Note: A couple reviews on Cellar Tracker state that this wine is 100% from the La Esperanza vineyard. If so, I don’t understand why it came out on the Marland label instead of Wyncroft. Either way, it’s still good.
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: Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)
Purchased for $20
Appearance: Dark red.
Nose: cedar, blackberry jam, blueberry pie, clove.
Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.
Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.
Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!
This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.
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.
A: 14.5%, B: 11.6%, C: 13.1%, D: 14.3%
A: $23, B: $18, C: $15, D: $14
A: Dark ruby.
B: Light. Translucent.
C: Medium dark red.
D: Darkest. Brick red.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Distiller: Charbay, Ukiah, Mendocino Co, California, USA (Karakasevic family)
Note: Samples provided by Charbay Distillery.
83: Folle Branche (100%)
89: Pinot Noir (74%), Sauvignon Blanc (26%)
Place of origin
83: Mendocino Co, California, USA
89: California, USA
83: 27 y/o (distilled 1983, released 2010)
89: 24 y/o (distilled 1989, released 2013)
83: Medium copper.
89: Light copper
83: Leather, Parmesan cheese, cola, lavender, ghost pepper.
89: Leather, woodruff, dried flowers, vanilla custard.
83: Dry and light bodied. Butterscotch, tarragon, oregano, old oak.
89: Mild. Dried flowers, lemon meringue, oak, crushed coriander seed.
83: Cola, burn, raisins.
89: Leather, Meyer lemon, burn.
Parting words: The Charbay Distillery is one of the oldest micro-distilleries in the US. It’s best known product is its distinctive line of whiskeys distilled from drinkable ( as opposed to distiller’s) beer sourced from local brewers with hops also usually added after distillation. As one might expect, they’re pretty weird. They are also very expensive, even by micro-distiller standards. The flagship expressions are the 6 y/o Charbay Releases I-V (brewed from a pilsner with hops also added after distillation). Release III sells for $375 per 750 ml bottle at K&L Wine Merchants in Southern California, with IV listed at $500 and V for $650 (the latter two are listed as out of stock). There is also the R5 made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA (1 y/o, $75) and Whiskey S made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Stout (2 y/o, $90). They also produce a line of infused vodkas.
I’ve had a couple of the Releases and I didn’t care for them. Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of funky hops or young, expensive whiskey, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On November 9, 2018 I saw some folks on Twitter talking about Charbay whiskey and I rattled off a snarky tweet in response: “Charbay is gross, there I said it.” It got a little interaction but I didn’t really think about it much afterwards.
Then on January 13, 2019 I got a response from the distillery asking if I was interested in trying any of their other products since I obviously didn’t like the whiskey. After some back and forth on the tl and in the dms, Jenni of Charbay kindly sent me samples of their two brandies, the Nos. 83 and 89.
No. 83, coincidentally distilled in 1983, was the first thing to ever come out of Charbay’s still. It was distilled twice and aged in Limousin oak for 27 years. It seems to fall into the quirky house style, but I’ll admit that I haven’t had enough 27 y/o brandies to truly make a fair comparison. It’s the most Cognac-like of the two, which should come as no surprise since it’s made from Folle Blanche grapes, one of the historic grape varieties of Cognac. Wood is prominent, but there’s enough herbs and spices to keep No. 83 from being one-dimensional.
No. 89 is a different animal altogether. It was distilled in 1989 from two popular wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir brandies are rare but not completely unknown, with fellow Ukiah distiller Germain-Robin producing a celebrated one. Sauvignon Blanc is more rare, but is still not completely unheard of as a source material for brandy. There’s slightly more fruit in 83 than in 89, but there’s still not a lot. What is there is a citric acidity that cuts through the oak to make for an enjoyable special occasion sipper.
I’m not going to do the thing I typically do in the final paragraph of a review and evaluate these on price. These are both special, one of a kind brandies and their prices reflect that. Both are outside of my price-range for any spirits, although I could see myself paying $240 for something exceptional if my wife got a big bonus or promotion or when we become empty-nesters. Nos. 83 and 89 are important pieces of micro-distilling history. If you get a chance to taste them, jump on it! You’ll never taste anything like them again.
One pairing suggestion: If you do pay full price for these bottles or over $50 for a pour in a bar, maybe make a matching donation to your favorite charity or local DSA chapter.
Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%, looks and tastes like 100%)
Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Note: 5 months in oak
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.
Maker: Chateau de Leelanau, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Chateau de Leelanau estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $26
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Watermelon, cranberry juice cocktail, cedar.
Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Cranberry/raspberry cocktail, cherry juice, toasted oak.
Finish: Dry, oaky, slightly tart.
Parting words: In Michigan, 2016 is beginning to be spoken of in the same breath as 2012 as one of Michigan’s greatest vintages. Wines like this juicy beauty are why. It’s refreshing but never boring. It’s food friendly but also great for porch sipping. It’s all you want in a summer rosé. It’s very good now, but will surely improve or at least maintain its quality with another year or so in the bottle. 2016 Chateau de Leelanau Rosé of Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Burgdorf’s Winery, Haslett, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (100%?)
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Price: $26 (Michigan by the Bottle Auburn Hills Sipper Club)
Appearance: Dark red, like cherry juice.
Nose: Cherry jam, touch of French oak, cedar.
Palate: Medium bodied, acidic with a little fruit and spice. Cherry juice, blueberry, black pepper.
Finish: Overdone blueberry pie.
Parting words: Burgdorf’s Winery is located in Haslett, Michigan, near Lansing. They’re known for their quality fruit wines and blends but they produce good varietals as well, most of which are not estate grown. This is one of their best. 2011 was an excellent vintage in Michigan overall, though some winemakers struggled with reds. No struggle here. I usually prefer softer Pinot Noir but the spice and oak here make it very food friendly. We had it with pizza margarita and BBQ chicken and it held its own with both. It tastes like its coming to the end of its life, though, so if you find this vintage, open and drink promptly!
2011 Burgdorf’s Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (Dijon clones)
Place of origin: Moreno Vineyard, Bel Lago Eastate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA.
Notes: 30 months in oak.
Purchased for $45 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)
Appearance: Translucent ruby.
Nose: Cherry wine, clove, pepper melange, oak, pinch of wet earth.
Palate: Juicy on entry. Medium bodied. Cherry, red currant, blueberry, pink peppercorn, strawberry.
Finish: Juicy with growing oak.
Parting words: Bel Lago winery lives up to its name, Italian for “beautiful lake”, with one of the most beautiful views on the Leelanau Peninsula. It overlooks Lake Leelanau, which is named after the peninsula & county which was itself named by Indian agent and ethnographer Henry Schoolcraft in honor of his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft who wrote under the name Leelinau, a neologism created by her or Henry. Henry used the name for Native American women in some of the stories he wrote. Henry created several other pseudo-indigenous place names in Michigan, including Lenawee, Alpena, Kalkaska and Oscoda, combining native words with Latin or Arabic elements.
Pinot Noir was one of the varieties hardest hit during the disasterous 2014 and 2015 Polar Vortex vintages. I recently spoke to a Northern Michigan winemaker who told me that he was burnt out on the grape. This winemaker said that Pinot Noir is not worth growing in Michigan because it’s a pain in the ass to grow and it’s rarely any good (my paraphrase).
Bel Lago’s Moreno Vineyard Pinot Noir is a brilliant counterpoint to that view. Oak and spice provide the right amount of contrast to highlight the fruit that drives this wine. This wine is an excellent example of how good Pinot can be in Northern Michigan, at least in a long, hot year like 2012. $45 puts it at the top end of Michigan reds, but I think it’s worth the money. It’s as good as Pinto gets in Michigan. Bel Lago Moreno Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 is highly recommended.
Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan
Place of origin: Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (100%?)
ABV: Unknown, but seems high.
Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)
Appearance: Translucent ruby. Thick, juicy legs.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, sweet cherry, blueberry.
Palate: Medium bodied and blandly fruity. Roasted plantain, blueberry.
Finish: Slightly tart, slightly tannic.
Parting words: “Ham fisted” is one of my favorite idioms in the English language. Its origins are uncertain but it may be connected to the use of the word “ham” to describe an awkwardly bad, over-the-top actor. It’s a phrase that perfectly describes the winemaking style at Chateau Aeronautique. ChA’s aggressive, alcohol-heavy style can work well with bold reds like Cab Franc and the wines of their Aviatrix series but is not well suited to wines like the last ChA wine I reviewed, the 2012 Riesling or this Pinot Noir.
The “Bull in a china shop” is the idiom that describes this specific wine the best. Pinot Noirs with power can be enjoyable but that power must be balanced with fruit and earth (or other aromas) or else the grape loses its distinctiveness. That is what happened here. All that said, I don’t think ChA’s 2011 Pinot Noir is awful (although my usually easy to please wife did). It’s just that, like the Riesling, it’s out of balance. All nuance is smashed to bits on the horns of its aggression. At $25 from a boutique producer I expect better. Chateau Aeronautique’s 2011 Pinot Noir is not recommended.