Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve, 2013

Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA20181107_112736.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22 (winery)

Appearance: Dark reddish-purple.

Nose: Blackberry pie, clove, oak.

Palate: Medium-bodied and mostly dry. Baking spice, blackberry, mulberry.

Finish: Crushed blackberry, toasted oak.

Parting words: Fennville is Michigan’s only sub-appellation. It’s as old or older (sources conflict) than its parent AVA Lake Michigan Shore. It’s essentially a one winery appellation. That winery is Fenn Valley. It’s to the north and west of the big wineries in LMS, so it doesn’t get the same traffic as the others, but it’s very much worth a trip up the road to Fennville or to the tasting room in Saugatuck. Those are the only place one can reliably find Fennville wines. Judging by this one, it’s a prime spot.

This wine is a classic cool-climate Merlot. It has the chewy fruit one expects from Merlot, but with that cool climate (and cool vintage) tang that brings it all together and makes it a perfect match with pork chops, roast duck or sirloin steak. At $22, it’s worth every dollar and more. 2013 Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve is highly recommended.

 

Advertisements

Round Barn Merlot, 2013

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, Michigan, USA20181002_174123.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $33 (with press discount) at winery.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry juice, smoked Memphis-style pork ribs.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little chewy. Fruit of the forest pie, vanilla, clove, aniseed.

Finish: A little sweetness and tannin in the cheeks.

Notes: Received complementary tour, free tasting and press discount at time of purchase. Grapes harvested October 21, 2013 at 20.5 brix. In French oak for 20 months.

Parting words: Merlot isn’t a grape that is very closely associated with Michigan but it does pretty well here, especially (but not exclusively) in the LMS AVA. It is often used in red blends where it serves to balance out the bold, savory flavors of the widely grown Cabernet Franc, which I suspect may be rounding out the blend here.

Vintners will tell you that 2013 was a tough vintage in Michigan, mostly on account of it being a cool one, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of very good wine made. Wines of 2013 in just took a little longer to mature than their 2012 (or 2016) compatriots. As a result, the 2013 Bordeaux variety reds are hitting their stride now, so dig into your cellar and drink up now!

This wine has the cherry and berry flavors one expects from Merlot, but with a touch of pork (yes, I know that sounds like a Pigs in Space porn parody) and spice with judicious use of oak. The price is too high, but not so high that I feel like I need to wag my finger at the folks in the Barn by only giving this a mild recommendation. 2013 Round Barn Merlot is recommended.

Hawthorne Gamay, 2016

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180905_191254.jpg

Grape: Gamay (at least 85%)

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

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 12.3%

Purchased for $14 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby.

Nose: Fruit punch, toasted oak.

Palate: Raspberry, strawberry, black cherry, wood, clove.

Finish: Cherry juice, oak

Purchased: I love Gamay and I love this wine. It is a great example of what Gamay does best. It makes fruity, enjoyable wines that are great summer sippers or alongside the sort of food Pinot Noir usually accompanies. If I were to compare it to a red from Beaujolais (Gamay’s home base), I would say it most resembles a quality Beaujolais-Villages or a fruity Cru Beaujolais like Fleurie. It’s great to drink now, but it will probably deepen and grow more complex if cellared for another year or more. I recently finished a bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir from 2014 that was still quite good, so don’t feel rushed. $14 is a very good price. 2016 Hawthorne Vineyards Gamay is recommended.

Hawthorne Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Lemberger/Blaufränkisch

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

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $35 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, bubble gum, cedar.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Blackberry jam, cherry juice, grows tannic as it hangs around in the mouth.

Finish: Tart, then cheek-filling tannins.

Parting words: Despite my lack of enthusiasm over this increasingly popular grape, I am continuing to drink and review wines made with Lemberger/Blaufränkisch. My thinking is that if I never actually like them, I can at least understand them and appreciate how they should taste.

I expected this wine to be another exercise in “understanding” but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it! It had the same rustic, tannic character as the other Lembergers I’ve tasted, but this time balanced with acid, which made all the difference. I didn’t even have to chill it. I don’t know if it was the cooler vintage, the terroir, vineyard management, or the skill of the winemaker, but this Lemberger transcends its peasant heritage and becomes a sophisticated, balanced wine even Blau-skeptics like me can enjoy. Hawthorne Vineyards’ 2013 Lemberger is recommended!

2012 Cabernet Franc head to head tasting: Free Run vs. Brys Estate

A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.

From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.

20180117_173839.jpg
Jessica and Brian

For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.

FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)20180113_165641.jpg

BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin

FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV

FR: 12%

BE: 13.5%

Price

FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.

BE: $50 (winery)

Appearance

FR: Dark ruby.

BE: Darker. Plum.

Nose

FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.

BE: Big lavender, blackberry.

Palate

FR: Cherry juice, chewy tannins, raspberry, blackberry.

BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.

Finish

FR: Tart. A little cherry.

BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.

20180113_181339.jpg
The casserole

Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.

FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.

BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.

Tasters other than me

Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”

Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.

Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.

20180117_173742.jpg
The chocolate tarts

My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.

BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.

I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.

Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_161540.jpg

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.

Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.

Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.

This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.

 

 

Chateau Aeronautioque Syrah, 2013

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA20171122_200800.jpg

Grape: Syrah/Shiraz (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

ABV: 14.8%

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room Sipper Club)

Appearance: Deep burgundy.

Nose: Black currant, plum, cedar, white pepper, coriander seed.

Palate: Medium-bodied and medium dry. Fruit of the Forest pie, button mushrooms, clove.

Finish: Tart and oaky, then earthy.

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique is a part of the cluster of wineries located in and around Jackson, Michigan. Owner/winemaker Lorenzo Lizarralde is known for bold reds and this Syrah is Lorenzo at his best. This wine is bold but never belligerent. The big, spicy flavors are balanced with fruit and earthiness to make for a very food-friendly, enjoyable wine that’s good to drink right now. Good to visit right now is Chateau Aeronautique’s brand new Irish Hills tasting room in Onsted, Michigan on Pentecost Highway between Sand and Evans lakes, south of US 12! 2013 Chateau Aeronautique Syrah is recommended.

 

Arcturos Cabernet Franc, 2012

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171107_164857.jpg

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (56% Leelanau Co, 44% Grand Traverse Co), USA

ABV: 13%

Price: $28.50 (website, 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Dark burgundy. Opaque.

Nose: Roasted red pepper, sautéed mushrooms, raisins, crushed blueberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Chicken jambalaya, oak.

Finish: Tangy and oaky.

Parting words: Chicken jambalaya is a weird tasting note, I know, but I think it’s apt for the combination of vegetal (bell pepper, celery), sweet (tomato, onion), tart (tomato), toasty (toasted rice) spicy (bell pepper, black pepper) and earthy (tomato, celery, chicken) flavors I got in this wine.

I reviewed the 2004 Arcturos Three Black Lot Old Mission Peninsula Cab Franc back in 2011 in the early, halcyon days of this blog. It was more subtle and refined than this wine, but it was also two years older. At the time I thought it was too old, but my palate has shifted toward lighter, fruitier reds so it sounds really good to me right now. The 2012 Cab Franc is good right now but I think it will continue to improve into the first couple years of the next decade. $28.50 is a fair price, especially if one holds on to it for a few more years. There are probably a few 2012s still kicking around, but 2016 and 2017 should be as delicious as this vintage and as age-worthy. Goes well with beef, pork, turkey and spicy Latin chicken dishes. 2012 Arcturos Cabernet Franc is recommended.

 

 

 

Sandhill Crane Syrah, 2012

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA20171027_174701.jpg

Grape: Syrah (at least 75% by law)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.9%

Purchased for: $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Plum, blueberry, cedar, mace.

Palate: Medium-bodied, medium sweet. Blackberry, cherry juice, French oak, nutmeg, clove.

Finish: Juicy, then oaky with a little tang.

Parting words: Sandhill Crane’s home is in Jackson, Michigan, in a small cluster of wineries including Chateau Aeronautique and Sleeping Bear Winery. They make wine from a mix of estate grown grapes and grapes from other areas of Michigan. They’re known, at least to me, for their reds which are consistantly some of the best in the state. They have a large, swinging tasting room with a restaurant and frequent events. It’s less than ninety minutes from most places in the Detroit Metro area and not far from Ann Arbor and Lansing either, making it a popular destination for those interested in a relaxing Saturday afternoon away.

Syrah’s home is in the Rhöne valley, but tasting this wine left me wondering if its second home could be in southern Michigan. This is cool climate Syrah to be sure, fruity and slightly acidic, but still with the grape’s spicy calling card. The Rhöne vallery isn’t as hot and dry as many people assume anyway. Syrah doesn’t seem to do well in northern Michigan, but in the south and southwest it seems to do better and in the hands of a skilled winemaker like Holly Balansag it can be delicious. We had this wine with chicken tacos and it paired very well. Sandhill Crane Syrah also pairs well with beef and pork. 2012s are going to be hard to find now, but 2016 and 2017 are looking as good as 2012 was or even better. Make sure you give it a good four or five years in the cellar to enjoy it at its best! 2012 Sandhill Crane Syrah is highly recommended.

 

Peninsula Cellars Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171019_172611.jpg

Grape: Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22.50 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blueberry pie, tomato, black pepper. “grapes when you eat them” -nosing note from my 7 y/o daughter.

Palate: Blackberry juice, wild mushroom, pink peppercorn, a little tartness.

Finish: Tannin, then acid.

Parting words: What do Pinot Blanc and Lemberger have in common? They’re both popular grapes that I just haven’t been able to get excited about. Both grow well in Up North, West Michigan and southern Michigan wine countries and both have been floated as “signature grapes” for the state. I’m not a fan of the concept of regions promoting one “signature grape” in general, but if I had to pick, neither Lemberger or Pinot Blanc would be in my top five.

As I do with a lot of things, I’ve been questioning myself over my disinterest in Lemberger and Pinot Blanc and wondering if it meant that my palate was flawed or I’m some kind of moron. So I’ve been trying to drink more of both kinds of wine. This bottle is a part of that effort.

Austria is considered Lemberger’s home turf, although it probably originated farther south and east. It’s known as Blaufränkisch in Austria where it is the second most planted red wine grape. The first is Lemberger’s offspring, Zweigelt.

While I may have had a breakthrough regarding Pinot Blanc, Lemberger’s appeal remains elusive. This is a well made wine, better than the last Lemberger I tried, but I still find myself wondering why it’s such a favorite of some Michigan wine drinkers. For me it’s too rough around the edges. In the past year or two I’ve been moving into sweeter, fruitier wines (Gamay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, cool climate Cab Franc and Merlot) and this wine’s tannic finish and unbalanced earthiness were an unpleasant surprise to my palate. Chilling it did eliminate much of that roughness but I would rather not have to chill a red wine at this price.

I think much of Lemberger’s popularity in Michigan is being driven by how well it grows here (which is a good thing!) but as for me, I still prefer it in blends rather than bottled as a varietal. Austrian Blaufränkisch often improves with extended cellar time, so maybe this one needs more time. Luckily I have another bottle of this in my cellar so I can test that theory in a couple years. Anyway, as it is now 2013 Peninsula Cellars Lemberger is mildly recommended.