Maker: Blue Water Winery & Vineyard, Lexington, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 75%)
Place of origin: Michigan (at least 75%)
Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)
Nose: Blackberry, red currant, fresh mushroom.
Palate: Medium bodied. Chewy, with black raspberries and wet earth.
Finish: Black currant, wet leaves.
Parting words: Blue Water is located in the tourist town of Lexington, Michigan. I reviewed their Chardonnay back in 2018 and I recommended it. This Pinot Noir is uncharacteristic of Michigan. It’s much earthier than most around here which makes for a refreshing change from the tart fruit that dominates in the Mitten State. That said, this wine could stand to be more balanced. Still, not bad for a $22 bottle from one of the most challenging vintages in state history. 2015 Blue Water Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Mackinaw Trail, Petoskey, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 75%)
Place of origin: Michigan (at least 75%)
Style: Late harvest Riesling
Note: 24 brix at harvest
Purchased for $14 (forgotten liquor store)
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Peach, pear.
Palate: Medium bodied. Mandarin oranges, ripe peach, gravel.
Finish: Peach then canned pear.
Parting words: This is the first bottle from Mackinaw Trail I have purchased in the last five years at least. Why? Well, several years ago, my friends and I visited the Mackinaw Trail tasting room in Petoskey and had a very pleasant time. Liz and I both liked the Merlot, so we bought a bottle and took it home.
When I opened it a few months later, it tasted terrible and was fizzy. I don’t mean Vinho Verde or Beaujolais Nouveau fizzy, I mean Vernor’s Ginger Ale fizzy. I dumped it out and vowed never to buy another bottle from them. I should have contacted someone, I know, but it was so disgusting that I didn’t want to have anything to do with them again.
A few months ago, I was killing time in a local liquor store and came across this bottle. I love late harvest Riesling (almost any Riesling, really) and this bottle was pretty mature so I thought I’d give Mackinaw Trail another chance. I’m glad I did.
This wine is not complex, and not as good as LHRs produced by some of the larger Michigan wineries like St. Julian, Black Star Farms and Chateau Grand Traverse, but it’s good enough for the price and it held up well for sitting on the shelf of a party store for five years. I’m glad I gave Mackinaw Trail another try. Makinaw Trail’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling is recommended.
Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)
Grape: Gamay Noir (at least 85%)
Purchased for $14 (Meijer)
Nose: Cedar, white pepper, crushed blackberry, blueberry, pomegranate seed, jowl bacon.
Palate: Light bodied. Fruity but semi-dry. Mulberry, raspberry, table grapes, plum.
Finish: A little acid, but mostly tannin and orchard fruit. Fades quickly.
Parting words: I last reviewed this wine over a year ago in September of 2018 when it was around two years old. When I compare those notes to this one, it seems like those months have made a pretty big difference. The wine has deepened and gotten more complex with spice and oak notes getting more prominent. In Beaujolais terms, this wine is moving from out of Fleurie and toward Morgon. I still have one more bottle in my cellar which I plan to open in another year or two to see how it’s changed again! And the older it gets, the better the price gets. 2016 Hawthorne Gamay is recomennded.
Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon (at least 75%)
Place of origin: Michigan
Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)
Appearance: Brick red.
Nose: Toasted oak, walnut, crushed black cherries, dark chocolate.
Palate: Medium bodied. Tart and a little chewy. Balanced. Blackberry, black pepper, mushroom.
Finish: Tart, then a little tannic.
Parting words: Sandhill Crane is located in Jackson County Michigan, in the south central part of the state. While Jackson doesn’t have the lakefront and glacial features of Southwest and Northwest Michigan wine country, it does have three fine wineries, Lone Oak (in Grass Lake), Chateau Aeronautique, and Sandhill Crane.
Sandhill Crane is the biggest of the three with a wide variety of blends and varietals, including this Cabernet Sauvignon. Michigan isn’t known for this grape, but it is grown more widely than one might think. Still, it’s rare to find it bottled as a varietal here, so when it is, it’s almost always worth picking up. This wine is no exception.
No one would confuse this wine for a Napa Cab or a Left Bank Bordeaux, but it has some very nice varietal and cool climate notes with fruit, acid and tannin pleasantly balanced. It would probably hold up for another year or two at least, but this vintage is drinking very well right now, so sear yourself a steak and crack open your bottle if you have one. The 2016 and 2017 vintage should be able to age this long too if you have one of those. 2012 Sandhill Crane Cabernet Sauvignon is recommended.
Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
Grape: Riesling (100%)
Place of origin: Mari estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry Riesling. Light lees contact.
Purchased for $26 (winery)
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: Lychee, canned pears, gravel, pineapple sage, pinch of epazote.
Palate: Full-bodied and lush. Underripe bartlett pear, mandarin orange, and lemon sherbet but without the sweetness of all those things. A little tarragon too.
Finish: Acid first, then gravel.
Parting words: Scriptorium is a semi-dry Riesling, but it drinks like a lucious late harvest one. There’s a lot of fruit and big acid up front with some minerality and herbs bringing up the rear.
Riesling might not seem to fit the profile of Mari Vineyards at first glance. Mari is known for elegant red blends, especially ones featuring grapes not commonly grown in Michigan like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (they can grow these grapes because of their nella serra system). Riesling very much fits the profile of Mari winemaker Sean O’Keefe, though. His family founded, and still owns, Chateau Grand Traverse just five miles up the peninsula from Mari. So when he was hired as winemaker at Mari, he knew he had to make Riesling too. It’s in his blood.
I’m very glad it is too. Scriptorium is a wonderful wine that is a bargain at $26. Drink it now or drink it later, but just drink it! 2016 Scriptorium Riesling is highly recommended.
Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Jamieson Vineyard, Mari Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Style: Red field blend
Purchased for $60 (winery, -media discount)
Appearance: Dark red.
Nose: Subtle. Toasted oak, black currant jam, blueberry, sweet cherry.
Palate: Well-balanced and elegant. White mulberry, blackberry, leather, clove, nutmeg, white pepper.
Finish: Fruity and a little chewy with a pinch of spice.
Parting words: Row 7 comes from a mishap when Jamieson vineyard was being planted. An unknown assortment of red wine vines were planted in Row 7. Instead of figuring out what they were and moving them accordingly, the vines were left in place and used to create this wonderful field blend, one of Mari’s most popular wines.
I’m not going to try and guess what varietals are in this wine, but it tastes like a Rhone or a lighter Bordeaux blend. It has a firm tannic backbone, but shows a lot of acid, fruit and a little baking spice. Row 7 is expensive for a Michigan red, but I think the quality justifies the price. Maybe it goes without saying in Mari’s price range, but this wine is one that you should cellar for a few years after purchasing. It tastes good right out of the box, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re spending this much on one bottle of wine, it’s wise to get the most out of your investment. This one could probably go another year or two even! Mari Vineyards Row 7, 2013 is recommended.
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
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.
Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $15
Appearance: Translucent ruby.
Nose: Black currant, black pepper, toasted oak, raspberry.
Palate: Medium-bodied and juicy. Cranberry juice cocktails, blackberry, sauteed mushrooms.
Finish: Juicy, then jammy, then oaky.
Parting words: I last reviewed CGT’s Gamay Noir in 2011. That was the 2009 vintage. It was a good one, but how does the hot and steamy 2016 vintage compare?
Well, there’s no cherry in the 2016 like there was in the 2009, but they’re very similar in profile. The 2016 is a hair more complex with some earthiness on the palate. It’s the equivalent of a quality Beaujolais-Village or a value Morgon. Chateau Grand Traverse retains its title as the king of Gamay in Michigan. This wine is recommended.
Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)
Purchased for $9 (Costco)
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: peach cobbler, roux.
Palate: Peach, citrus, lemon butter, grave.
Finish: Clean and dry. Lemon thyme.
Parting words: This wine was also a part of June 2019’s Twitter Riesling Roundtable. It was the most impressive Riesling from LMS in the tasting. I dodn’t usually go for buttery Riesling but this wine was so perfectly balanced that I didn’t mind the butter. In fact, it worked with the fruit notes to create baked good aromas and flavors. $9 is hard to beat for a wine this good. As I’ve said before, don’t sleep on St. Julian. Tbere’s a lot more to them than Blue Heron. St. Julian Reserve Riesling is highly recommended.