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.
Nose: Blueberry, new oak, cherry juice, raspberry jam, allspice, pepperoni.
Palate: Light bodied and semi dry. Fruit cocktail but with beefy oak and tannins looming in the background like hired goons.
Finish: A little chewy and oaky, but still refreshing and fruity.
Parting words: I had this bottle in the wine rack in our dining room (the wine version of the on deck circle in our house) when I saw a local wine loving friend of mine raving about it on social media. So I had to make it the next one I opened. I’m glad I did. It’s very good.
Perfectly balanced between fruit, spice and meat, it’s easily one of the top Michigan Pinots I’ve had. Hawthorne is becoming one of my favorite Michigan wineries on the back of the wonderful wines they produced in the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Don’t let the shiny labels and modern condo-esque tasting room fool you, these are people who take growing grapes and making wine very seriously. These bottles can be found on the odd grovery store or wineshop shelf, but Michigan by the Bottle Auburn Hills is the place you can be sure to find some. Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve is highly recommended.
Place of origin: Occidental Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma Coast AVA, California, USA
Price: $50 (winery)
We received a complimentary tasting and tour of the winery at the time of purchase.
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Dynamic. Red raspberry, crushed blueberry, wet oak, smoke.
Palate: Pomegranate, tart cherry juice, old oak, leather, morel mushrooms.
Finish: Mixed fruit jam, crimini mushrooms, custard, oak. Softly lingers f0r a moderate length of time.
Parting words: This wine is from our (Mrs. Sipology’s and mine) trip to NoCal a couple years ago. I wrote up the trip here. Rivers-Marie produces (or at least produced in 2012) two single vineyard Sunoma Pinots, Occidental Ridge and Summa ( the latter owned by one of the co-owners of R-M) as well as a general Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
Four years in the bottle have turned a good wine into a great one. Rivers-Marie makes some of the best Pinot in California. It’s fruity, earthy and bold without being too aggressive and killing the beautiful character of the grape. If you can find some, buy it. Recommended.
Parting words: Non-vintage (NV) wine has suddenly become much more popular in Michigan because of the two apocalyptic vintages in a row, 2014 & 2015. For reds this was especially the case, but even for Chardonnay and Riesling the polar vortex vintages were disastrous. So wine makers blended reserves of previous better vintages together so that they would have decent wine to bottle in 2016.
Bel Lago is one of the best wineries in Northern Michigan. They’re known for cherry wine, rosé
and whites (like their excellent Auxerrois) but ain’t shabby with reds either. I didn’t expect this non-vintage Pinot Noir to be good, but my expectations were exceeded. It’s not as well integrated and balanced as vintage editions, but it goes well with food and there are no obvious flaws. Chilling brings out an inky taste and aroma, so drink at room temperature if possible. $25 is about $5 too much, but I feel sorry for our wineries having to struggle through those two winters so I don’t mind paying it. Bel Lago NV Pinot Noir is recommended.
Palate: Raspberry juice, oak, portabella mushrooms, red currants.
Finish: Wild blackberries, black currants, leather, cranberry juice cocktail.
Parting words: I gave a big positive review to the 2011 vintage of this last year and I think this one is even better. The 2011 was a bright spot in an uneven year for Michigan reds. It’s better integrated than in 2011. The tannic, earthy and fruity flavors are in perfect balance. It was more fruity and earthy when I first opened it, but it has become oakier as it sat. Either way, it’s a delicious wine that does well with food or without and is worth the price. 2012 Arcturos Pinot Noir is recommended.
Palate: Blueberry, black raspberry, strawberry, leather.
Finish: Very mild then fades into a strong bitter flavor.
Parting words: I reviewed the 2007 vintage way back in 2011 and I liked it. It was a fine, table-grade Pinot. This is certainly table-grade but not fine. The soapy, bitter finish ruins a decent (though clunky) wine. It fares a little better chilled but not much. Pelee Island has been in the game for a long time. Surely they can pull of something better than this mess. I wish I had a better review for Canada Day, but this vintage of Pelee Island Pinot Noir is not recommended.
Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir
Place of origin: Capella and Montaña Rusa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $25
Appearance: Deep burgundy with slow, medium width legs.
Nose: Walnut, cherry, touch of cedar.
Palate: Earthy. More so than any other Michigan Pinot I’ve had. Black cherries, wet loam, plum, white pepper, toasted oak.
Finish: A little tart, then more mild cherry followed by wood. Lingers for a long time, but faintly.
Parting words: Yes, it’s another Michigan Pinot. This one, unlike the previous two, is very much in the earthy camp. The oak is well integrated into the earth, but the fruity notes not as much. Nothing bad here though. It goes great with pasta and pork and excellent just on its own. Very much worth the price and would make a nice entry in a horizontal tasting of Michigan Pinots. 2011 A Capella Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Isidor’s Choice vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Price: $22.50 (website)
Appearance: Ruby with medium width, evenly spaced legs. Throws a few crystals into the glass.
Nose: Blackberry pie, cedar, red raspberry, hint of wet earth.
Palate: Fruity but balanced. Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, coriander seed, hint of white pepper and sautéed mushrooms.
Finish: Slightly fruity but moves to a mildly bitter taste. Raspberry, oak, pepper, cedar.
Parting words: As you’ve already guessed, this is another single vineyard Pinot Noir from Black Star farms, done for the owners of Isadora’s Choice vineyard in Leelenau. This is the second bottle of this wine I’ve drank in the last six months, so it’s safe to say I like it.
The profile is classic, well balanced Pinot. It’s got plenty of fruit and oak and earthy notes and everything else you want in a Pinot pleasantly in its place. The best Michigan Pinots can easily stand toe to toe with most red Burgundies in the same price range, and even surpass some. This vintage of Isidor’s Choice can certainly do that. The bottle suggests that it could improve in the bottle for through 2021, although it’s drinking great now, so I would crack it open now or in the next two years.
All that and it’s food friendly too. We had it with BBQ ribs and it performed very well. Isidor’s Choice 2011 Pinot Noir is recommended.
Finish: Chewy. Oak, alcohol, fruit of the forest, sautéed button mushrooms.
Parting words: Domaine Berrien was one of the first Michigan wineries to take the possibilities of Michigan reds seriously. Their care shows in impressive wines like this.
DB’s 2010 Pinot Noir is complex without being busy and gutsy without being belligerent. Its balance, intergration and complexity are head and shoulders above other Michigan Pinots, even the good ones. I’ve had Michigan Pinots from this vintage from Northern Michigan that had already fallen apart in early 2014, but this one is still going strong.
It did well a meal of pulled pork but it did clash a little with the tangy, mustardy BBQ sauce I used. Otherwise, it seems like it would go very well with turkey, pork, duck or flavorful chicken dishes.
At only $15.50, it punches well above its class. I’ll be seeking out the 2011 and 2012 vintages for sure. Domaine Berrien’s 2010 Pinot Noir is highly recommended.
One of the things I enjoy about wine is its strong connection to place. There’s an old saying that when you taste cider, you taste apples and when you taste cherry wine, you taste cherries but when you taste wine made from grapes, you taste the soil and the sun and the rain. This concept is called terroir, and while it is often over emphasized there is a strong element of truth to it. Different varies of grape grow in differently in different places and the same variety or even an identical clone of the same plant will produce a wine that tastes very differently from vineyard to vineyard. That’s to say nothing of the different traditions and techniques of the world’s vineyards.
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a wine lover is visiting these places where grapes are grown and wine is produced. Last year when I received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding in Fremont, California the little hamster wheel inside my brain started turning. My wife and I went to Sonoma years ago when my sister and her husband lived in Northern California so it seemed natural that the next area to visit would be Napa.
We arrived in San Jose late at night so we just stayed at an airport hotel and drove to Calistoga to Rivers-Marie HQ in the morning. The most harrowing part of the drive was the final leg driving up and down mountains on two lane roads with no shoulders. Luckily my wife was behind the wheel so I could just close my eyes for the most alarming parts.
The office for Rivers-Marie is in a beautiful, fairly large craftsman style house in Calistoga itself. After meeting with friend-of-the-blog Will (R-M’s employee, as he described himself), we hopped in the truck and went to the associated winery, Tamber Bey. They make wine for a variety of labels and from a variety of vineyards, but Rivers-Marie is the house brand. Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is their specialty but they also do a Cab and a Chard under that label.
When we arrived they were racking the wine and Will showed us around the equipment.
We then got a chance to visit the wines resting in the barrels and taste a few. With most of them, I took a sip and thought, “This isn’t so bad” and then got smacked in the mouth with a big burst of sulphur. Not good drinking but educational.
We then went back to the office for a great tasting and great conversation with Will. I learned a lot about Napa and Sonoma and wine in general from the conversation. My thinking was even changed on a few things, like being overly tough on certain Michigan wineries whose wine I haven’t liked.
We ended up ordering four bottles from them. Since they don’t have a Michigan distributor, we were able to have them shipped.
Nothing could really compare to that experience, but we visited a few more wineries over the next two days.
We also visited a couple “Judgement of Paris” wineries, Grgich Hills and Stag’s Leap. Both were nice, but Stag’s Leap was an especially nice experience and the wines were amazing. Thanks to the advice of friends of the blog Jessica & Brian we also stopped at Elyse winery, a small family-owned winery. It’s not particularly scenic but the wines were very good and it’s always nice to be able to talk to the people who helped make the wine while you’re tasting it. This was our haul, at least all that we could carry on the plane:
We had heard horror stories about how Napa was a wine-themed Disney World, but it didn’t strike me as Disneyesque at all. Yes, there are plenty of touristy wineries, especially the big or famous ones, but the ones we saw didn’t seem any more touristy than ones we’ve seen in Michigan, Indiana or New York. Our experience with Will and at Elyse was anything but touristy. So, like most places, it’s all about expectations. If you go to Mondavi expecting Robert to look up from picking grapes to wave to you from the vineyard as you roll up on the gravel driveway, you’ll be disappointed. Especially since Robert Mondavi has been dead for several years now. If you plan your visit carefully and know what you’re in for you’ll be able to have a good time.
Napa isn’t just wine of course, but lots of good food too. Oenotri in downtown Napa was a standout, but we hit a couple nice little bistros along the way.
The wedding was a blast. The ceremony was a shortened version of the traditional Hindu ceremony, but instead of a horse, the groom rode in on a Ford Mustang. That summed up the festivities pretty well. The reception (on the next day) was even better. Best Indian food I have ever had and best beer list I have ever seen at a wedding reception. My cousin is a big craft beer fan, and she especially loves sour beers. I think we clean up well, too.
It was a wonderful time, and it’s all thanks to my brilliant cousin Rhiannon (aka Rachel) and her brilliant husband Ashish, who is already living up to his name. May you have many more blessings in the years to come!