Pomegranate seeds, chocolate orange, alcohol, leather.

Palate: Full bodied. Chili spiced wine.

Finish: Lemonheads, pine cleaner.

Mixed: Added a fruity note to most of the classic cocktails I tried, but does ok with tonic too. Not great in a dry martini, though.

Parting words: I had several questions about the gin and I sent the fine folks at New Holland a message with those questions a few months ago and they never responded, as usual. As a result, I have no idea what variety of wine the barrels held or if they were sourced from a Michigan winery or somewhere else. It would be cool if they were from Michigan, though.

This will probably be the last New Holland spirit I review because I’m sick of reviewing their stuff and not having my existance acknowledged even in the most basic ways. That said, Brixx is pretty good and the price isn’t awful for a barrel finished craft gin. Brixx is recommended.

 

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.

 

Isastegi Sagardo Naturala

Maker: Isastegi, Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, Spain.20171122_111432.jpg

Region: Gipuzkoa (Basque country), Spain.

Style: Dry natural apple cider blended in oak casks.

ABV: 6%

Purched for $5/375 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Bright gold, but very cloudy. Yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: Crushed crabapple, lemon juice, mild funk.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry with a little effervescence. Dry baking apple, bitter wood, vinegar shrub.

Finish: Tart, then dry and chewy.

Parting words: This is the first Spanish cider I’ve reviewed and it might be the first Spanish cider I’ve tasted ever. It had a dry funk similar to typical Norman ciders, but balanced with tartness and that weird but pleasant vinegar note. Isastegi is the only Spanish cider I’ve seen on shelves in Michigan. It’s released once a year in March, but barring some explosion in popularity, it should be just as easy/hard to find year round. If you see Isastegi, buy it! Maybe that will lead to more sidura on the shelves. Isastegi Sagardo Naturala is recommended.