Pelee Island Pinot Noir

Maker: Pelee Island Winery, Kingsville, Ontario, Canadawpid-2015-06-30-15.51.05.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Pelee Island VQA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $13 (Northwood Market)

Appearance: Dark plum.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, dried tobacco, strawberry.

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.

A Capella

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

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

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.

Isidor’s Choice Pinot Noir

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAIsidors Pinot 2011

Place of origin: Isidor’s Choice vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

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.

Domaine Berrien Pinot Noir

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USADB 2010 Pinot

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (Estate bottled)

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12.8%

Price: $15.50 (Michigan by the Bottle tasting room)

Appearance: Quite dark for a pinot. Brick red with long thick legs.

Nose: Earth, red raspberry, cedar.

Palate: Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, wild blackberry, stewed rhubarb, pinch of clove, alcohol.

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.

Two Days in Napa

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.

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When we left Royal Oak in the morning, our backyard looked like this.
When we left our hotel in the morning, we saw this.
When we left our hotel in the morning of the next day, we saw this.

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.IMG_20140327_121951

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.

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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.

RM Wines

Nothing could really compare to that experience, but we visited a few more wineries over the next two days.

There was scenic and pricey Alpha Omega.
There was scenic and pricey Alpha Omega.
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And Mumm, specializing in sparklers.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Arcturos Pinot Noir, 2011

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City/Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAArc Pinot 2011

Place of origin: Michigan (60% Leelanau Co., 40% Grand Traverse Co.), USA

ABV: 12% ABV

Price: $22.50 (website)

Appearance: Ruby red,

Nose: Lightly toasted oak, white pepper, strawberry jam.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Black raspberries, very ripe blueberries, pinch of pink peppercorns.

Finish: Light oak with a bit of fruit. Fades slowly.

Parting words: I was originally planning to let this one sit for longer but after tasting a 2010 Pinot Noir from a neighboring winery that had fallen apart last week I panicked and decided that now was the time to open my 2011 Michigan Pinots. I’m glad I did. This one was very tasty. It was fruity but the oak rounds it off nicely. There could have been more depth and integration of flavor but there’s nothing to complain about. Does fine with food or on its own. 2011 Arcturos Pinot Noir is recommended.

Blushed

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City/Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA
BSF Blush

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Leelenau AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry sparkling rosè.

ABV: 12%

Price: $13.50 from the winery online

Appearance: Ruby red with lots of bubbles.

Nose: Pomegranate, cranberry, red raspberry.

On the palate: Effervescent and dry. Not nearly as tart as the nose suggests. More pomegranate, but fades into a grapey flavor with a hint of foxiness.

Finish: Still dry but fairly tart. The cranberries pop up again only to fade into sparkling mineral water.

Parting words: I was skeptical when I saw the word “dry” on the label of Blushed, but it dry it is. It’s color is more like a bleed than a blush, but the dark color is attractive.

Blushed would make a nice change of pace for a sober first round on New Year’s Eve or casual summertime sipping. It is very good in a champagne cocktail (sugar, bitters and sparkling wine). Adequate in a mimosa. The price is right and so is the wine. Blushed is recommended.

Edition Maximilian Rheingau Pinot Noir

Maker: Hans Lang, Eltville, Hesse, Germany.Ed Max Pinot 2009

Vintage: 2009

ABV: 11.5%

Purchased for: Around $7

Appearance: Light burgindy, like red raspberry juice.

Nose: Light and fruity. Strawberry, raspberry jam.

On the palate: Also light and fruity but with some complexity and not a lot of sweetness. Strawberry juice, underripe plum, cherry preserves, a dash of white pepper.

Finish: Pleasant but quick-fading. Some fruity sweetness followed by gentle oak.

Parting words: This is another favorite of mine from Trader Joe’s. The U.S. gets a very limited selection of fine German white wines. Good German reds are even harder to find. The German name for the grape is Spätburgunder but many German producers have been astutely using the more familiar French name on labels intended for sale in the U.S.

Rheingau is one of Germany’s historically great wine-producing regions. It lies on the north bank of the Rhine in the vicinity of Wiesbaden where the river takes a westward turn between where it is joined by the Main and where it turns back north. As one might expect Riesling is the mostly widely planted vine, but a significant proportion of Pinot Noir is also grown.

At any rate, I like this wine a lot for what it is. It lacks noticeable flaws, though it also lacks depth and complexity. It does very well with all types of cuisine and is very easy drinking. At $7 there’s nothing not to like. Edition Maximilian Rheingau 2009 Pinot Noir is recommended.

Chateau Chantal Pinot Noir

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USAChCh Pinot 2011

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

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $15

Note: Notes taken after having been open 24 hrs.

Appearance: Light burgundy.

Nose: Light and vaguely fruity. Blackberry jam, cedar, grape juice.

On the palate: Light and easy drinking. Fresh strawberries, a taste of wood, not much else.

Finish: More cedar and a bit of black pepper, but still lightly fruity.

Parting words: Pinot Noir is an up and coming grape for Northern Michigan. It has been grown there for some time, but there have been raised expectations as of late. There’s no reason why good Pinot couldn’t be produced in Michigan. Pinot Noir is widely grown in the same regions in Europe where Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are grown and all those do well in the Great Lakes State.

This is a wine without any obvious flaws (aside being a little lively upon first pour) but I was disappointed with how timid it was. It reminds me of inexpensive négociant-produced red Burgundy I’ve had. In the wine’s defense, the back label makes it pretty clear what to expect: an easy-going, food friendly wine. I would stay away from beef, lamb or ham, but pork, turkey or salmon would pair very nicely with this wine as would a cheese course or dark chocolate.

There is no shortage of decent red Michigan blends available for purchase just about anywhere in this state. Some of the best of those are from Chateau Chantal. When I buy a vintage varietal for a vintage varietal price, I expect more character than I got in this bottle. For that reason, Chateau Chantal Pinot Noir 2011 is only mildly recommended.

Arcturos Pinot Noir

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir

Place of Origin: 53% Grand Traverse County, 47% Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12%

Appearance: Reddish burgundy.

Nose: Cherry preserves, oak, clove, glazed ham. Gets drier as it breathes.

On the palate: Medium bodied. Subtle but fairly complex. Slightly tangy, with more cherry and oak. Black pepper, leather, hint of cedar.

Finish: Oak with stronger cedar notes. Fades to a slightly tannic fruity tang.

Parting words: This is a very well-executed Pinot. It’s well-balanced but interesting. The oak and spice balances out the fruitiness of the grape. It also avoids the cedar notes that can overwhelm some Michigan reds. The blend of Grand Traverse and Leelanau grapes strikes an excellent balance. According to the BSF website this wine would benefit from up to ten years in the cellar, but I couldn’t wait. Goes well with food, but the spice and oak may be lost in the shuffle. It is perfect for a contemplative autumn afternoon. Recommended.