Verterra Malbec, 2016

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA

Grape: Malbec (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: Undisclosed (Table wine loophole)

Purchased for $40 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak).

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Plum, clove, leather, blueberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied and well-balanced. Plum, blackberry, black raspberry, allspice, white pepper.

Finish: Drying and a little chewy, but still with lots of fruit. Acid faded as the bottle was open.

Parting words: Verterra has made a name for itself as a major (by Northwest Michigan standards) producer of red and rosé wine. It’s one of the few wineries in the state that produces a varietal Malbec, an old Bordeaux variety that is most famously grown in Argentina.

Malbec is not a variety I regularly seek out. It’s too often indistinguishable from its close cousins Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Those two are easier to find, so why bother? This one is worth seeking out, though. It has the fruit of a Merlot, but perfectly balanced with spice and tannin. This balance makes it more than just a home-cooked steak or burger wine, but one that quickly becomes the star of any meal or event it’s a part of.

At $40, it’s not cheap, but it turns into a bargain after a few years in the cellar. The 2017s and 2020s should be even more cellar worthy than this vintage, too! 2016 Verterra Malbec is highly recommended.

Verterra Rosé of Merlot, 2019

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Style: Dry rosé.

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Orangey pink.

Nose: Cedar, white cherry, crushed mulberry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Strawberry, watermelon, pink raspberry.

Finish: Dry and Tangy.

Parting words: Verterra’s walk-in tasting room in downtown (such as it is) Leland, Michigan might give the impression of a tourist trap at first impression, but this is a serious winery whose founder, Paul Hamelin, has a passion for pushing the limits of what Northwestern Michigan wine can be. In recently years, he has embarked on a project to make high quality dry varietal rosé (the Polar Vortex years of 2014 and 2015 gave him a bit of a push in this direction too).

He started with rosés of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, and then added a rosé of Merlot for the first time in 2019. They’re all delicious. This Merlot is as good as the Cab Franc, and probably even better. Riesling will always be king to me, but I think rosés like this are going to be a big part of the future of Michigan wine.

This ’20s are out already but there may still be some ’19s still hiding on the backs of shelves around the state. They’re worth seeking out. Verterra Rosé of Merlot, 2019 is recommended.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc, 2019

Maker: Verterra, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Blanc (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA (100%), Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry sparkling wine.

Vintage: 2019

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Light gold with moderate, steady bubbles.

Nose: Ripe mango, pear, custard, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Moderately effervescent with medium body. Off dry with lots of tropical fruit and just enough acid.

Finish: Semi-dry and fruity.

Parting words: The last time I spoke to Verterra Winery owner Paul Hamelin he was extremely excited about making his first sparkling wines. That was several years ago, and now the winery has a full line of blended sparkling wines, all of which are delicious. As far as I know, this wine is the only varietally bottled sparkling Pinot Blanc being produced in Michigan, although it is used frequently in blends.

I really enjoyed this wine, but unfortunately it is currently out of stock at Michigan by the Bottle’s Royal Oak tasting room. MBTBTR owner Cortney told me that they may get some more in soon, so watch for it! In the meantime, go buy some other Pinot Blanc, Verterra, sparkling wine or something else at your local MBTBTR! They are open for wine purchases on NYE & NYD, fyi.

Verterra Sparkling Pinot Blanc 2019 is recommended.

Chaos Cider Sweet Peach

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA20160510_184300-1.jpg

Style: Apple-Peach cider

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $13 (Michigan By the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Bright gold. Very little carbonation noticeable.

Nose: Canned peaches, sweetened apple sauce.

Palate: Fresh white peaches, Golden Delicious apples, minerals, lemon thyme.

Finish: Semi dry with a tart tingle on the tongue.

Parting words: This is the third Chaos cider I’ve reviewed. Like the other fruit flavored ciders in the line, the unfermented apple cider is combined with a fruit wine base and then fermented together. That process makes it less of a flavored cider than a compound fruit wine.

It was not as sweet and sticky as I expected, but it still has enough weight to hold up to club soda and ice. Cherry Blush is more complex and frankly better than this, but Sweet Blush is still worth a try if you’re in the mood for some light patio drinking. Sweet Peach is recommended.

Cherry Blush Hard Cider

Maker: Chaos Cider/Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USA20160308_175236-1.jpg

Style: Cherry flavored apple cider.

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $13/750 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak). Growlers available at the winery for $20, with $16 refills.

Appearance: Dark pink with light bubbles.

Nose: Fresh cut Golden Delicious apples, cherry jello salad.

Palate: Effervescent and semi-sweet. Apple juice, cherry cola, fruit salad juice (with cherries of course), slice of Granny Smith.

Finish: Crisp, dry and quick.

Parting words: I reviewed the Just Apple from Chaos Cider (Verterra Winery by day) back in the fall and I liked it. I like this too. According to a phone conversation with the owner, Cherry Blush starts as cider, then is fermented with a “cherry wine base” (unfermented I assume). This is not a case of adding cherry juice or flavoring to a finished cider. The more complex method shows in the excellent balance here. This isn’t fruit covering up subpar cider, it’s a harmonious blend of cherry and apple. I like it before, during or after a meal. Chaos Cherry Blush is recommended.

Chaos Just Apple Hard Cider

Maker: Verterra Winery, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-20151020_180725-1.jpg

Style: Semi-dry

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $13/750 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak). Growlers available at the winery for $20, with $16 refills.

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Cut apple, light corn syrup, Pinot Gris wine.

Palate: Effervescent and medium bodied. Semi-dry. Mineral water, apple cider, underripe pear.

Finish: Crisp and clean with a lingering murmur of minerality and crisp apple.

Parting words: The next big thing in Michigan wine is cider. After two brutal winters in a row that have left many wineries scrambling for grapes, many have turned to apples to supplement their wine portfolios. Verterra in Leland, on the Leelanau peninsula, is one of those.

Verterra’s ciders were given the name of the winery’s successful Chaos series. Just Apple is Chaos’ flagship and the only unblended (or unflavored) cider in the fleet. As such, it seemed like a good place to start. I was not disappointed.

Calling it great might be an overstatement, but it is quite good. Just Apple does an excellent job of balancing the dryness one expects in a fine cider with the sweetness and apple character beloved by the masses. Goes with just about anything one can put on a plate. The price isn’t too bad either, especially the growler price at the winery, but the MBTBTR price is a perfectly fair. It tastes like a $13 bottle of cider should taste. Chaos Ciders Just Apple is recommended.

Verterra Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Verterra, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-03-25-14.54.50.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

Price: $20 (website)

ABV: Unknown (not listed on label or received from producer by press time)

Appearance: Medium gold with some necklacing.

Nose: Butter, toasted oak, plum, white peach, mineral water.

Palate: Golden delicious apple, lychee, oak, white pepper.

Finish: Chewy oak, canned pear, brown butter.

Parting words: Verterra is one of the best producers on Leelanau and it shows in this wine. They make two Chards, an unoaked (a popular style in these parts) and this one that spent several months in french oak before being bottled, also undergoing malolactic fermentation. It tastes pretty Californian to me, which isn’t a bad thing if you like that style like I do (usually).

As the wine sat and warmed in the glass, some of the fruit seemed to disappear, which was disappointing. It was still tasty, just not quite so well balanced as it was when the cork first came off. Unfortunately, due to poor meal planning, I was unable to taste it with food, but based on experience with similar wines I think it would pair well with chicken, swordfish, shark and the like. The price is very nice for a quality Michigan wine. The 2012 Verterra Reserve Chardonnay is recommended.

Verterra Dry Riesling

Maker: Verterra/Chaos, Lake Leelenau, Michigan, USAwpid-2014-09-16-13.28.54.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $15

Appearance: Light gold with

Nose: ripe peach, granny smith apple, bitter orange.

Palate: Medium bodied. Red pear, navel orange, mineral water, white grapefruit.

Finish: Clean and dry. More peaches and pears with a hint of vanilla.

Parting words: The 2011 vintage in Northern Michigan continues to impress me. Leelanau is a much larger area than Old Mission with many more wineries, so the region as a whole is less consistent than the OMP. Verterra itself is of consistently high quality, though. I recommend trying anything of theirs you see.

This wine is everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. It’s dry and food-friendly without sacrificing any character. Orchard fruit in abundance with a touch of acid for balance. Even eighteen hours after opening, it was still delicious, maybe even better. It’s worth every penny and then some. Verterra’s 2011 Dry Riesling is highly recommended.