Smith-Madrone Riesling, 2014

Maker: Smith-Madrone, St Helena, California, USA.20180211_131117.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Smith-Madrone estate, Spring Mountain District AVA, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.8%

Purchased for $30.

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Underripe pear, lemon thyme, lemon zest.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Lemon-sage butter.

Finish: Lemon meringue.

Parting words: I don’t review many California wines on the blog, but when I do, there’s always a story behind it. This one comes out of an experience at the 2015 City of Riesling festival in Traverse City, Michigan. I first tasted this wine (from an earlier vintage) at one of the Salon Riesling sessions on the final day of the event. Here’s how it went:

After tasting a bone dry 2013 Domaine Wachau (Austria) and the very dry and very good Domaine Weinbach Personal Reserve (Alsace) we tasted a Riesling made by an old family winery in the Spring Mountain area of Napa. I thought it tasted like those awful buttered popcorn jelly beans that used to come in the Jelly Belly variety packs. [Vineyard owner and importer] Barry [O’Brien] had us taste it and asked what we thought. There were a few seconds of silence then I piped up. “I thought it was awful. Didn’t like it at all,” then I gave my jelly bean note. Eric Crane got a quizzical look on his face and said something like “That’s surprising” and sniffed the wine a couple times. Brian Ulbrich [of Left Foot Charley] piped up and told a story about a great experience he had working at that winery and others mentioned how great the family was and how great it was that they gave prime Napa vineyard space to Riesling. Karel [Bush of the Michigan Wine Council] then said that stories like those are the ones we need to tell to consumers to change perceptions. None of them said anything about how the wine actually tasted, though.

See here for the original post.

Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is almost universally loved, at least online, so I figured I needed to give it another shot. So I did. I liked it much better this time, but the butter note was still there, albeit hiding at the back of the palate. It might have been the abrupt change from the very dry Austrian and Alsatian wines in the tasting that made the butter so shocking at Salon Riesling or maybe it was the vintage.

I can appreciate the care that went into this wine and the importance of supporting independent growers and winemakers. I still found the butter note distasteful. It doesn’t make the wine bad, but it does mean I will probably not be paying $30 for this wine again with so many better local options. 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling is mildly recommended.

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Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire

Maker: Cidres Dujardin, Jurques, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France20180212_103725.jpg

Place of origin: Brittany, France.

Style: Perry (poire en français)

ABV: 4.5%

Purchased for $5/750 ml (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Medium gold. Fizzy on first pour. Head fades quickly but bubbles keep going strong.

Nose: Canned pear syrup, grated lemon zest.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Cut pear with a little lemon juice. Traces of yeast, tannin.

Finish: Sweet but drying. Overripe green pears.

Parting words: I reviewed the tasty Dan Armor apple cider three years ago. This perry is sweeter and less complex (as perries often are) but enjoyable. Sweetness and fruit dominate, but tartness (as it warms in the glass) and tiny whiffs of funk and tannin keep Dan Armor poire from being one-dimensional. It’s hard to ask for more from a $5 perry. Dan Armor Cuvée Spéciale Cidré Poire is recommended.

Four Roses Ltd Ed Small Batch, 2017

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA.

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Or something like that

Style: Standard recipe bourbon (OE recipe bourbons)

Age: 12 y/o (mix of 15 y/o OESK, 13 y/o OESK & 12 y/o OESV recipe bourbons).

Proof: 108 (54% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $150

Thanks the Eric for the sample!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, corn on the cob roasting on the grill, tarragon. Water brings out black pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied. Toasted marshmallow, alcohol. With water: caramel, oak tannin, Habanero pepper.

Finish: Grape bubblegum, caramel, oak.

Parting words: This is an expression I used to review every year (See my reviews of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions) but I haven’t in several years. I haven’t purchased any in a while either. Why? These limited editions were never cheap (I paid $90 for the 2013 edition) but demand for limited edition bourbon has grown so much in the past four years that I no longer have the time or budget to devote to hunting down these bottles. Even products like Old Forester Birthday Bourbon that used to languish on shelves for years are nearly impossible to find now. The secondary (black) market is always an option, but prices are even higher than retail as are the risks of various forms of fraud.

One of my concerns has also been decreasing quality of limited editions. I don’t think I have much to worry about when it comes to Four Roses. I tasted the 2017 alongside the 2013 edition and while the 2013 was more complex, there doesn’t seem like there has been much of a drop off in quality. No beverage is worth the stupid high prices of the secondary market, but I think $150 is fair for a bourbon as good as these always are.  I wouldn’t pay much more though. 2017 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch is recommended.

 

Bowers Harbor Medium Sweet Riesling, 2013

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180125_120014.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

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

Style: Semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Price: $16 (2016 vintage, winery)

Note: Received a media discount and reduced price tour at time of purchase.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Very ripe peach, gravel road, sage, grapefruit.

Palate: Full-bodied. Orange push pop, pineapple juice.

Finish: Long and tart.

Parting words: Practically everybody in Michigan grows Riesling. For some wineries in Michigan, Riesling is a part of their identity. Bowers Harbor is one of those. I reviewed BHV’s 2013 Block II dry Riesling a few weeks ago and the 2010 Block II a while back.

This wine has almost all the same aromas as those wines, but with the sweetness dialed up. It reminds me of a relatively dry German Kabinett, but with the signature characteristics of OMP Riesling.

Pairs well with spicey food and the price is very good for a wine of this quality. There should still be a few 2013s lurking on shelves around Michigan, but if you can’t find any, pick up a bottle or twelve of the 2016 Medium Dry Riesling. Bowers Harbor Medium Sweet Riesling is recommended.

Glen Scotia Double Cask

Maker: Glen Scotia, Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute, Scotland, UK20180129_102156.jpg

Region: Cambelltown

Age: NAS

Note: Not chill-filtered.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Dark caramel. Colored?

Nose: Fruit of the forest pie with vanilla ice cream, roasted almonds.

Palate: Medium-bodied, medium-sweet. Caramelized sugar, high rye bourbon, brown butter.

Finish: Bourbon, vanilla, oak, alcohol.

Parting words: For years, Glen Scotia has been the other Campbeltown distillery, the best known one being Springbank. There’s now a third one, Glengyle, but even that one is owned by the same folks who own Springbank. Springbank had the distinctive bottle, the big fanbase, the cool sounding name and the stable of old Campbeltown names like Hazelburn and Longrow to use for various expressions. Glen Scotia had a generic-sounding name, boring bottles, boring expressions and poor distribution. The name is still there, but the bottle looks good now and there seems to have been an effort on the part of parent company Loch Lomond to improve distribution and upgrade the line with entries like Victoriana and this.

Double Cask shows a good balance of sherry cask, bourbon cask and peat influence. lacks a little in integration but it’s never boring, which is a much greater sin. This is a $70 single malt, although I would hesitate to buy at >$85 or so. Glen Scotia Double Cask is recommended.

 

Delpech Fougerat VS

Maker: Vinet-Delpech, Brie-sous Archaiac, Jonzac, Charente-Maritime, France.20180129_101844.jpg

Age: At least 2 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $58

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Grape soda, Sunny D, cola.

Palate: Light-bodied, Golden raisins, black currant jelly, oak.

Finish: Raisin-y with a little burn and chewy oak.

Parting words: There’s not a lot of information on this Cognac online or anywhere else for this matter. Vinet-Delpech is located in Brie-sous Archaic a tiny (<300 people) commune about 17 miles (27 km) south of Cognac. According to their family owns 100 hectares (247 acres) of vineyards in the Petite Champagne and Fins Bois regions of Cognac. They (presumably) produce Cognac from the family vineyards and also seem to do brisk business as a bottler and contract distiller (one wonders if they’re the source of Brenne).

Vinet-Delpech has two lines of Cognac, the Delpech Fougerat line with the standard VS, VSOP and XO expressions and the Vinet-Delpech line with those plus Hors d’âge with the names and faces of the family members that produced the expression on the label. They also produce a non-Cognac brandy called Hector Legrand Extra. As far as I can tell, none of them are widely distributed in the US. Why the Delpech line is available in Michigan is a mystery to me.

Delprect Fougerat VS is a fruity, refreshing, weeknight Cognac at a decent price. If you run across it, I recommend you buy it

Blind Gamay head to head: Beaujolais vs. Old Mission

Yes, it’s another head to head! This time I decided to pit a 2014 Gamay Noir from Chateau 20180131_170642.jpgGrand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula against a 2014 Beaujolais-Villages from Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s biggest négociants (wine buyers/blenders/bottlers). I enlisted the help of friends of the blog Amy and Pete to help us out (last seen here). Just to make sure we were tasting the wine and not our biases, we tasted these two wines blind. I’ll review them that way too, revealing which is which (and price and ABV) at the end. I’ll integrate the co-taster’s notes into my own, noting if they differ from mine.

Appearance

A: Dark rose.

B: Similar, but a little darker

Nose

A: Fruity, berries specifically. I also smelled pepper and a drop of balsamic vinegar (in a good way)

B: Very similar, maybe a little more oak and a little less balsamic.

Palate

A: Light bodied. Strawberry, blackberry, oak.

B: Same flavor palette, but a little drier, chewier and more intense. That said, none of us knew if I could tell these two apart in a wider tasting. They both grew tart as they warmed, shifting into raspberry.

Finish

A: Drying. Balsamic, oak.

B: Similar but drier and longer.

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I forgot to take pictures of the Gamay tasting, so here’s Amy & Pete tasting Riesling.

THE REVEAL

A= Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, 2014. 12.5% ABV. $16 (Holiday Market)

B= Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir, 2014 (Old Mission Peninsula AVA). 12% ABV. $15 (Holiday Market)

The CGT Gamay Noir performed slightly better, but as I wrote above, the wines were virtually identical. Both were delicious and paired well with the chocolate and cheese we nibbled on during the tasting. They’d both do well with grilled or roasted chicken, salmon or pork. Both are recommended, but why not save yourself a buck while supporting the Mitten state and pick up a bottle of CGT Gamay Noir the next time you buy wine!

 

 

 

Old Forester Single Barrel, The Party Source selection

Maker: Brown-Forman, Shively, Kentucky, USA20180126_190314.jpg

Age:NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Barrel: The Party Source #3521. Warehouse G, floor 5.

Price: $40 (The Party Source, obviously).

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, almond extract, plum, cracked pink peppercorns, tarragon.

Palate: Plantain, strawberry jam, cinnamon, oak.

Finish: Fairly hot, fades into fruit and leather (not to be confused with fruit leather).

Mixed: Made great Manhattans and Boulevardiers.

Parting words: I thought I had reviewed the last Old Forester Single Barrel I purchased from The Party Source (TPS) but I haven’t been able to find that review so I’ll just have to go by memory. That bottle was the fruitiest bourbon I can remember having. It was jammy with a touch of oak, like a Michigan Pinot Noir. This bottle is much more balanced, and even more enjoyable. It’s fruit-forward, but backed up with power, spice and oak. It’s a good example of why one should never turn up one’s nose at a big store retailer pick, especially not a big store in Kentucky. Old Forester Single Barrel, TPS pick is highly recommended,

The Cunning Ham

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180121_122605.jpg

Style: Dry farmhouse cider using Saison yeast.

Note: Fermented in French oak. Rested on lees. Unfiltered.

ABV: 7%

Purchased for $8/500 ml (winery)

Appearance: Light gold, slightly cloudy.

Nose: Pressed apple juice, a little funk and tannin.

Palate: Off dry, chewy dried apricot, oak.

Finish: Tart, then tart and tannic. Meyer lemon.

Parting words: Ciders have become trendy in Michigan wine and beer circles, with a number of producers branching out into cider with mixed sucess. Just because one knows how to ferment grapes or grains, doesn’t mean one knows how to make a good cider.

That said, Left Foot Charley knows how to make a good cider. Cunning Ham is a part of a line of ciders that also includes Henry’s Pippin (made with heirloom apples but not necessarily traditional cider apples),  Antrim County (single origin) and crowd favorite Cinnamon Girl (cinnamon flavored). I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and here five years later (oops).

For a dry farmhouse cider, The Cunning Ham is very drinkable and food friendly, especially with spicy fare. I expected a little more funk and tannin but there’s nothing not to like in this bottle. $8 for 500 ml is a very fair price for a quality craft cider. I have no idea where the name came from, but The Cunning Ham is recommended.

 

2012 Cabernet Franc head to head tasting: Free Run vs. Brys Estate

A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.

From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.

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Jessica and Brian

For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.

FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)20180113_165641.jpg

BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin

FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV

FR: 12%

BE: 13.5%

Price

FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.

BE: $50 (winery)

Appearance

FR: Dark ruby.

BE: Darker. Plum.

Nose

FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.

BE: Big lavender, blackberry.

Palate

FR: Cherry juice, chewy tannins, raspberry, blackberry.

BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.

Finish

FR: Tart. A little cherry.

BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.

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The casserole

Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.

FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.

BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.

Tasters other than me

Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”

Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.

Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.

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The chocolate tarts

My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.

BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.

I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.