Michigan Merlot Head to Head: Crane vs Lane

C= 2016 Sandhill Crane Merlot

L= 2016 Shady Lane Merlot

Makers

C: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA

L: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes

C: Merlot (at least 75%)

L: Merlot (at least 85%)

Places of origin

C: Michigan (at least 75%)

L: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV

C: 13.7%

L: 12%

Purchased for

C: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

L: $26 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance

C: Translucent ruby, almost like a Pinot Noir.

L: Darker, more purplish.

Nose

C: Cedar, blueberry, oak.

L: Cherry jam, Hawaiian Punch, white pepper.

Palate

C: Tart. Black currant, smoked ham.

L: More balanced and better integrated. Oak, BEAR jam, clove.

Finish

C: HiC, oak. Fades quickly.

L: More harmonic. Blackberry, oak, nutmeg.

Parting words: Merlot is a grape that, if it gets ripe, can produce wonderful Michigan wines. In some years that’s a big IF, but 2016 was not one of those years, to the relief of vineyard owners who had just come off two Polar Vortex years in 2014 and 2015. 2016 was hot by Michigan standards, and the wines of that year are generally full of ripe fruit flavors. These two wines are great examples of that.

I tasted these two with a meal shared with friends-of-the-blog Amy and Pete. The dish was potato chorizo tacos (one of my favorites) made with my own homemade chorizo. Both of these wines performed well, and easily stood up to spiciness of the sausage and earthiness of the potatoes.

All of us agreed that Shady Lane was the superior of the two wines. There was nothing unpleasant about Sandhill Crane Merlot, but it lacked the depth and integration of flavor Shady Lane had. I would classify Sandhill as a good BBQ wine and Shady Lane more of a steak dinner wine. I was surprised when I saw there was only a dollar difference between the two, but there’s no need to make the great the enemy of the good, so to speak. Sandhill Crane Merlot is worth the price, it’s just that Shady Lane is worth much more than its price. Both Sandhill Crane and Shady Lane 2016 Merlots are recommended.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc, 2019

Maker: Verterra, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Blanc (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA (100%), Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry sparkling wine.

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Light gold with moderate, steady bubbles.

Nose: Ripe mango, pear, custard, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Moderately effervescent with medium body. Off dry with lots of tropical fruit and just enough acid.

Finish: Semi-dry and fruity.

Parting words: The last time I spoke to Verterra Winery owner Paul Hamelin he was extremely excited about making his first sparkling wines. That was several years ago, and now the winery has a full line of blended sparkling wines, all of which are delicious. As far as I know, this wine is the only varietally bottled sparkling Pinot Blanc being produced in Michigan, although it is used frequently in blends.

I really enjoyed this wine, but unfortunately it is currently out of stock at Michigan by the Bottle’s Royal Oak tasting room. MBTBTR owner Cortney told me that they may get some more in soon, so watch for it! In the meantime, go buy some other Pinot Blanc, Verterra, sparkling wine or something else at your local MBTBTR! They are open for wine purchases on NYE & NYD, fyi.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2019 is recommended.

Earnest Dry Cider

Maker: Tandem Ciders, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Apples: Brown Snout, Dabinette, Crimson Crisp, Russet Beauty, Kilcherman Select Penny Blend, Crimson Gold, Swayzee Russet, Harrison, Riene de Pomme, Fameuset, Fameuse, Honey Crisp (according to website).

Place of origin: Leelanau, Old Mission Peninsulas, Michigan, USA.

Style: Dry blend.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $13 (Westborn Market)

Appearance: Dark gold and lightly effervescent.

Nose: Intense. Cut apple wood, sourdough, apple juice.

Palate: Dry and tannic, but juicy. Bitter apple core, freshly pressed apple.

Finish: Dry and clean, with a little astringency.

Parting words: My laptop passed away right before Thanksgiving, so I haven’t been able to post for a few weeks. I appreciate your patience, dear readers!

Anyway, Tandem is one of Michigan’s best cider producers and this is one of their best ciders. It has everything a dry craft cider should have: Fruit, tannin, and yeasty funk. Of those, Tannin is in the lead. It’s never chewy, though, but crisp and a bit woody, although it didn’t spend in time in a barrel as far as I know. It doesn’t clash with food, but it’s better as a sipper than a table cider.

$13 is a good price for a quality dry cider like this. Earnest is recommended.

Semi-dry Riesling Head to Head: 2017 Shady Lane vs 2017Arcturos

S= Shady Lane, A: Arcturos

Makers

S: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

A: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Reisling (at least 85%)

Places of origin

S: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

A: Montana Rusa, Capellla, Leorie vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV

S: 10.8%

A: 12%

Price

S: $13

A: $15

Appearance

S: Medium light gold

A: Light gold.

Nose

S: Semi-sweet apple

A: Gravel, peach.

Palate

S: Full-bodied, semi sweet, a little chewy.

A: Full-bodied, drier. Underripe peach.

Finish

S: Sweet and apply.

A: Semi-dry, clean.

Parting words: A few weeks ago, I was perusing my cellar and I discovered I had two or three bottles of Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling and Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling so I decided to invite friends of the blog Amy and Pete over for some homemade jambalaya and a head to head tasting.

The jambalaya

Everyone seemed to enjoy both of these wines, but Arcturos won the night by a nose, as it were. It’s flinty dryness paired perfectly with the toasty spice of the dish and was a little more balanced and true to type. Shady Lanes’ Semi-dry tasted much more like how I expect a semi-sweet Riesling to taste and was a little chewy (a little lees contact maybe?), not a style that typically does as well with food.

That said, both of these wines are good and worth the price. 2017 Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling and 2017Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling are both recommended.

If you want to do more comparing, check out my review of the 2017 St. Julian Semi-dry Riesling!

Rosé de Gris

Maker: Bel Lago, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Gris/Grigio

Style: Rosé

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13.6%

Price: $8 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Bright, translucent pink.

Nose: Hi-C Fruit Punch, cedar.

Palate: Mild, but full-bodied. Mulberrry, light oak.

Finish: Light and a little chewy.

Parting words: I like it when Michigan wineries make wines that aren’t the usual varietals or styles that every other winery makes. I can’t think of another winery off the top of my head that makes a rosé from Pinot Gris.

This may be obvious, but this wine tastes like a Pinot gris-ish rosé. It’s more subtle than most of the Pinot Noir rosés I’ve had, but a little subtlety can be good in these topsy-turvy times.

OK, sorry about that. I really like this wine. If I have a complaint, and I do, it’s that like the Bel Lago sparkling Auxerrois I reviewed recently, this elegant wine comes in a bottle with a janky label. Bel Lago generally has good-looking, well-designed labels. I’m not sure why these two don’t.

Anyway, 2017 Bel Lago Rosé de Gris is recommended.

Boathouse Pinot Noir, 2012

Maker: Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.20190612_222115.jpg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: cedar, blackberry jam, blueberry pie, clove.

Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.

Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.

Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!

This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.

Shady Lane Riesling Reserve, 2015

Maker: Shady Lane, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20190506_170116.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

Style: Dry Riesling

ABV: 11.4%

Purchased for $26 (Michigan By The Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Golden Delicious apples, lemon thyme, mineral water.

Palate: Mandarin orange, lime, chalk dust.

Finish: Drying and rocky. A little tartness.

Parting words: As I’ve written about before, 2014 and 2015 were essentially lost vintages in Michigan due to the infamous Polar Vortex. There were a few vineyards in Northern Michigan that didn’t get hit as hard as others, though. According to a tasting room employee last year, Shady Lane’s vineyards were among them.

The grapes and vines on Shady Lane survived, but it was still a cold vintage, and the wine reflects that. It has developed nice and slowly and hasn’t lost any of its fruit in its 3+ years in the bottle. It also has retained plenty of acid without being an acid bomb. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is great with food but also has the depth and complexity for solo sipping. It’s everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is recommended.