Palate: Semi-sweet, medium bodied. Vanilla, grape soda, toasted French oak.
Finish: Juicy and hot.
Parting words: When I first opened this brandy, I didn’t like it at all. I was reluctant to even review it, because I didn’t know if I wanted to post something that might serve as discouragement to Michigan brandy-makers. You see, I’ve been begging, pleading, and whining about Michigan brady for years now, and I didn’t want to complain about one of the few Michigan brandies currently being made!
I’m glad I didn’t review this brandy right when I opened it because it’s grown on me since then. It’s still not making any of my favorites lists, but it was pretty good mixed, and once I got past the sweetness, it was actually pretty good in a snifter.
A & G Reserve is not going to blow anyone away, but it’s a nice step up for someone used to Christian Borhters or Martell VS. It’s a little expensive for a mixing brandy but it does well mixed. It might make an interesting alternative to bourbon or rum in eggnog, too.
The standard craft distilling mark-up applies here, so I can’t really sneeze at $46. A & G Michigan Brandy Reserve is recommended.
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $21 (Troy Tasting Room)
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Cherry jam, red currants, cedar.
Palate: Medium bodied. Dry but fruity. Red currant jelly, black raspberry, clove.
Finish: Slightly chewy with a tang.
Parting words: Back in July, when we were visiting the Wyncroft/Marland winery and vineyards, I was talking with owner James Lester about some of more unusual European grape varieties that some vineyards have been attempting to grow recently. He mentioned a few varieties that were being grown and expressed skepticism at whether they could successfully be grown in Lake Michigan Shore. I mentioned Tempranillo (primarily grown in Spain, and he said, “Well…actually Tempranillo is grown in the highlands so it can probably do pretty well here.”
Judging by this wine, Tempranillo can indeed be successfully grown in Southwest Michigan. While no one would mistake this wine for a high-end Rioja Gran Reserva, this is a quality wine, roughly equivalent to a Crianza. It’s excellent with beef or rich pork dishes, from braised beef shank to pepperoni pizza. I didn’t notice any drop in quality over the three nights we drank it, either, which bodes well for its cellar life. That said, it’s drinking very well now, so I wouldn’t hold onto it for much longer than another 6 months to a year.
$21 is a fair price for a Michigan Tempranillo, given its rarity and quality. Braganini Reserve Trempranillo, 2016 is recommended.
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA.
Appearance: Medium gold.
Nose: Meyer lemon, ripe peach, pineapple sage.
Palate: Medium bodied and dry. Pineapple, peach, lemon verbena.
Finish: Talk, a little chalk.
Parting words: There’s not a lot of Albariño being grown in Michigan, but it grows well in its temperate homeland in Northwestern Spain so seems like a perfect fit for our climate. Riesling, we already know, is perfect for our climate. So why not stretch that Albariño with the noblest of grapes?
There’s more than just stretching going on here, though. These two grapes are blended seamlessly into a crisp, dry, but still fruity white wine that is very food friendly. Albariño/Riesling is part of St. Julian’s experimental black label line, but it deserves to be a regular offering. I hope there’s enough Michigan Albariño around to do that!
St. Julian Albariño/Riesling 2018 is highly recommended.
Place of origin: Oxley Estate vineyard, Michigan, USA.
Price: $22 (Tasting Room)
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Cut orange, butter, peach.
Palate: Medium-bodied. More peach, navel orange.
Finish: Dry. Peach cobbler.
Parting words: Grüner Veltliner is a wine most closely with Austria. Like Austrian Riesling, GruV is usually made in a dry, austere, style. Most domestic ones are made in the same style, or at least close to it.
This Grüner is different, though. If Austrian GruV is Chablis, this one is Sonoma. It has those dry-ish fruit notes, but there’s buttery and biscuity aromas as well. Maybe there was some lees contact or less than neutral oak used in making this wine, I’m not sure. Whatever it was, the result is surprising but pleasant.
It’s not the summertime quaffer I expected, but maybe this is a better style for the fall. 2018 St. Julian Grüner Veltliner is recommended.
Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.
It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.
Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $8 (? Winery tasting room, Troy, Michigan)
Appearance: Orangy pink, effervescent.
Nose: Strawberry, mulberry.
Palate: Fizzy, medium-bodied and mild. White raspberry, mineral water.
Finish: Acid, a little tannin.
Parting words: I recall tasting this wine at the tasting room and I must have liked it a lot since I ended up buying three bottles of it! Oddly, two of those bottles are listed at $8 and one is listed at $14 in my Cellar Tracker account, so I’m not really sure how much I paid.
This is a decent, quaffable sparkling rosé that tastes best when chilled. There’s not much in the way of balance or integration, though, and the palate is a little flat. For $8 (if that’s what I paid for it), it’s fine. At $14, not so much. I’ll err on the side of generosity, though and give St. Julian Dry Sparkline Rosé a mild recommendation.
Note: This wine is no longer on the St. Julian website, but seems to have been replaced by something called Dry Bubbly Rosé. Hopefully the name change means that the wine has been revamped.
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.
St. Julian Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Late Harvest Riesling= SJ
Arcturos Old Mission Peninsula Late Harvest Riesling= Arc
SJ: St. Julian Winery, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA
Arc: Black Star Farms Old Mission, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Places of origin
SJ: Burgoyne Ridge vineyard, Berrien County, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Arc: Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
VinSugar at Harvest (in brix)
Price (current vintages)
SJ: $13 (website, though I have seen it for under $10)
Arc: $17.50 (website)
SJ: Medium gold
Arc: Light gold, almost green.
SJ: Pear, orange juice
Arc: Kerosene (I was the only one who got this note), lemon thyme, peach.
SJ: Medium bodied but rich. Big pear. Like getting one stuffed up my nose, in a good way.
Arc: Fuller bodied but drier. Crisp apple, lime, candied lemon.
SJ: Sweet, almost sherry-like.
Arc: Cleaner. Bitter sage.
Liz: Preferred SJ. Found it more complex and fruitier.
Amy: Preferred SJ. Arc is for summer sipping by the lake. SJ is also for sipping by the lake, but fall is coming soon!
Pete: Preferred Arc. Found SJ too harsh.
The Panel: Liz and me.
Amy and Pete
Parting words: Michigan is known for Riesling. It’s the most planted wine grape in the state. It’s grown both in the “Up North” wine regions and in West Michigan. Riesling wine is made in a broad array of styles from bone-dry Austrian Smaragd to syrupy Mosel Trockenbeerenauslese. Michigan Rieslings don’t (yet) span that entire spectrum, but they have the middle of it well-covered. On the sweet end are Late Harvest Rieslings like these. The ripeness of the grapes used to make these wines is in the neighborhood of the grapes that would go into a German Spätlese.
I have been wanting to do something like this for a while. LMS vs OMP, West Coast vs Up North. It seemed like the best way to do that was to do it with two wines from two big producers in each area. Black Star Farms is the Up North titan with a winery in both Leelanau and Old Mission and there’s nobody in LMS (or the state) bigger and older than St. Julian. Also both of these wines are commonly found at bigger grocery stores in my area, often at discounted prices.
We all thought both wines were very good, but I was a little surprised at how much almost everyone (including myself) preferred St. Julian. While I didn’t find it as complex as Arcturos, it was richer and more enjoyable. Although St. Julian had less sugar (at harvest and residual) than Arcturos it tasted much sweeter and fruitier. Although the folks at the winery described it as “a bright, clean wine designed to be consumed shortly after release” here, it has held up very well, and probably even become richer. Arcturos held up well too. Both are good values, but St. Julian has the edge there too especially considering it’s a single vineyard wine (albeit a very large vineyard). 2012 St. Julian Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Late Harvest Riesling and 2012 Arcturos Old Mission Peninsula Late Harvest Riesling are recommended.
Palate: Fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh red pear, meyer lemon.
Finish: Mineral with a squirt of citrus.
Parting words: The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t think that’s true in most cases, but I think it does happen to St. Julian sometimes. St. Julian’s Heron series of sweet, plonky wines are best sellers in Michigan and elsewhere. Their tasting rooms are located in touristy areas and interstate exits. This could lead a person to dismiss St. Julian as an unserious winemaker only interested in trapping tourists or resting on its laurels as Michigian’s oldest and biggest winery.
Who thinks like this? Well, sometimes I do and that’s led to me unfairly ignore St. Julian’s wines. I’m hoping to rectify that with this review and some that will be coming later this year.
2013 St. Julian Riesling is a very enjoyable semi dry wine at a wonderful price. It does a nice job of representing both the grape and LMS terroir. It’s crisp, as a Riesling of this style should be, but as it warms a tropical fruit and a hint of petroleum appear. Nothing unpleasant, though. It pairs well with just about anything. $12 is a steal for a tasty, single vineyard Riesling from a good producer. St. Julian Riesling 2013 is recommended.
Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA. Made for Westborn Market, Dearborn, Michigan, USA
Grapes: Unknown “proprietary blend”.
Place of origin: Michigan
Price: $8 (only available at Westborn Market supermarkets)
Appearance: Dark burgundy.
Nose: Dried fig, plum, toasted oak, smoked ham.
Palate: Fruity and tart with a big dose of oak. Blunt with no integration.
Finish: A little chewy, then inky.
Parting words: Market Red is a ham fisted, hybrid-heavy blend made by St. Julian for the Metro Detroit supermarket chain noted for its fine produce, emphasis on locally made products and its chaotic store layouts. They also have their own labeled products that seem to be little more than other Michigan brands with a Westborn label slapped on (e.g. their potato chips). Market Red and its white sibling seem to be relabeled versions of St. Julian’s Founders Red and White respectively, although those are labeled as Lake Michigan Shore, not simply Michigan so I could be wrong about that.
I reviewed Market White a couple weeks ago and I thought it was OK. This is not even as good as that. There’s not much going on here, and what there is isn’t interesting. $8 is cheap, but one can still do better for the money. If one wants to stick with St. Julian, I would recommend the Simply Red* as an alternative. Better yet, chip in a few extra bucks for Chateau Chantal’s Naughty Red or Nice Red. Or if one wants to stay under $10, go across the street from the Berkley Westborn Market and get something much better at Trader Joe’s for the same price or less.
*I am fully prepared to have egg on my face if Market Red is identical to Simply Red