West Coast vs North Coast: A Pinot Noir Head to Head blind tasting

Four wines: A, B, C & D. Four tasters: Josh, Liz, Amy & Pete. Notes are a combination of mine and those of the other tasters.

Makers: Revealed at the end.

Grape: Pinot Noir

Places of origin (in no particular order): Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon, Russian River Valley AVA, California.

Vintage: 2016

ABV

A: 14.5%, B: 11.6%, C: 13.1%, D:  14.3%

Price

A: $23, B: $18, C: $15, D: $14

Appearance

A: Dark ruby.

B: Light. Translucent.

C: Medium dark red.

D: Darkest. Brick red.

Nose

A: Cherry jam, plum, cedar.

B: Wild blackberry, hint of brett (fades quickly), wet earth, black pepper, cedar.

C: Mild compared to the others. Crushed strawberry, a little oak.

D: Crushed mulberry, oak, coffee, pepper.

Palate

A: Cherry juice, black pepper, smoke, almost no acid.

B: Light mouthfeel. Broken grape stem, tangy. Raspberry, toasted oak.

C: Light bodied. Strawberry, red currant, lightly acidic.

D: Black current jam, blackberry, lemon, earth.

Finish

A: A little oak, black cherry.

B: Chewy. One taster noted an unpleasant aftertaste.

C: Toasted French oak, a little fruit.

D: Light. Fruity  with a little oak and leather.

20190322_172719.jpgTHE REVEAL

A: De Loach PN, Russian River Valley AVA, Sonoma County, California.

B: Domaine Berrien PN, Martha’s & Katherine’s Vineyards, DB estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan.

C: Chateau Chantal PN, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan.

D: Kirkland Signature PN, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon.

Parting words: I got idea for this head to head after I noticed that I had purchased a lot of 2016 Pinot Noir in the past couple months. I thought comparing an LMS Pinot to an OMP Pinot and comparing both of them to ones from Oregon and Sonoma might be a fun and educational excercise. They had to be around the same price, too, to keep us from tasting the price differences rather than the terroir and technique of the wine makers.

I know this is a Michigan wine blog, but I will say that my personal favorite was the Kirkland. It was the most balanced and was a delight to drink from beginning to end. My least was the De Loach. It tasted overripe and was nothing but sweet fruit. Of the two Michigan wines, the Chateau Chantal Pinot was the most balanced and drinkable, but it was very mild compared to the others. I’ve complained about this before. Domaine Berrien was good, but tasted a little green and unrefined compared to the others. I know from experience, though, the Wally’s wines can take a while to blossom, even in a warm vintage like 2016. Another year or two in the bottle is recommended for DB PN.

The other tasters varied in their choices, but the differences were all a matter of taste not of disagreement of quality or flaws. One taster liked the fruity sweetness of De Loach, but disliked Domaine Barrien strongly. Another found Chateau Chantal delightful, but Kirkland overbearing.

These are all good value wines. Kirkland and Chateau Chantal are recommended. Domaine Berrien is recommended with further cellaring and De Loach is mildly 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.

Domaine Berrien Syrah, 2011

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA20161112_192737.jpg

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV:

Price: Forgotten (around $20)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Black currant jelly, oak, clove.

Palate: Medium bodied, juicy, tart cherry, then moving to bitter oak.

Finish: Chewy and drying but with a squirt of blackberry juice.

Parting words: Syrah/Shiraz is a grape most closely associated with the Northern Rhone Valley and Australia. Southwest Michigan’s climate is closer to the Northern Rhone’s but the temperature is more extreme on the top and bottom ends, like that of the rest of the northeastern of the US. Domaine Berrien’s Syrah is in the cool climate category, but the high end temps push it toward the fruitier warm climate style.

This is one of the wines that I brought over from old Sipology HQ’s “cellar” in the corner of the laundry room to my current cellar. I’m glad I let it sit as long as I did, because it’s blossomed into a wonderful wine (although it had a good head start). It’s fruity but spicy and structured and goes well with food (like turkey) but just as good without. Syrah isn’t one of Michigan’s marquee grapes, but DB does a wonderful job with it. This is a wine worth seeking out. 2011 Domaine Berrien Syrah is recommended.

 

Domaine Berrien Sweet Traminette, 2012

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA20160415_171526-1.jpg

Place of Origin: Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: Unknown (2013 vintage was 13.2%)

Price: $12 (Website price for 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Medium gold with thick, widely spaced legs.

Nose: Canned pear, roasted almonds, lemon verbena, nutmeg.

Palate- Full bodied and luscious. A little oxidation evident. Golden Delicious apple, winter savory, ginger,  angelica.

Finish: White pepper, clove. Fades but leaves a subtle sweetness lingering behind.

Parting words: Domaine Berrien is best known for their reds but they produce some very good whites, like this one too. Traminette is one of the few hybrids grown on their estates, but it’s a good choice given the warmer climate and lower latitude of Lake Michigan Shore AVA. It’s a fairly new hybrid created in 1965 as a cross of Gewurztraminer with a Seyve hybrid at the University of Illinois. It’s been named the signature grape of Indiana as well.

This is described as a “German style” Traminette, which is odd since the grape is not widely grown in Germany, to my knowledge anyway. I think what they mean is that they were aiming for a wine in the style of late harvest Riesling or Gewurz from Germany. It certainly has the mouthfeel and many of the aromas of an aged Spatlese or Auslese. I almost found myself wishing that I had let it sit for another year or two, but I’m also afraid that the slight mustiness on the nose might erupt into full-blown mildew. Maybe I was right to open it when I did, then.

Anyway, Domaine Berrien Sweet Traminette, 2012 is recommended. It may be hard to find at this point, but the 2013 is kicking around.

Domaine Berrien Pinot Noir

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USADB 2010 Pinot

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (Estate bottled)

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12.8%

Price: $15.50 (Michigan by the Bottle tasting room)

Appearance: Quite dark for a pinot. Brick red with long thick legs.

Nose: Earth, red raspberry, cedar.

Palate: Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, wild blackberry, stewed rhubarb, pinch of clove, alcohol.

Finish: Chewy. Oak, alcohol, fruit of the forest, sautéed button mushrooms.

Parting words: Domaine Berrien was one of the first Michigan wineries to take the possibilities of Michigan reds seriously. Their care shows in impressive wines like this.

DB’s 2010 Pinot Noir is complex without being busy and gutsy without being belligerent. Its balance, intergration and complexity are head and shoulders above other Michigan Pinots, even the good ones. I’ve had Michigan Pinots from this vintage from Northern Michigan that had already fallen apart in early 2014, but this one is still going strong.

It did well a meal of pulled pork but it did clash a little with the tangy, mustardy BBQ sauce I used. Otherwise, it seems like it would go very well with turkey, pork, duck or flavorful chicken dishes.

At only $15.50, it punches well above its class. I’ll be seeking out the 2011 and 2012 vintages for sure. Domaine Berrien’s 2010 Pinot Noir is highly recommended.