Tempesta, 2016

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Regent, Merlot, Marquette, “and more (?).” Label calls it a “vineyard blend”.

Place of origin: Bel Lago estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan.

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13.5% ABV

Notes: Spent 34 months in oak barrels.

Purchased for $44 from Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak.

Thanks to Cortney Case for the information on the grapes that went into this wine!

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Cherry jam, lightly toasted oak, anise, mace.

Palate: Blackberry jam, mulberry, leather.

Finish: Chewy with a little tang.

Parting words: I bought this wine about a year ago. At the time, I’m sure I took note of what the composition of the wine was, but over the months, that knowledge drifted out of my mind. So in preparation for this review, I emailed friend-of-the-blog Cortney Casey (co-owner of Michigan by the Bottle) and asked if she had any information on the grapes in this wine. She wrote back promptly with the above information but noted that Bel Lago co-founder “Charlie [Edson] is notoriously difficult to get full blend lists out of since a lot of his wines are field blends.” Since that is the case, I’m going to assume the term “vineyard blend” on the label means field blend.

I didn’t have that information at my fingertips when I tasted this wine, though, so I went in assuming this would be a Bordeaux/Meritage style blend like many of the “flagship” red blends in Michigan. I was therefore surprised at the “fruit of the forest” flavors of Tempesta at first taste, but with Regent and Marquette in the mix, it makes a lot more sense. That is not intended as a knock in any way, though. Tempesta is an excellent food wine, pairing well with just about anything except shellfish, which it would overwhelm.

$44 is pretty expensive. Not Bel Lago’s most expensive (that would be the Riesling ice wine), but it is in the top four. I’ve had the second most expensive one, sibling wine Tempesta Cabernet Franc, but I think I actually prefer this over that!

I vacillated between a full and a mild recommendation because of the price, but I’ve settled on full. Even though Regent and Marquette are pretty easy to grow in Northern Michigan, Merlot is not (even in a hot vintage like 2016), and Cab Franc can be a pain from time to time. If it is indeed a field blend, that’s worth a bit more as well. All in all, I feel comfortable recommending 2016 Bel Lago Tempesta.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards Riesling- Medium Dry, 2019

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Style: Semi-dry/semi-sweet.

Vintage: 2019.

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $15 at Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan.

Appearance: Very pale gold, almost platinum.

Nose: Pear, wet limestone, papaya.

Palate: Pineapple, tart apple, mandarin, gravel.

Finish: Stone and stone fruit with a bit of acid. Lingers for a while.

Parting words: Bowers Harbor is one of the reigning monarchs of Northern Michigan Riesling and this wine is an excellent example of why. It’s fruit and acid in perfect harmony: at once complex and easy to drink.

It’s hard to believe but the last vintage of this wine I reviewed was 2011. That review is here. I got a lot of orchard fruit in that bottle. Those are definately present in this 2019 bottle, but I tasted more tropical fruit in this. I don’t know if the wine changed or my palate did, but either way, it’s still a very good wine. At $15, it’s a steal if you’re a Riesling lover like me. Bowers Harbor Medium Dry Riesling is recommended.

The 2012 Project

In my last wine review, I stated that there was a blogging project coming up that involved aging and Michigan wines. Well, here it is: the 2012 project.

A few of the wines that will be a part of the 2012 Project.

In the early 2010s, around the time this blog was born, there was a run of excellent vintages in Michigan. 2010, 2011, and 2012 were all hailed as superb at the time. By the time the 2012 wines were released, I finally got the memo I and started collecting them with an eye on seeing how they would develop in my cellar. 2013 was more challenging, with a cooler autumn, but was recognized as a good year for whites at the time. In retrospect, some excellent reds were produced that year as well; they’ve just taken longer to develop than their older siblings.

Two cellars, one alpaca farm, and countless wine shops later (OK, mostly MBTB, Red Wagon, and Holiday Market), the time has come. Starting in January 2023, I will be embarking on a series of reviews of Michigan wines from the 2012 and 2013 vintages with the goal of understanding how they’ve changed in the bottle and what difference factors like terroir, winemaker, and closure make, among other things. The wines are mostly red, but there will be a few whites in the mix. They are all from Michigan AVAs that existed at the time: Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, and Old Mission Peninsula. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to grab any from Fennville.

Why include 2013s in the 2012 Project? As I mentioned above, 2012 and 2013 were pretty different vintages. A lot can be learned just tasting through the 2012 vintage, but including 2013 opens up the possibilities to explore how the variations in weather from year to year factors into the aging of wine.

Winemakers: It’s not too late to get your wines in on the action! If you have library wines you want me to include in this project, send me an email at sipologyblog@gmail.com . The project is currently weighted toward red Bordeaux variety wines, so any samples of whites or other red varieties you may have are especially welcomed!

I’m looking forward to exploring these bottles with you all in the new year!

Happy Holidays from your internet drinking buddy Josh.

Crown of Cab, 2017

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec.

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: Undisclosed (table wine exception).

Purchased for $21 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak).

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Cherry juice, toasted French oak, wild blackberry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Tart and a little chewy. Tart cherry, blackberry, leather.

Finish: Chewy like a good Bordeaux.

Parting words: Crown of Cab is the crown jewel of Domaine Berrien’s cellar. It’s produced every year from a blend of red Bordeaux varieties. In odd numbered years, winemaker and co-owner Wally Maurer aims for a Left Bank Bordeaux, producing a Cab Sauv-forward blend like this one. In even numbered years, he goes for a Right Bank, Merlot & Cab Franc heavy blend.

Although Wally encourages his customers to drink his wines promptly, they are some of the most age-worthy wines produced in the Mitten State. That fact is even more astounding when one factors in how affordable they all are.

At five years old, this blend is just starting to get going. 2017 was an especially fine vintage in Michigan as well, so this wine will probably end up having a long, fulfilling life for anyone who can wait a while.

Speaking of aging, I have a fun series of reviews planned for this winter and spring that involve aging Michigan wine. Watch this space for more information soon!

At any rate, 2017 Crown of Cab is recommended for cellaring and for drinking right now!

Marland Sauvignon Blanc & Semillion, 2020

Maker: Wyncroft/Marland, Fennville, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc (75%), Semillon (25%)

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA.

Vintage: 2020

Note: Aged in acacia barrels.

ABV: Not disclosed (table wine loophole)

Purchased for $19 (winery).

Appearance: Very pale straw

Nose: Golden delicious apples

Palate: Pear, touch of wood, honey.

Finish: Honey, gravel, clementines.

Parting words: Marland Sauv Blanc/Semillon is basically the less expensive, non-estate version of Wyncroft Shou (pronounced “show”) white. To my knowledge, Wyncroft’s James Lester is the only winemaker in Michigan who uses acacia barrels to ferment and age a white blend like this. He does it because that’s how many wineries in Bordeaux make their white blends. I don’t drink a lot of white Bordeaux, but the technique works very well in this wine, and its more expensive cousin. It adds a rich mouthfeel without any of the toasty tastes and aromas one gets from French oak barrels.

I’m not sure how much of this vintage is still kicking around, but 2020 was a great one for pretty much everything, so if you see this, pick it up! It’s a good all-season white that goes beyond the typical summertime porch-sipper. 2020 Marland Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is recommended.

For more information on Wyncroft/Marland, see the write up of my visit there last year here.

Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016

Maker: Bel Lago, Lake Leeland, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Cabernet France (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $44 (Michigan by the Bottle Royal Oak)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, violets.

Palate: Dry but fruity. Blueberry, mulberry, tiny nip of tannin.

Finish: Tart and a little chewy.

Parting words: Bel Lago consistently makes some of the best wines from Burgundian (and Burgundy-adjacent) grape varieties in Northern Michigan. Their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Auxerrois are all sought after by Michigan wine enthusiasts.

Judging by this wine, they have some work to do with their Bordeaux varietals. While perfectly drinkable, it lacks the depth and complexity of Bel Lago’s Pinots and Auxerrois. It’s virtually all fruit, without anything in the way of spice, minerals, or oak, despite spending 34 months in the latter. 2016 was a hot vintage, and Charlie, Bel Lago’s co-founder, likes his grapes ripe (and the microclimate of the estate is happy to oblige him) so perhaps they had a little too much hangtime.

As I said before, there’s nothing flawed or unpleasant here, it just doesn’t quite live up to my expectations of Bel Lago or of $45 wines. That said, I’m definitely trying the 2017 if I see it. 2016 Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016 is only mildly recommended.

2 Lads Sparkling Rosé, 2018

Maker: 2 Lads, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Chardonnay (90%), Pint Noir (10%).

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

Style: Dry Sparkling Rosé.

Vintage: 2018.

ABV: 12.2%

Purchased for: $32 (winery).

Appearance: Dark pink (yes, that’s a thing).

Nose: Fresh bagette, strawberry, white mulberry.

Palate: Dry to semi dry (in the brut range). Very effervescent. Limestone dust, white raspberry.

Finish: Dry, but juicy and tart.

Parting words: We picked this bottle up from the winery back in July, when we were showing my sister and her husband around Old Mission Peninsula. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we stopped in and I asked what they had that isn’t available at Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room. The man I asked (looked like he wasn’t older than 23) gave me a puzzled look. When I explained what that was he said he didn’t know 2 Lads was distributed that far “downstate”.

Anyway, this is an easy-drinking dry, but not too dry, traditional method (I think) pink sparkler. It pairs well with just about any food, including stir fry and Indian food. It is at its best at the table, but is a good porch sipping wine too.

I like the pop-cap closure. It adds to the bottle’s contemporary look and makes opening the bottle much easier. I’m usually a romantic when it comes to these sorts of things, but I’ve wasted too much of my life screwing around with tiny cages and big corks. More caps, please, winemakers.

$32 isn’t cheap, but this wine doesn’t taste cheap either. Drink now through 2023 or so. 2018 2 Lads Sparkling Rosé is recommended.

Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé, 2019

Maker: Blustone, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

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

ABV: 12.5%

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

Appearance: Pale rust.

Nose: White mulberries, strawberry, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Dry, crushed orange raspberries, limestone.

Finish: Tart, and dry.

Parting words: I don’t usually let my rosé get this old, but we bought a big pack of pinks from MBTBTRRO and the beginning of the pandemic as they had switched entirely to retail. Because of my overly complex system of rotating wine through my cellar, liquor cabinet and then china cabinet we still had a couple of those bottles left at the beginning of the year.

This is a very good pink Pinot Noir. Time seems to have dried it out and muted the fruit flavors somewhat, but this is still very refreshing and fantastic with food or just chilling on the back porch on a sweaty afternoon. Given the amount of crap being sold these days at well over $20, this was a steal. The 2022 vintage is selling for $22 currently, which is less of a steal, but still a good price for a good wine. 2019 Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé is recommended.

Shady Lane Pinot Noir, 2017

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

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club).

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Fresh strawberry, red currant, blueberry, white pepper.

Palate: Medium bodied. Red raspberry, red currant, clove, French oak.

Finish: A little more tannic but with a lot of fruit still present.

Parting words: We drove past Shady Lane (the road) on our last trip Up North, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to stop in. Thank God for Michigan by the Bottle, then, for carrying Shady Lane wines at their Auburn Hills location.

This is a solid Northwest Michigan Pinot Noir with a bit of spice, and loads of fruit, but not overly ripe fruit. If I have any criticism of this wine it’s that it has a little more tannin than I like in my Pinot, though it’s mostly held in check by the acid.

2017 reds from all over Michigan are drinking well right now, except for the really cheap ones which you should have drank already. Given the strength of the 2017 vintage and the quality of the winemaking at Shady Lane, this wine should be able to take at least another year in the cellar and still taste great. Good thing, too, since I have another bottle of this squirreled away to try next year or the year after that.

2017 Shady Lane Pinot Noir is recommended.

Braganini Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2017

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Sandland Farms (Nathan & Julie Nitz), GDN Estate (Ron Nitz), Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $23

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blackberry jam, black cherry, a whiff of oak.

Palate: Crushed bramble berries, pink peppercorn, leather.

Finish: Balanced with fruit, acid, and tannin.

Parting words: Cabernet Franc is one of the great workhorse red wine grapes of the world, but as longtime readers know, it can make excellent varietal wines as well. This is a great example. There’s loads of fruit and acid with a little spice as the only trace of the infamous bell pepper aromas that can show themselves in poorly made Cab Franc.

St. Julian puts too much energy into making a bewildering assortment of forgettable wines, but the Braganini Reserve line is almost always a good glass of wine. This is no exception. This wine is probably at its peak now, but it could probably go for another year or two if you are so moved. Braganini Reserve 2017 Cabernet Franc is recommended.