St. Julian Michigan Grappa

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Traminette

Style: Pomace Brandy

ABV: 40%

Price: $20/375 ml (only available at St. Julian tasting rooms)

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, grape stems, white pepper, ginger, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied, semi-dry. Yellow cayenne, pepper melange, lavender.

Finish: Fresh, clean, more lavender.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa

Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.

St. Julian Dry Sparkling Rosé

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: NV

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $8 (? Winery tasting room, Troy, Michigan)

Appearance: Orangy pink, effervescent.

Nose: Strawberry, mulberry.

Palate: Fizzy, medium-bodied and mild. White raspberry, mineral water.

Finish: Acid, a little tannin.

Parting words: I recall tasting this wine at the tasting room and I must have liked it a lot since I ended up buying three bottles of it! Oddly, two of those bottles are listed at $8 and one is listed at $14 in my Cellar Tracker account, so I’m not really sure how much I paid.

This is a decent, quaffable sparkling rosé that tastes best when chilled. There’s not much in the way of balance or integration, though, and the palate is a little flat. For $8 (if that’s what I paid for it), it’s fine. At $14, not so much. I’ll err on the side of generosity, though and give St. Julian Dry Sparkline Rosé a mild recommendation.

Note: This wine is no longer on the St. Julian website, but seems to have been replaced by something called Dry Bubbly Rosé. Hopefully the name change means that the wine has been revamped.

Domaine Berrien Merlot, 2014

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

Vintage: 2014

ABV: Unknown

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.

St. Julian Reserve Riesling

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA20190717_201947.jpg

Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Style: Semi-dry.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

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.

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.

Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve, 2013

Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA20181107_112736.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

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.

 

Find Wild Fruit Traminette

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20181023_182657.jpg

Grape: Traminette

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013 (harvested October 6)

ABV: 20%

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.

 

Round Barn Merlot, 2013

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, Michigan, USA20181002_174123.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.5%

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.