Verterra Rosé of Merlot, 2019

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Style: Dry rosé.

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Orangey pink.

Nose: Cedar, white cherry, crushed mulberry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Strawberry, watermelon, pink raspberry.

Finish: Dry and Tangy.

Parting words: Verterra’s walk-in tasting room in downtown (such as it is) Leland, Michigan might give the impression of a tourist trap at first impression, but this is a serious winery whose founder, Paul Hamelin, has a passion for pushing the limits of what Northwestern Michigan wine can be. In recently years, he has embarked on a project to make high quality dry varietal rosé (the Polar Vortex years of 2014 and 2015 gave him a bit of a push in this direction too).

He started with rosés of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, and then added a rosé of Merlot for the first time in 2019. They’re all delicious. This Merlot is as good as the Cab Franc, and probably even better. Riesling will always be king to me, but I think rosés like this are going to be a big part of the future of Michigan wine.

This ’20s are out already but there may still be some ’19s still hiding on the backs of shelves around the state. They’re worth seeking out. Verterra Rosé of Merlot, 2019 is recommended.

Troglodyte Rosso

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Teroldego, 10% Merlot

Place of origin: Mari Vineyards Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry red blend.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $26 (Red Wagon, Rochester Hills)

Appearance: Slightly overdone fruit of the forest pie.

Palate: Medium bodied. Wild blackberry, black currant, clove, a little smoke.

Finish: Medium chewy, a little acid, a little fruit.

Parting words: Teroldego is a grape grown mostly in the Alpine vineyard areas of Northern Italy. It produces wines that are sometimes compared to Zinfindel, but it also bears more than a passing resemblance to its nephew Syrah. I don’t know how much Teroldego is grown in Michigan, but I’m guessing that it’s not a lot. I don’t know enough to say whether it should be grown more widely in Michigan, but I do like it in this blend. It brings a spicy, tarry (in a good way) punch to this wine that makes it food-friendly and well-rounded. For a grape this rare, and a wine this good, $26 is more than fair. Troglodyte Rosso is recommended.

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.

Ultima Thule, 2013

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: 45% Nebbiolo, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot

Place of origin: Mari Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $60 at winery (minus 18% [IIRC] media discount)

Thanks to Sean O’Keefe and everyone else at Mari for the generous media discount.

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Plum, black currant jam, blackberry, white pepper, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and tart. Raspberry, black currant, mulberry, tart cherry, oak.

Finish: Acidic and relatively short. Chewy on the back end.

Parting words: The islands of Thule were first mentioned by the Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia (died c. 285 BCE). It was as six days sail north of Great Britain and was the most northern point known to people of the ancient Mediterranean. It’s unclear what, if any, real place Thule was. Iceland, Greenland, Orkney, Shetland, or some island off Norway have all been suggested. One later geographer suggestions the name may come from an old name refering to the Polar night, the sun never sets for weeks or months on end in high latitudes. When we were in Orkney, locals refered to it as the “simmer (summer) dim” when the sun never completely sets but just hangs around the horizon all night. We actually experienced a bit of this ourselves during our brief time there. I remember waking up around 2 am or so to see sunlight peaking through the blinds in our B & B.

On ancient and Medieval European maps, Ultima Thule became a fixture in the northwest, representing the northernmost inhabited bit of land. While the Old Mission Peninsula is much closer in latitude to Bordeaux or Torino than to Orkney or Iceland, Mari’s vineyards are at the northernmost point of Old Mission and this wine represents the ultimate expression of their nellaserra (hoop-house) system. Northern Michigan has enough sun to ripen Nebbiolo, but the cold springs present a big problem for the grape, which needs a relatively long time to ripen. The hoop-houses act as large cold frames and enable Nebbiolo to get the head start it needs to ripen.

As for the wine itself, it’s complex but not busy. It’s more acidic than I expected, but 2013 was a very cool vintage that saw pretty tart and but very long-lived wines. It’s not bracing or pucker-inducing by any stretch, though. The acid is firmly grounded in the fruit, and rounded off with judicious oak and spice.

$60 is a lot of money for a Michigan wine, or any wine period, really. I think it’s worth the money, however, and I think there’s three reasons why. First is rarity. To my knowledge there are no other Nebbiolo vines in Michigan besides those belonging to Mari Vineyards. Second is longevity. Cab Sauv and Nebbiolo are known for their ability to age for long periods of time so I originally planed to open this wine in the fall of 2023 but I just couldn’t wait that long. I have no regrets about opening it when I did but I think it could have gone for two or three more years at least. This is born out by how good it still tasted one and even two days after open.

Finally, this wine is worth at least $60 because it’s just so good. It’s good with food, by itself, in a box, with a fox, however you want to drink it. Mari Vineyards Ultima Thule, 2013 is recommended!

Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: 73% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc

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

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $46 (Holiday Market)

Note: for more information on this wine and vineyard, read this post on Black Star Farms’ Blog.

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Cedar, black currant jam, clove, smoke.

Palate: Juicy but structured. Full bodied. Black currant, cherry juice, blueberry pie.

Finish: A little chewy, with some acid.

Parting words: Leorie Vineyard is in an old gravel pit on Old Mission Peninsula that has become one of Black Star Farms’ finest vineyards, especially for reds. It consistently produces ripe (a challenge for Merlot in Northern Michigan), disease-free Merlot that finds its home under this label year after year.

I’m afraid my notes don’t really do this wine justice. It’s fruity for sure but nicely balanced with spice and tannins producing an elegant but not austere red worthy of the Right Bank of the Gironde. It cellars well too, obviously. I’m looking forward to cracking my other bottle of Leorie in 2022 or sometime after that. $46 is expensive by Michigan standards, but that’s a good price for a quality Merlot blend from one of Michigan’s finest vineyards made by one of Michigan’s finest wineries. 2012 Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc is 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.

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.