Note: A couple reviews on Cellar Tracker state that this wine is 100% from the La Esperanza vineyard. If so, I don’t understand why it came out on the Marland label instead of Wyncroft. Either way, it’s still good.
Maker: Domaine Berrien Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA
Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)
Appearance: Brick red.
Nose: Black currant, cedar, pick peppercorns, sauteed mushrooms.
Palate: Medium-bodied and juicy. Blackberries, raspberries, leather.
Finish: Oaky and tannic.
Parting words: In a vintage like 2014, it’s close to a miracle that any estate wines were produced in Michigan at all, let alone one this good! It’s pretty chewy for a Merlot, but the combination of acid and tannin makes for a pairing with beef or lamb. A little more sweetness might have made for a more balanced product but, hey, this is 2014. $20 is a bargain. 2014 Domaine Berrien Merlot is recommended.
Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)
Purchased for $9 (Costco)
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: peach cobbler, roux.
Palate: Peach, citrus, lemon butter, grave.
Finish: Clean and dry. Lemon thyme.
Parting words: This wine was also a part of June 2019’s Twitter Riesling Roundtable. It was the most impressive Riesling from LMS in the tasting. I dodn’t usually go for buttery Riesling but this wine was so perfectly balanced that I didn’t mind the butter. In fact, it worked with the fruit notes to create baked good aromas and flavors. $9 is hard to beat for a wine this good. As I’ve said before, don’t sleep on St. Julian. Tbere’s a lot more to them than Blue Heron. St. Julian Reserve Riesling is highly recommended.
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.
A: 14.5%, B: 11.6%, C: 13.1%, D: 14.3%
A: $23, B: $18, C: $15, D: $14
A: Dark ruby.
B: Light. Translucent.
C: Medium dark red.
D: Darkest. Brick red.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA
Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore (Berrien Springs)
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.
Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA
Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $22 (winery)
Appearance: Dark reddish-purple.
Nose: Blackberry pie, clove, oak.
Palate: Medium-bodied and mostly dry. Baking spice, blackberry, mulberry.
Finish: Crushed blackberry, toasted oak.
Parting words: Fennville is Michigan’s only sub-appellation. It’s as old or older (sources conflict) than its parent AVA Lake Michigan Shore. It’s essentially a one winery appellation. That winery is Fenn Valley. It’s to the north and west of the big wineries in LMS, so it doesn’t get the same traffic as the others, but it’s very much worth a trip up the road to Fennville or to the tasting room in Saugatuck. Those are the only place one can reliably find Fennville wines. Judging by this one, it’s a prime spot.
This wine is a classic cool-climate Merlot. It has the chewy fruit one expects from Merlot, but with that cool climate (and cool vintage) tang that brings it all together and makes it a perfect match with pork chops, roast duck or sirloin steak. At $22, it’s worth every dollar and more. 2013 Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve is highly recommended.
Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Vintage: 2013 (harvested October 6)
Purchased for $18 (Winery, received media discount)
Appearance: Pale lemon.
Nose: Funk, lychee, fresh Bartlett pear.
Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Limestone dust, bitter apple, pinch of ginger, cardamom.
Finish: Lychee. Fades fairly quickly.
Parting words: It would be weird to call this an Alsace-style Traminette, since Traminette is a hybrid, but that’s kind of what this is. Gewurztraminer is one of parents of Traminette, so it’s not really too much of a stretch. It has the body, funk and dryness one expects from Alsatian Gewurz. I was taken aback by those characteristics when I first opened the bottle but they grew on me quickly.
This wine comes from a batch of “wild fruit” Nathaniel was able to obtain and bottle. Its label is obviously inspired by the greatest educational DOS game of all time (sorry Number Munchers), Oregon Trail. Nathaniel always thought that finding wild fruit was the most interesting thing that happened on that game, so when he came accross some Traminette, he thought this label would be the perfect tribute to one of his favorite gaming moments.
This is a great wine from a great winemaker at a fair price. Find Wild Fruit Traminette is highly recommended. For more on Nathaniel’s operation see my visit to him here.
Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, Michigan, USA
Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $33 (with press discount) at winery.
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Cherry juice, smoked Memphis-style pork ribs.
Palate: Medium bodied and a little chewy. Fruit of the forest pie, vanilla, clove, aniseed.
Finish: A little sweetness and tannin in the cheeks.
Notes: Received complementary tour, free tasting and press discount at time of purchase. Grapes harvested October 21, 2013 at 20.5 brix. In French oak for 20 months.
Parting words: Merlot isn’t a grape that is very closely associated with Michigan but it does pretty well here, especially (but not exclusively) in the LMS AVA. It is often used in red blends where it serves to balance out the bold, savory flavors of the widely grown Cabernet Franc, which I suspect may be rounding out the blend here.
Vintners will tell you that 2013 was a tough vintage in Michigan, mostly on account of it being a cool one, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of very good wine made. Wines of 2013 in just took a little longer to mature than their 2012 (or 2016) compatriots. As a result, the 2013 Bordeaux variety reds are hitting their stride now, so dig into your cellar and drink up now!
This wine has the cherry and berry flavors one expects from Merlot, but with a touch of pork (yes, I know that sounds like a Pigs in Space porn parody) and spice with judicious use of oak. The price is too high, but not so high that I feel like I need to wag my finger at the folks in the Barn by only giving this a mild recommendation. 2013 Round Barn Merlot is recommended.
On Saturday, June 9, Liz and I headed up to Traverse City, Michigan for the fourth City of Riesling Festival (For my review of the first, click here). We had a great time. We drank wine, we walked on the beach, we drank more wine, we learned about wine. On Sunday we also visited Good Harbor and Chateau Fontaine wineries and drank and bought wine.
On Monday we had one more wine stop: Nathaniel Rose winery at Raftshol Vineyards. Nathaniel Rose has been running his own winemaking business since 2010 operating out of whichever winery he was working at the time, starting at Raftshol and ending up at Brengman Brothers, with several in between. Last year, he purchased Raftshol Vineyards in Suttons Bay in Leelanau and is now using it as his HQ (and homestead!).
Raftshol is one of the oldest wineries and vineyards in Leelanau. It began at the turn of the last century as the dairy farm of Anders Raftshol. In 1930 the cows left home and the farm was converted to a cherry orchard. In 1975 the cherry business was bad so the trees had to go. Sometime after that, hybrid grape vines were planted. Anders’ grandsons, Warren and Curtis were not happy with the results so in 1985 they planted vinifera instead, being the first commercial vineyard on Leelanau to do so. Instead of the usual practice of grafting vinifera vines onto native rootstock, they grafted them onto the existing hybrid ones. Rose believes this unusual set up may contribute to the high quality of the fruit produced by the estate. When Warren decided to sell last year, Rose jumped at the chance to own some of the oldest vinifera vines in the state, including Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Rose, the vineyards had been neglected for the past ten years, but he’s in the process of whipping them back into shape using careful pruning.
Nathaniel Rose’s namesake project is mostly about making quality, single-vineyard red wines. They are currently sourced from vineyards in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and almost entirely red except for an orange Marsanne and a dry Traminette (we bought a bottle of Traminette for $13 minus trade discount). Rose has worked at nine different wineries in various capacities over the years, including Raftshol and Brengman Brothers, which he operated out of until purchasing Raftshol. His extensive knowledge, experience and contacts in the Michigan wine industry allow him to get quality fruit from quality vineyards. His wines There may also be a Chardonnay in the works, but Rose says he doesn’t really have the proper equipment for whites at the moment.
Everything we tasted there was wonderful, but my favorites were his excellent Syrahs (we purchased a bottle of the single barrel #4 Syrah at $85 minus trade discount). They were the best Michigan Syrahs I’ve tasted and maybe the best Michigan reds I’ve tried overall. For the single barrel, Rose was aiming for a wine reminiscent of Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône valley, so he cofermented the Syrah with Viognier. When we were tasting, he helpfully provided a bottle of Côte-Rôtie for comparison and the two wines were indeed very close and I would be hard pressed to say which I liked better.
His signature wines are his Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Left Bank and Right Bank. They were both very good. Rose is rightfully very proud of these, especially the Left Bank. He loves to tell the story of the tasting he attended with several sommeliers (including Master somm Brett Davis), winemakers, writers and other experts in which his 2012 Left Bank Blend went up against a group of Second Growth Bordeaux and cult California Cabs, including Cardinale (~$270), Ridge Monte Bello (~$250), and Jos. Phelps Insignia (~$190), all of the 2012 vintage. Left Bank won. None of the experts could pick Left Bank out of the lineup blind and tasters could not tell the difference between it and the 2012 Cardinale Cab at all. In fact, they belived they had mistakenly been poured the same wine twice. Rose believes that Northern Michigan and his new vineyard in particular (which is not the source of Left Bank) has a climate that is very similar to high elevation viticultural areas in California and is capable of producing reds of the same high quality.
Left Bank sells for $150 (we also purchased a bottle of this at a trade discount) which puts it at or near the top of the price range for Michigan wines, even higher than wineries like Brys Estate or Mari Vineyards. When I asked him if he thinks consumers will be willing to pay that much for Michigan wines, regardless of quality, he responded with a few points. First, that his wines are plainly worth the money as tastings like the ones he’s entered Left Bank into prove. Second, that he’s had no trouble selling any of his wines so far. Finally, he pointed out that, while he is selling it at the Raftshol tasting room, the primary purpose of a wine like Left Bank is to enter into contests and tastings to bring attention to the quality of his wines. In other words, he’s not expecting Left Bank to fly off the shelf. It’s intended as a showpiece, not pizza wine (although it would be good with pizza!).*
Nathaniel Rose’s winery is one of the most exciting things happening in Michigan wine right now. I’m a cheap skate but his wines are as good or better than ones from more prestigious and expensive regions and if any wines deserve to push the price envelope in Michigan, Nathaniel’s do. A visit to Nathaniel Rose at Raftshol Vineyards is highly recommended! Joining his wine club is also recommended, so you can get the generous club discount!
*When I spoke to Nathaniel on August 29, 2018 he informed me that Left Bank has actually turned out to be his best seller! Collectors are stocking up.
Corrected and updated September 4, 2018.
Maker: Cody Kresta, Mattawan, Michigan.
Fruit: Peach (100%)
Vintage: 2016 (!)
Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle.
Appearance: Light orange.
Nose: Big, overripe peach.
Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-sweet. Squishy, nearly rotten peach.
Finish: Sweet, fade quickly.
Parting words: Peaches are usually associated with Georgia, but California actually produces the most peaches of any state. New Jersey, Washington and New York also rank in the top ten. Those three states are also major cool-climate wine producers, like Michigan. While Michigan isn’t a major peach producer nationally, its climate is great for growing peaches. There are few things I love more than a perfectly ripe Michigan peach in the late summer.
When I first tasted this peach wine at MBTB, that’s what I tasted. It was a beautiful experience and I took a bottle home with me. That was in September 2017. I had a few fruit wines in the cue ahead of this one, so I didn’t get around to opening it until earlier this week. That was a mistake. I love fruit wines, but they usually don’t reward cellaring.
2016 Cody Kresta Peach is tasty and recommended. It has lost some of its freshness, though, so I also recommend drinking it promptly after release!