Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer, 2016

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190415_162818.jpg

Grape: Gewürztraminer (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $20 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Quite pale gold.

Nose: Big lychee, woodruff, roasted ginger.

Palate: Peach pit, bitter orange, orange thyme.

Finish: More lychee, orange pith.

Parting words: Gewürztraminer is one of my favorite grapes. Its wine is spicy and tastes like no other grape (except Traminette). Next to Riesling, it’s my favorite white wine grape. Like Riesling it’s made in a range of sweetness levels, although it doesn’t reach the sublime heights of high-quality German Spälese or Auslese. LFC Dragon-label Gewürz is firmly on the dry end of the spectrum. The LFC website recommends cellaring this wine until 2022-2024 (!). I prefer Gewürz with a little bit of fruit to balance the spice so I opened mine in 2019, but if I find another bottle I may let it sit for a couple more years.

I’ve had a lot of Michigan Gewürz over the years and this is the best one that I can remember having. It’s good on its own but it is spectacular with spicy food. The first bottle I purchased was taken to a Chinese New Year celebration and was gone in a flash. It paired perfectly with the spicy hot pot at the center of the meal. $20 is more than fair for a high quality wine like this. Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer (dragon label) 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.

 

 

Peninsula Cellars Late Harvest Riesling, 2016

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190320_195250.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Hawkeye, Kroupa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Sweet Late Harvest

Vintage: 2016

Notes: 22.3 degrees brix at harvest, 71 grams/liter residual sugar

ABV: 8.5%

Appearance: Pale gold with a few tiny bubbles.

Nose: Ripe peach, honey, lemon curd.

Palate: Full-bodied, sweet and tart. Ripe peach again, Orange Julius, gravel dust.

Finish: Sweet and citrusy.

Parting words: Peninsula Cellars is very good because they get their grapes from very good vineyards, Hawkeye and the family vineyard Kroupa in this case. This Late Harvest Riesling is sweet but not cloying. It has a nice balance of citrus, stone fruit and tropical flavors that can stand alongside most Mosel kabinett or spätlese Rieslings at twice the price. I have four bottles of this wine in my cellar currently and I’m looking forward to trying this wine again at 5, 10, 15 and maybe even 20 y/o if I live that long! Like almost everything Peninsula Cellars does, the 2016 Late Harvest Riesling is highly recommended.

 

Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine

Maker: Michigan Awesome, Holland, Michigan, USA20190306_200601.jpg

Winemaker: Fenn Valley, Fennville, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: True Blue Farms, Grand Junction, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-sweet blueberry wine

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $11 (winery)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Crushed blueberries, cedar.

Palate: Semi-sweet and tart. Blueberry jam with lemon juice.

Finish: Blueberry pie, wood.

Parting words: Michigan Awesome is a brand of wine, food, apparel, jewelery and just about everything else based in Holland Michigan. It’s all based around Michigan-ness with lots of stuff with the outline of the shape of Michigan on it.

All the Michigan Awesome wines, including their red blend, white blend, cherry wine, and blueberry wine are made by Fenn Valley in Fennville. They’re good winemakers, so I thought Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine might actually be decent. It is. It’s complex for a blueberry wine, meaning it doesn’t just taste like blueberry juice. It has some nice acid and woodsy notes that make it more enjoyable than most blueberry wines. I’d like it better if it was under $10 but $11 isn’t too bad. Michigan Awesome Blueberry Wine is recommended.

Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA20190220_211053.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Sweet/semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold

Nose: Canned pear, gravel.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet but not cloying. Pineapple-mango-orange juice, mineral water.

Finish: Drying, peach.

Parting words: Bel Lago needs no introduction for long time readers of this blog. It’s one of my favorite Michigan wineries.

Like most of Michigan’s best, Bel Lago has a fine line of Riesling wines at varying levels of sweetness. Select Harvest is a style of late harvest wine roughly equivalent to German Auslese in terms of ripeness. As such, they are more age-worthy than dry Rieslings, which is why I waited so long to open this bottle. This wine is not especially complex (perhaps due to the brutal 2014 vintage) but it hits all the right notes for ripe Riesling: sweetness, citrus, and minerals. I have a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar and I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next 3 or 4 years. 2014 Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling is recommended.

 

No labels: The federal shutdown and selling booze.

john_m_med.jpg
John J. Manfreda, TTB administrator since 2005

As I write this, the US federal government has been partially shut down for about twenty days, due to an impasse over President Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border.

One of the agencies affected by the shutdown is the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the division of the Department of the Treasury charged with regulating and taxing alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The TTB was created in 2003 when the old bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was split in two. The law enforcement functions of the agency were moved to the Department of Justice and retained the ATF name. The tax and regulation functions stayed within Treasury and were re-christened the TTB.

If you’re interested in my personal take on the politics of the shutdown check my Twitter feed and likes. You should be able to piece together my politics from those.

More interesting than my dumb opinions is how the federal shutdown, particularly the closure of the TTB, is affecting beverage producers in Michigan and elsewhere. So I reached out to some friends of the blog to ask how the shutdown has impacted their business. Here’s what they said:

20170707_120535
Sean O’Keefe

At this point our biggest concern (besides the unraveling of our civil society) is getting new labels approved by the feds. I’m glad that we don’t have too many new wines that we need to get to market soon.

-Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker, Mari Vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

I just found out about [the shutdown] yesterday (January 8, 2019). Government shut down, tax collecting part of the TTB not shut down so I still have to do my 5120.17 annual report. So if it does affect me, I am unaware of how.
Nathaniel Rose, owner & winemaker, Nathaniel Rose Wines, Suttons Bay, Michigan (via text).

Only real effect (so far) has been the slow-doon (sorry) of federal label approvals, which I believe is considered a non-essential governmental service. Obviously, if the shutdown continues indefinitely, you will not see the emergence of scores of new wine, beer and spirits labels. (This may in fact be the only real blessing of the shutdown.)

-Randall Grahm, president & winemaker, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Obviously not this one, but from the shutdown that happened while we were getting licensed I can say that the timeline for approval was extended 25%+ *after* things started back up. From memory it was the same for existing companies getting label approval. So even if the shutdown ends tonight I’d expect it would be the end of the month at least before everything was back to normal.

-Corey Bowers, formerly of Tualatin Valley Distillery, Hillsboro, Oregon (via Twitter).

The government shut down actually impacts us quite a bit. Unlike most other distilleries we release new products very often. Since we opened in March of 2015 we have released over 50 whiskies. Most of these required government approval on their labels before we can sell them. When the government shuts down so does review of our new labels. We actually have several labels currently out for review that we’ll need to wait for the shut down to end before we can release those products. We are also in the process of designing our second distillery expansion that will include additional barrel storage and a new still that will increase our production capacity. Depending on how long the shut down goes this could delay our plans as government approvals are required before we can start construction and order our still.

lisa wicker
Lisa Wicker ascending a staircase

-Rich Lockwood, owner, Motor City Gas Distillery, Royal Oak, Michigan

We are fortunate we had our pending approvals finished before the shut down, but I am certainly feeling it for the people in queue. The TTB always slows over the holidays, so if the shutdown ends soon, the catch up for them may be eased. But…if it continues for any length of time, there will be a mess. I know I’ve had product on allocation in the past and waiting on formula and process approvals to have to wait again on labels, a lesson in patience when things are normal so I’m guessing there are producers, let’s say politely, tearing their hair out!
-Lisa Wicker, president & head distiller, Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, New York
So, it seems that the shutdown is not yet a huge issue for winemakers and distillers without new products in the pipeline. The longer it drags on the greater the impact becomes, though, even after things start back up again. Here’s hoping they do soon.
Lisa Wicker photo used with permission.

Chateau Grand Traverse Ltd Ed Pinot Noir, 2016

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190108_200128.jpg

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%, looks and tastes like 100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Note: 5 months in oak

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $13 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby, like a good red Burgundy.

Nose: Very ripe strawberry, cherry syrup, crushed mulberry, nutmeg.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Dry but fruity. Strawberry fruit leather, black cherry, raspberry, actual leather, earth.

Finish: Fruity and leathery.

Parting words: Although I think it should be Gamay, Pinot Noir is probably Old Mission’s finest red wine grape right now. Chateau Grand Traverse produces some of the peninsula’s finest, and they should, seeing how long they’ve been at it.

This wine is like a quality vin de bourgogne, or even a village Burgundy at a similar age. There’s not much earthiness, but loads of fruit and cool-climate Pinot character. It should improve and show better integration over the next two or three years too, if stored properly. That said, it’s very tasty now and at a price where one doesn’t feel obliged to let it lounge in the cellar for a long time. I like this wine a lot. 2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Limited Edition Pinot Noir is highly recommended.

Blue Water Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Maker: Blue Water Winery, Carsonville, Michigan, USA20181128_194004.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Classic Chard. Apricot, melon, ambrosia salad.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-dry. Peach, Meyer lemon, pineapple sage.

Finish: Dry and pleasantly bitter.

Parting words: There are a lot of wineries located in tourist areas in Michigan. Some of them are bad and serve no purpose other than to suck money from the wallets of tourists with garbage palates. Some are ok and take care to produce enjoyable, accessible table wines. Others are more ambitious and seek to join the ranks of their more established cousins in Northwest and Southwest Michigan. Blue Water is one of those. They haven’t always been successful, in my opinion, but they continue to try to produce fine wines with varietal and terroir character.

This unoaked Chardonnay is one of their successes. It has loads of fruity Chard character, is well-balanced, and is great with chicken and vegetarian meals. Blue Water Winery Unoaked Chardonnay is 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.

Hawthorne Gamay, 2016

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180905_191254.jpg

Grape: Gamay (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 12.3%

Purchased for $14 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby.

Nose: Fruit punch, toasted oak.

Palate: Raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, wood, clove.

Finish: Cherry juice, oak

Purchased: I love Gamay and I love this wine. It is a great example of what Gamay does best. It makes fruity, enjoyable wines that are great summer sippers or alongside the sort of food Pinot Noir usually accompanies. If I were to compare it to a red from Beaujolais (Gamay’s home base), I would say it most resembles a quality Beaujolais-Villages or a fruity Cru Beaujolais like Fleurie. It’s great to drink now, but it will probably deepen and grow more complex if cellared for another year or more. I recently finished a bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir from 2014 that was still quite good, so don’t feel rushed. $14 is a very good price. 2016 Hawthorne Vineyards Gamay is recommended.