Chateau Aeronautique Passito Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-11-11-11.19.03.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Style: Straw wine (made with raisins)

ABV: 12%

Price: $45/375 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Notes from label: 38.0 brix at harvest, residual sugar 15% by weight.

Appearance: Rusty red, big heavy robe, thick slow legs.

Nose: Tawny port, cherry, other stone fruit.

Palate: Full bodied and fruity. Plum, cherry pie filling, vanilla, white pepper.

Finish: Big cherry flavor, like a cherry wine. Gets a litt

Parting words: The technique for making straw, or raisin, wine is an ancient one. The epic poet Hesiod (a contemporary of Homer) mentions a Cyprian straw wine called Manna in his poem Works and Days. Ancient Carthage produced a straw wine the Romans loved and called passum. The modern Italian term for raisin wine is passito, derived from the ancient wine. Amarone is probably the best known, but passito is made all over Italy, and in the Czech Republic (slámové víno), France (vin de paille), Greece (variety of local names), Austria and Germany (strohwein or schilfwein), among other places. Drying the grapes has a similar effect to “noble rot” (botrytis) or allowing the grapes to freeze, as in ice wine. The result is an intensely flavored, thick, sweet wine. As one might guess, the process also adds to the price of the wine.

The label describes this wine as “cherry pie in a glass” which is a bit of an overstatement, but it does have a wonderfully fruity aroma and flavor that makes for a delicious holiday dessert wine. It might also make a good gateway dessert wine with its easily discernable flavors. It pairs well with chocolate and it’s probably my favorite of the dessert wines currently on pour at Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room in Royal Oak. The label says to serve it chilled, but I’ve had it both chilled and at room temperature and it was good either way.

My only concern with this is the price. This is a good wine but for $45/375 ml I want it to be exceptional. I understand that a number of factors contribute to the high price of this wine, like being from a boutique producer, being made using a special technique and being made with a variety that can be hard to grow successfully in Michigan. After factoring that in, the price is still high, but it’s a unique product for Michigan and I think that unconventional thinking should be rewarded. It’s not like anyone’s going to be trying to chug this from an oversized balloon glass or a Solo cup after all. Chateau Aeronautique Passito Cabernet Sauvignon is recommended.

Evenus Zinfandel Port

Maker: Candlewood Cellars, Graton, California, USAwpid-2015-05-20-20.31.44.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Paso Robles AVA, California, USA

Vintage: 2003

Style: Fortified dessert wine.

ABV: 18.1%

Purchased for $10/375 ml (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Dark purple with a slight brownish tinge.

Nose: Raisins, black currant jelly, plum, blueberry.

Palate: Sweet and fruity. Blueberry jam, black cherry, bit of white pepper. Fades into a slight burn.

Finish: Raisiny and warming.

Mixed: Yes, sometimes I mix my port, even when it’s not really Port. Made for a pretty bad Princeton cocktail, but that might have been down to the cheap gin I used. Did well with a squirt of lemon juice.

Parting words: I purchased this bottle many years ago and planned to open it in 2018, but I jumped the gun a bit, as you can see. I’m glad I did.

True Port, of course, has to come from Portugul, but this California version does a good job of being in the style but retaining its varietal characteristics. It has the toasty heat of a California Zin but has enough elegance and sweetness to pair well with dark chocolate or as a dessert in itself. The price is hard to beat too. Evenus 2003 Zin Port is recommended.

Warre’s Otima 10

Maker: Symington, Oporto, Portugulwarre-otima-10-year-port

Style: Tawny Port

Age: 10 y/o (bottled 2009)

ABV: 20%

Appearance: Rust-colored with quick legs.

Nose: leather, blueberry jam, black raspberries, alcohol.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Red currant jelly, allspice, clove, nutmeg, black cherry, oak, alcohol.

Finish: a hint of wood, berry jam, a bit of pumpkin spice.

Parting words: Otima 10 is the first tawny Port I’ve had in a long time. It’s much better than the supermarket garbage I used to get in my college days. While I don’t think tawny is my favorite style of Port, this one is certainly a very tasty wine that pairs very well with chocolate and rich desserts.  It has that distinct leathery taste that all tawny Ports have, but with enough fruit to keep it from becoming unpleasant. It is easy to find and easy to drink. Simple, but sometimes that’s all you need. Otima 10 is recommended.

Sirius Red

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Regent (hybrid)

Region: Old Mission AVA (?), Michigan, USA

Vintage: NV

Style: Dessert Wine (in the style of ruby Port)

ABV: 20% (edition with different ABV shown)

Appearance: Opaque, deep, dark purple.

Nose: Sweet prunes, allspice, star anise, ginger, alcohol.

On the palate: Full-bodied and velvety. Sweetness, alcohol, black cherry juice, black currant jelly, concord grape jelly.

Finish: Slightly tart, then thick, rich, raisiny and sweet.

Parting words: Sirius is a tasty, well-done version of what used to be called “domestic Port”. The term Port is now protected, and can only be applied to true, Portuguese Ports. It is very sweet, but that’s kind of the point. That sweetness is balanced out by the hints of spice, high ABV, and an underlying earthiness. All that keeps it from being  one-dimensional wino fare like many commercial wines in this class. Also pairs very well with dark chocolate. Sirius Red is recommended.

Black Star Farms Cherry Wine

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

ABV: 10%

Appearance: dark burgundy with broad, slow legs.

Nose: tart cherry, wild blackberry, walnut.

On the palate: Full-bodied, with a sumptuous mouthfeel. Mildly sweet and mildly tart. Bold, robust cherry flavors with a little clove and allspice.

Finish: slightly sweet, tart and tingly.

Parting words: Cherry wine and other fruit wines are looked down upon by many connoisseurs as pop wine or a representative of the bad old days of American wine. There are plenty of bad, sickly and cloying fruit wines on the market, granted. In the right hands, though, fruit wines and especially cherry wine (a northern Michigan staple) can be fine dessert wine. A cherry wine will probably never reach the heights of complexity of a decades old vintage Port, but a good one like this can give a ruby a run for its money. Black Star Farms takes what could be little more than a sop to the fudgies and transforms it into something worth drinking. Recommended.