The Cunning Ham

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180121_122605.jpg

Style: Dry farmhouse cider using Saison yeast.

Note: Fermented in French oak. Rested on lees. Unfiltered.

ABV: 7%

Purchased for $8/500 ml (winery)

Appearance: Light gold, slightly cloudy.

Nose: Pressed apple juice, a little funk and tannin.

Palate: Off dry, chewy dried apricot, oak.

Finish: Tart, then tart and tannic. Meyer lemon.

Parting words: Ciders have become trendy in Michigan wine and beer circles, with a number of producers branching out into cider with mixed sucess. Just because one knows how to ferment grapes or grains, doesn’t mean one knows how to make a good cider.

That said, Left Foot Charley knows how to make a good cider. Cunning Ham is a part of a line of ciders that also includes Henry’s Pippin (made with heirloom apples but not necessarily traditional cider apples),  Antrim County (single origin) and crowd favorite Cinnamon Girl (cinnamon flavored). I reviewed Cinnamon Girl here and here five years later (oops).

For a dry farmhouse cider, The Cunning Ham is very drinkable and food friendly, especially with spicy fare. I expected a little more funk and tannin but there’s nothing not to like in this bottle. $8 for 500 ml is a very fair price for a quality craft cider. I have no idea where the name came from, but The Cunning Ham is recommended.

 

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Seventh Hill Farm Riesling, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_175835.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85% by law)

Place of origin: Seventh Hill Farm vineyard, Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11.4%

Purchsed for $20 at Holiday Market

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee,  minerals, dried apricot,

Palate: Mineral water, mandarin oranges, lemon thyme, underripe peach.

Finish: Peachy and mineral-y.

Parting words: I’ve said before that I think Left Foot Charley is the best winemaker in Michigan. Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is more evidence to support that claim. 2013 was a difficult vintage for many growers in the state, but one that ultimately produced many wonderful whites (and some good reds too!) According to the label, this wine was fermented for a relatively long time to soften the edgy nature of the vintage. What has emerged is a sophisticated, complex (but not busy) semi-dry Riesling that offers up everything you’re looking for: minerals, herbs, fruit and acid in perfect harmony. This wine is like that extremely chill friend who is at his or her best just lounging in the backyard with you some summer afternoon and talking or even not talking. No awkward silences at Seven Hill Farm.

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is drinking great right now but would probably hold up for at least another year or two. It goes very well with food (we drank it with grilled porkchops) and is a fair price. There still lots of 2013s hanging around (it’s still available on the LFC website) so buy some if you see them! I’m not sure if there’s going to be a 2016, but if there is, it’s sure to be great too. 2013 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is highly recommended.

Left Foot Charley Tale Feathers Pinot Gris, 2011

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1488403717038.jpg

Place of origin: Tale Feathers Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA (western slope), Traverse City, Michigan, USA. For more information on the vineyard, see here.

Vintage: 2011. For more information on the vintage, see image below.

ABV: 12%? (From memory)

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Roasted brazil nuts, mineral water, lychee, lavender.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Nutty brown butter, coconut, oregano.

Finish: White grapefruit fading into herbal tastes.

20170301_162702.jpgParting words: Tale Feathers has partnered with Left Foot Charley for many years now. It’s a small (2 1/2 acre) vineyard in west central part of Old Mission. It’s planted entirely with Pinot Gris. The Wilsons’ focus on that grape has paid off in a big way for them and LFC. Theirs is arguably northern Michigan’s best Gris.

The 2011 vintage was strong for whites in Michigan, though not as strong as 2013. It was still one of the best of the past decade. A lot of its fruit has faded over the past 5+ years, but it remains a beautifully structured wine. I wouldn’t let it go much further than this, though. 2011 Left Foot Charley Tale Feathers Pinot Gris is recommended.

Cinnamon Girl

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1474425628803.jpg

Apples: Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Ida Red.

Style: Apple cider with Sumatran and Vietnamese cinnamon (no sugar added).

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $8/500 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Very pale gold, slow bubbles.

Nose: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, apple sauce.

Palate: Crisp and acidic, then the cinnamon kicks in.

Finish: Some tartness and cinnamon, then elegant tannins.

Parting words: Left Foot Charley might be Michigan’s best winemakers, and their ciders are very good too. Cinnamon Girl is better than most spiced ciders because the spice doesn’t cover up any of the apple character. No traditional cider apples were used in its production but there’s just the right amount of tannin, tartness and sweetness to balance the spice and bring it all together. Cinnamon Girl is recommended.

Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20160203_155824.jpg

Place of origin: Island View Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 13.5%

Other information: 21.4° brix at harvest, harvested 10/19/2013, 6 g/l residual sugar.

Purchased for $24

Appearance: Pale straw

Nose: Mild lychee, lemon thyme, mineral water

Palate: Tangerine, Meyer lemon, sage, pear, peach, thyme.

Finish: Overripe Bartlett pear, mandarin orange, tannin.

Parting words: Pinot Blanc is a funny wine. In Europe, it’s associated with Alsace, but Alsatian Pinot Blanc is really just a white wine blend made with white wines from grapes in the Pinot family. In Alsace, Pinot Blanc (the variety) and Auxerrois (a very close sibling to Chardonnay) are the most common components. Sometimes Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (vinified white) are blended in as well. Comparing an Alsatian Pinot Blanc to an American varietal Pinot Blanc is not really a fair comparison because of that.

I had intended to compare this wine to an Alsatian I had in my cellar, Emile Beyer’s Tradition Pinot Blanc. I didn’t end up doing that comparison because it just didn’t seem fair to compare the two for the reasons above, but also because Tradition is $10 cheaper and is not single vineyard. That said, I did drink them in close proximity and the LFC Pinot Blanc held up well, for what it’s worth.

Pinot Blanc is a grape variety that has come up as a potential “signature grape” for Michigan. I’ve ranted about this on Twitter at least twice. When the marketeers who love the idea of signature grapes talk about Pinot Blanc they use buzzwords like “crisp”, “clean” and “quaffable”. Those words always translate to “boring”. The idea is to grab Pinot Grigio drinkers who are looking for book club type wines that are easy to pound down and don’t require much contemplation. I think this is the wrong approach because I don’t want to see Michigan tying its fortunes to a dull grape and being perceived as a dull wine state, instead of one producing robust, complex white wines on par with anywhere else in the world.

Most Michigan Pinot Blancs I’ve had have indeed been boring. They have very little going on other than acidity. The ones that aren’t boring have been bad. Left Foot Charley’s 2013 Pinot Blanc is the exception. It’s complex and fruity, but with plenty of acidity to keep things moving along. $24 puts it on the high side for Michigan whites, but it’s worth it. If all Michigan Pinot Blancs could be like this, I might change my mind about the grape. Left Foot Charley 2013 Pinot Blanc is recommended.

The Missing Spire

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.wpid-2015-05-27-17.25.41.jpg.jpeg

Grape: Riesling

Style: Semi-sweet

Place of origin: Michigan, USA (Antrim Co., Grand Traverse Co., Old Mission Peninsula)

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 10.4%

Purchased for $16

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Fresh sliced apple, apricot, gravel, orange peel.

Palate: Medium bodied and very well balanced. Medium tart apple, mandarin orange, woodruff, flint.

Finish: A bit of sweet citrus, then smoke and stone.

Parting words: Missing Spire is named after a spire missing off Building 50 in the former insane asyum in Traverse City where Left Foot Charley is located. There’s nothing missing here, though. This has everything one could want in a Riesling: bit of minerality, a bit of fruit, a bit of acid, a bit of sweetness, a good body and brilliant color. It’s the kind of wine that made me fall in love with this grape years ago. Left Foot Charley might be the best winery in Northern Michigan right now and this is one of their best wines. It’s also a favorite of friend-of-the-blog Oliver Windgätter, who knows more about German Riesling than anybody I’ve ever met. As Nicholas Cage might say, that’s high praise. The Missing Spire is highly recommened.

Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USALFC Gewurz

Place of origin: Manigold Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

Price: $20

Appearance: Light gold with not much in the way of legs, but that may be down to the glass.

Nose: White peach, Bosc pear, a pinch of curry powder and white pepper, woodruff and fresh thyme.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Spice moving to white grapefruit and unripe mulberry.

Finish: Fairly dry with some bitterness on the tail end. Lingers for a good long while.

Parting words: The Manigold vineyard is known for producing excellent Gewürz (Peninsula Cellars has also made Gewürz from this vineyard) and this is a very good example from a very good vintage.

The back label has a puzzling apology for “obnoxiously loud” LFC Gewürz of the past and hails their return to Manigold vineyards, albeit a different slope. The whole thing is curious but it is nice to have such detail right on the back of the bottle. Also included is the name of the growers, a description of the plot the grapes came from, harvest date and sugar levels at harvest and residual sugar.

This wine certainly isn’t obnoxious. The nose is rich with fruit, spice and herbs and enough sweetness and acidity to keep it all in balance. Like most Gewürz it goes very well with food, especially roast chicken and even Asian cuisine. The price is good for a single vineyard wine from OMP. 2011 Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer earns a recommendation.