Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling, 2014

Maker: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20170320_112711.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

Style: Medium dry sparkling white wine (secondary fermentation was using the cuve close, aka “tank” method)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate (Blocks M, I & N), Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 10.6%

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

For more information, scroll down to this wine’s entry here on Shady Lane’s website.

Appearance: Very pale straw with steady, delicate bubbles.

Nose: Whiff of yeast then classic Riesling profile. Big peach, plum, jackfruit, fresh squeezed blood orange juice.

Palate: Light bodied and medium sweet with moderate acidity. Mineral water, grapefruit, lemon peel, vanilla bean.

Finish: Clean & crisp. Minerals, acid.

Parting words: Shady Lane, one of Leelanau’s best wineries, is named after the founder’s favorite Pavement song (ok, probably not but I like to pretend that it is). Almost all their wines are made from estate grown grapes. That sets them apart from most of their peers. It also makes their wines harder to find and a little more expensive, but it’s worth it.

Sparkling Riesling is relatively rare in the US or anywhere else for that matter. The last one I had was this one but it doesn’t really count since it was the result of an accident. I enjoyed Shady Lane’s intentional version quite a bit, as did a friend I served some to. My wife didn’t like it as much. She found it to be lacking in flavor and aroma. I will say that it is a little bland right out of the refrigerator. Letting the glass or bottle warm for a couple minutes before drinking brings out all the deliciousness described above. It is balanced enough that it pairs very well with spicy Thai or Middle Eastern food.

Sparkling Riesling is rare and a wine this well made at $25 is even more rare. It’s like that easy going but never boring friend with a bubbly but never unbalanced personality you always want to have around at a party (once she comes out of the cold, anyway). Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling is recommended.

 

 

Left Foot Charley Tale Feathers Pinot Gris, 2011

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1488403717038.jpg

Place of origin: Tale Feathers Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA (western slope), Traverse City, Michigan, USA. For more information on the vineyard, see here.

Vintage: 2011. For more information on the vintage, see image below.

ABV: 12%? (From memory)

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Roasted brazil nuts, mineral water, lychee, lavender.

Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Nutty brown butter, coconut, oregano.

Finish: White grapefruit fading into herbal tastes.

20170301_162702.jpgParting words: Tale Feathers has partnered with Left Foot Charley for many years now. It’s a small (2 1/2 acre) vineyard in west central part of Old Mission. It’s planted entirely with Pinot Gris. The Wilsons’ focus on that grape has paid off in a big way for them and LFC. Theirs is arguably northern Michigan’s best Gris.

The 2011 vintage was strong for whites in Michigan, though not as strong as 2013. It was still one of the best of the past decade. A lot of its fruit has faded over the past 5+ years, but it remains a beautifully structured wine. I wouldn’t let it go much further than this, though. 2011 Left Foot Charley Tale Feathers Pinot Gris is recommended.

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay, 2012

Maker: Dablon Vineyards, Baroda, Michigan, USAwp-1484144619731.jpg

Place of origin: Moraine (now Dablon) estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Unoaked, dry Chardonnay.

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.1%

Price: $20 (winery)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Tangerine, brown butter, peach, mango, minerals.

Palate: Dry. Butter, melon, mineral water, banana.

Finish: Bitter butter batter, gravel dust.

Parting words: 2012 is a vintage best known for its excellent reds in LMS and the northern Michigan AVAs. The whites I’ve had from 2012 have been inconsistent, even from large producers. I tasted this wine at the Dablon tasting room and I was pleasantly surprised.

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is unusual for Michigan.  The unoaked ones tend to be round, fruity and mild but Moraine is boldly dry, even drier than its ABV would suggest. It’s more like a Chablis or Mâconnais than a  typical Michigan Chard. Fatty fish or creamy cheese would be excellent pairings, but chicken and pork chops would work too. I really enjoyed this wine. Worth the money and then some. 2012 Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is highly recommended.

Chateau de Leelanau Bianca 2013

wp-1481146103119.jpgMaker: Chateau de Leelanau, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Bianca

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA.

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Pale gold with tiny bubbles.

Nose: Cut apple, lemon thyme, sage.

Palate: Semi-dry and medium bodied. Peach, green apple.

Finish: Soft and apple-y fading to bit of herbal bitterness.

Parting words: When I tasted this wine, I thought it was a blend. I thought I tasted a lot of Riesling in the mix, but I couldn’t put my finger on what else might be in there. Turns out, this is not a blend but a varietal! Bianca is a hybrid with parents from the Villard and Pinot families. It was developed in Hungary and is primarily grown there.

I’m glad some made it to Leelanau because this is delicious. More Michigan vineyards should be growing it! No trace of foxiness, just crisp fruity with a pinch of herbs. Chateau de Leelanau also makes a Bianca Select in a sweeter style. I think I’m going to try to find a bottle of that too! $18 is the right price for this wine. Chateau de Leelanau Bianca 2013 is recommended.

Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1472691746227.jpg

Style: Oak aged Chardonnay (17 months in oak).

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.3%

Price: $22 (winery)

Appearance: Bright straw.

Nose: Brown roux, lemon thyme, oak.

Palate:Mandarin orange, bitter oak.

Finish: Strong oak with a bit of tartness and sweetness.

Parting words: This is a pretty good buttery, oaky  Chardonnay. I was a big fan of it at the winery but for whatever reason (probably the state of my palate), it’s not thrilling me currently. Nothing remotely objectionable here, though. It’s not complex but it does serve up pleasant citrus, butter and oak flavors. The oak is strong but some people like that sort of thing (even I do sometimes). If you’re a fan of big Cali Chards, you will also enjoy 2013 Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay. It is recommended.

Bel Lago Auxerrois, 2013

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USAwp-1468093271317.jpg

Place of origin: Bel Lago estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.9%

Price: $19 (website price for 2012 vintage)

Nose: Cut golden apple, peach, pear, leather.

Palate: Full bodied, dry. Subtle pear, cantaloupe, a drop of brown butter.

Finish: A little tangy and a little sweet, then a touch of smoke as it fades.

Parting words: Auxerrois is not a grape that finds its way onto labels very much. It’s a member of the Pinot family grapes. According to geneticists, Auxerrois shares the same parentage as Chardonnay, making it something of a fraternal twin. It’s primarily grown in Alsace in eastern France, where it is one of the most commonly grown varieties (in 2008, it was grown on twice the acreage of Pinot Blanc). Alsace is between Burgundy and Germany geographically and wino-graphically. It is best known for its white wines which include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Where does that leave Auxerrois? There’s a strange quirk in French wine laws that allows Alsatian wines labeled Pinot Blanc to contain any white wine from the Pinot family. Auxerrois is one of the most popular choices for Pinot Blanc, whether blended with Blanc and Gris or even all by itself(!). It brings Chard-like mouthfeel and fruit to the blend as a counterpoint Pinot Blanc’s crispness.

Bel Lago became the first winery to plant Auxerrois in Michigan in 1987. They’ve treated it with care and made a great wine out of it, year after year. Pinot Blanc has been raised as a possible signature grape for Michigan but maybe its old pal Auxerrois is a better choice. Bel Lago Auxerrois is highly recommended.

Semi-dry Riesling Head to Head: Chateau Grand Traverse vs Gill’s Pier

Chateau Grand Traverse (Traverse City, Michigan, USA)= CGT20160531_195230-2.jpg

Gill’s Pier (Traverse City, Michigan, USA)= GP Now defunct.

Place of origin

CGT: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

GP: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA (estate)

Vintage: 2013

ABV

CGT: 11%

GP: 10%

Appearance:

CGT: Medium gold.

GP: Pale gold

Nose

CGT: Rich. Slightly musty, old Riesling aroma when first opened, then peachy all the way through.

GP: Crisp yellow apple, Meyer lemon, lemon thyme.

Palate

CGT: Full-bodied, old Riesling feel. Mandarin orange, sage.

GT: Bracing, but still sweet. Tangerine, bottled lemon juice.

Finish

CGT: Dry, with a little bitterness.

GP: Cheek-filling tartness. Fades slowly.

Parting words: I got the idea for this head to head when I pulled a wine out of our liquor cabinet to put in our china cabinet for near term-consumption (we have an overly complex three-part staging system for wine in our house). I pulled out the CGT Semi-dry Riesling and then went to move up the bottle below it and noticed it was the Gill’s Pier Semi-dry of the same vintage. I’ve done a lot spirits head to heads, but not many wine ones so I thought this was the perfect opportunity.

I didn’t expect there to be much of a difference between these two, honestly. I was quite surprised at the contrast between two wines made from grapes grown a few miles apart in the same style and year. It’s a testimony to the varied terroir of northwest Michigan and the flexibility of Riesling. CGT is lush and decadent where Gill’s Pier is focused and elegant. If I had to choose one over the other, I would probably opt for Gill’s Pier, but just by a hair. Both are recommended. Unfortunately, Gill’s Pier estate is now an alpaca farm, but Chateau Grand Traverse is still going strong and readily available all over Michigan.

Hawthorne Pinot Grigio, 2012

Maker: Hawthorne, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20160515_181721-2.jpg

Place of origin: Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA (2013 vintage was made from a mix of estate grapes and grapes from the Rue de Vin vineyard)

ABV: 13.1%

Purchased for $15 (winery)

Appearance: Pale straw

Nose: Mild. Papaya, underripe peach, honeydew melon, butter.

Palate: Rich and buttery. Grilled peaches, mandarin oranges, heirloom apples,

Finish: Bitter, smoky finish. Burnt butter, but in a good way.

Parting words: I don’t think I’ve ever had a Michigan Pinot Gris/Grigio this buttery, certainly not one from Northern Michigan. As you know, dear readers, the butter comes from malolactic fermentation, a secondary fermentation that can happen in wines. It also has the effect of softening out the tartness of a wine. It is commonplace in red wines, but less common in white where it imparts that buttery flavor and aroma most of us associate with California Chardonnay. It is allowed to occur in many warm climate Pinot Grigios too. Traverse City is almost nobody’s idea of a warm climate location but 2012 was a hot year by Michigan standards. Although it can be controlled, malolactic fermentation is more likely to occur naturally in warm conditions so maybe the folks at Hawthorne just decided to allow nature to take its course.

However it happened, the result was good. As in many Chards, the bitter oak and butter complement each other and make it even more food friendly. I’m not sure I would want a steady diet of this style of Grigio, but it’s good for a change of pace. 2012 Hawthorne Pinot Grigio is recommended.

Domaine Berrien Sweet Traminette, 2012

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA20160415_171526-1.jpg

Place of Origin: Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: Unknown (2013 vintage was 13.2%)

Price: $12 (Website price for 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Medium gold with thick, widely spaced legs.

Nose: Canned pear, roasted almonds, lemon verbena, nutmeg.

Palate- Full bodied and luscious. A little oxidation evident. Golden Delicious apple, winter savory, ginger,  angelica.

Finish: White pepper, clove. Fades but leaves a subtle sweetness lingering behind.

Parting words: Domaine Berrien is best known for their reds but they produce some very good whites, like this one too. Traminette is one of the few hybrids grown on their estates, but it’s a good choice given the warmer climate and lower latitude of Lake Michigan Shore AVA. It’s a fairly new hybrid created in 1965 as a cross of Gewurztraminer with a Seyve hybrid at the University of Illinois. It’s been named the signature grape of Indiana as well.

This is described as a “German style” Traminette, which is odd since the grape is not widely grown in Germany, to my knowledge anyway. I think what they mean is that they were aiming for a wine in the style of late harvest Riesling or Gewurz from Germany. It certainly has the mouthfeel and many of the aromas of an aged Spatlese or Auslese. I almost found myself wishing that I had let it sit for another year or two, but I’m also afraid that the slight mustiness on the nose might erupt into full-blown mildew. Maybe I was right to open it when I did, then.

Anyway, Domaine Berrien Sweet Traminette, 2012 is recommended. It may be hard to find at this point, but the 2013 is kicking around.

Forty-Five North Dry Riesling, 2011

Maker: Forty-Five North, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA20160405_115701-1.jpg

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

ABV: 11.25%

Purchased for $19 (Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Dry and flinty. Lychee, water chestnut, Bartlett pear, dried savory, epazote.

Palate: Peach, tangerine, ruby red grapefruit, mineral water, dried chicory.

Finish: Medium length. Dry, herbal with a slight bitterness.

20160402_182008-1.jpgParting words: Having had an odd experience when I visited Forty-Five North last summer, I had been put off from reviewing any more of their stuff. I’m very glad I reviewed this one, though. I found it languishing on a shelf at store at which I usually buy Scotch and decided to pick it up earlier this year, even though I was unsure if it would still hold up.

Held up it did. This wine was wonderful. It’s one of the driest Michigan Rieslings I’ve had. I ate it with a couple different meals, including a cheese tart, made with Raclette from Leelanau Chesse (it’s all they make). It did well with everything. It’s drinking very well now, obviously, but it will probably still be good a year or more from now. $18 was the original MRSP but it’s easily worth $19-$20 or more. 2011 is still showing very well for Michigan whites. Forty-Five North’s 2011 Dry Riesling is highly recommended.