Old Westminster Somm Cuvée, 2013

Maker: Old Westminster, New Windsor, Carroll Co, Maryland, USA20190130_190651.jpg

Grapes: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot.

Place of origin: Maryland, USA (Northern Maryland according to back label)

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $32 (Glen’s Market, Washington, DC)

Note: 50 cases produced

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, cut green pepper, allspice,  a drop of vanilla.

Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. White cherry, blueberry wine, roasted red pepper, nutmeg, oak.

Finish: Chewy with a little fruit.

Parting words: New Windsor is a historic small town in Maryland, about 25 miles northwest of Owings Mills. It’s known for its hot springs and the presence of a Church of the Brethren mission center.

Andrew Stover, the sommelier behind the Somm Cuvée is based in DC currently but is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also the founder of Vino50 selections, a wine wholesaler that specializes in “regional” American wines.

I enjoyed this wine, but it was a little high in pyrazine (bell pepper aroma) for my taste when drinking solo. I don’t mind little bit of that aroma, but I expected something a little more refined in a wine this expensive and this rare. That said, it did pair very nicely with quinoa and lamb chops and homemade pork and beans. Maybe it just needed more time in the bottle. That might mean less fruit, unfortunately. So, I don’t know what exactly to tell you to do with this wine. Anyway, due to the relatively high price, I’m going to give this vintage at this time a mild recommendation.

 

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.

 

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.

Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_161540.jpg

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.

Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.

Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.

This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.

 

 

2896 Langley, 2010

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20170509_183841

Grapes: 60% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon

Place of Origin: Langley Vineyard, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Meritage

ABV: 13.5%

Price: $38 (original price on shelf. Purchased on sale with a discount from the owner)

Appearance: Inky dark purple.

Nose: Blueberry, cherry juice, oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Cherry juice, blackberry, pepper, chewy leather on the back end.

Finish: Cherry and lightly fruity. Stays in the cheeks for a good bit of time.

Parting words: 2896 is Bowers Harbor’s big, flagship red. The 2013 vintage is currently selling on the BH website for $55 and the 2012 vintage (considered the best recent vintage for Michigan reds) for $100. I haven’t had either of those, so I don’t know if they’re worth the money, but they are both at the top end of red wine prices in this state.

As for this wine, it’s very good and worth the price that was on the shelf on which it sat. It is well balanced, but still has the laid back, fruity character of a cool season Bordeaux-style red. Enough oak and alcohol to keep it from becoming a fruit bomb but not aggressive or overly tannic. It goes well with beef and smoked or grilled meats. My only complaint is that the gold wax is very hard to get off and it looks corny. The bottle would be better off without it. At any rate, at around $40 or so, 2896 Langley 2010 is recommended.

 

Arcturos Merlot

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAwpid-20150413_074024.jpg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2010

ABV: Unknown (2011 was 12%)

Price: Unknown (2012 is $28.50 on the website)

Appearance: Dark plum.

Nose: Toasted oak, grapes, black currant, blackberry, whiff of hardwood smoke.

Palate: Medium bodied, mild and slightly chewy. Wild blackberry, toasted oak, strawberry, green peppercorn.

Finish: Oak, mixed berry pie.

Parting words: Merlot is not a popular grape for varietal bottlings in Michigan. Its parent, Cabernet Franc, is more dependable in Michigan’s climate and is more widely planted as a result. Merlot makes up less than 4% of Michigan’s total wine grape acreage and most of that in the more continental climate of the south and southwest of the state.

It’s important to note that this is a Michigan Merlot, not an Old Mission (or any other specific AVA) Merlot. That means that the grapes that were used to make this wine probably came from a variety of vineyards from across the state. This is a good strategy even for a winery located in northern Michigan like Black Star Farms. Merlot doesn’t take to northern Michigan as well as Pinot Noir and white wine varieties do, so why chain one’s self to a single appellation? Some of the distinctiveness of the wine may be lost, but that’s better than being distinct in a bad way.

At any rate, this is a tasty example of what this grape can do in this state. It goes beautifully with pork, lamb and beef dishes (I drank it with all three) and works nicely after dinner too. The price (at lest for the latest vintage) is too high, but it’s not too far out of line with other quality Michigan red Bordeaux varietals. Try to find it in the $20-$25 range. The 2010 vintage is ready to drink now, but it could probably go another year or two and be just as good or even a little better. 2010 Arcturos Merlot is recommended.