I stopped into Western Market in Ferndale for produce and wine last week, and while I was chewing the fat with my buddy Jarred Gild, I noticed a couple of wines from Brengman Brothers Winery in the Michigan section. Kim and I had visited this producer during last year’s Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association Media Weekend, and we were quite impressed with the facility, the wines and the winemaker, Nathaniel Rose. It occurred to me that these two might be good choices to review in our continuing celebration of Michigan Wine Month. (Click images to enlarge.)
The Brengmans got into the wine game by way of their family business in the restaurant industry in the Detroit area. Their love of wine took them on site visits to wineries all over the world, in locations as diverse as California, New Zealand and Italy. After deciding to get into wine production themselves, Ed and Robert Brengman settled on a prime spot on the Leelanau Peninsula, and began planting Crain Hill Vineyards in 2004; over the next two years, 20 acres of vines were planted.
(Editor’s note: When C. Z. was in town a few weeks ago, I handed him a tasting note he had written on his previous visit a few months before, a copy of which can be seen on the right. I couldn’t read the damned thing, but figured that, since he wrote it, he probably could. I asked him to transcribe it during his stay with us, because this wine, even in its relative youth, was just so impressive. As things turned out, we were so busy having fun, he never found the time to do the translation, so last week, I sent him the scanned copy and asked him again to write up his notes. This time, he got back to me quickly, and we’ve held off until our Easter weekend adventures were fully documented to share this now. Since this youngster is only 24 years old, we doubt that it has undergone much change since late last year. Click images to enlarge.)
1990 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Chateau Clerc-Milon Pauillac: Aromas of sweet black licorice, topped with caramel and toffee. Then a little note of sea air and iodine creep in along with a little cinnamon and sweet spice. Earthy notes of straw, cedar and tomato essence become apparent along with dark raspberry, chocolate and grilled Portobello.
Cooked strawberry, pepper and aggressive tannins, but evolving nicely as it opens. After an hour it becomes punchy, very chewy with ripe blackcurrant that shows its youthful character and its primary stage. Layers of red gum, plum and prune and tasty and the length is solid. Find this wine
As promised in our previous blog entry, Pairs and Pairings, here are collective impressions of the six single wines we dropped into the duos during our Easter weekend festivities. Styles were all over the place, from old school Rhône to fruit bomb Californian. The first three were contributed by Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan, starting with two from the Niagara Peninsula. The Chardonnay was actually our starter on Saturday evening. (Click images, stolen from Kerr’s Facebook page, to enlarge.)
2012 Lailey Vineyard Chardonnay Canadian Oak Niagara River VQA, 13% alc., $25.20 Can.: Clean, medium color, with straightforward apple and pear flavors and aromas laced with a good dose of oak that shows more and more as it opens in the glass. Not a “big” Chardonnay, but not delicate either, this is medium-full bodied, with good acids and length. Alan, Rebecca Poling and Kim seem to like this just fine, but, while it’s pleasant enough, it’s not a style that I favor, as the oak is more pronounced than I care for. “Since 2001 Lailey Vineyard has aged select batches of wine in Canadian oak barrels. While our native wood is the same species as that grown in the United States, the growing season is shorter, the wood denser and the flavour more spicy than sweet.” Find this wine
Alan pulled the cork on the next wine right after we enjoyed the two 2000 Saint-Emilions on Friday night. I’ve had enough excellent wine from Tawse to know that this was likely to be quite good, but I had no idea just how good it would prove to be.
2010 Tawse Wine Club Redstone Vineyard Merlot Lincoln Lakeshore VQA, 13.5% alc.: Deeply colored; my notes read, “Mmm, nice, even after the two Bored Dukes; more than holds its own.” Intense black currant character, with some subtle earth and a fine leathery nuance. Full bodied, with good structure and length, this doesn’t have the depth of the Saint-Emilions, but is still a very impressive piece of winemaking. Kim remarked, “This is fucking delicious,” adding that “it reminds me of Thackrey.” I’d like to try it again in five years to see how it develops. We were still talking about this the next day. Find this wine
Judging from the vintage, this next one must have been resting in Chef Kerr’s cellar for several years, and it was a most welcome change of pace on Saturday, especially for Rebecca Poling, who has stated that she doesn’t get to try Rhônes nearly as much as she would like to except when she visits our house.
A little late for Ontario’s family day, but the think tank of the Vintages releases has come up with a theme entitled “Putting family first”, Wines from Europe’s “Primum Familiae Vini and California’s Wagner Family”. There are some gems to be found on April 18th, but sadly few of these wines fall into the “pick up a couple tasty wines for the weekend” category. However, for those with deep pockets will be like kids in a candy store. (Click images to enlarge.)
Wines of “BodegasTorres Influential Spanish globetrotters “
381046 MIGUEL TORRES ALTOS IBÉRICOS CRIANZA 2012 Rioja, Spain $16.95
Torres does produce an array of wines at all price points and these two are affordable. This 100% Tempranillo has clean fruity aromas, but with an odd plastic note; the palate, carries strawberry and red berry flavours. Tannins are low and the soft acidity renders it drinkable now. Find this wine
210872 TORRES CELESTE CRIANZA 2011 Ribera del Duero, Spain $20.95
Bacon fat, thyme, dark chocolate combine with a mix of red and dark fruit on the nose. A tasty palate shows dark fruit enhanced with mocha while tight tannins grow powerful on the finish. Give it a little time in a decanter and this will show well. Find this wine
Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan rode into town to hang out with us at Gang Central for some Easter “holiday hijinks,” a weekend that Kim would describe afterwards as “epic.” It was certainly all that and more. Before his arrival, Madame L’Pour (Kim’s old Gang moniker) asked Chef Kerr what he wanted to do during his stay, and he replied, “Eat lunch at Johnny Noodle King, and cook, eat and drink wine with you guys,” and so we did. (Click images to enlarge.)
Our exercise of glorious excess took place over two days and nights; on Friday, it was just the three of us, and on Saturday, we were joined by our rad girlfriend, Rebecca Poling. My original plan had been to couple similar pairs of wines with whatever plates Alan and Kim might come up with and do not-so-quick-and-dirty snapshot blogs of each, but once the dust cleared, it seemed obvious to me that only two reports need be filed; this one with the pairs and what, if anything they were paired with, and, in the next few days, the single bottles that we insinuated into just the right spots throughout both evenings. This was a classic Gang of Pour weekend, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
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Nobody does a better job of promoting Michigan wine online than our very good friends Cortney and Shannon Casey (pictured below), with their Michigan By The Bottle blog.
The State of Michigan should give these two a stipend for their tireless promotion of our wine industry here in the Mitten State, but since that ain’t gonna happen, these two bloggers-turned-entrepreneurs took a big leap when they partnered with six Michigan wineries a little over two years ago and opened their first Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room in Shelby Twp. The plan was to sell customers flights of three and five two ounce tastes, with light snacks, from a generous selection from said partners (Chateau Aeronautique, Chateau de Leelanau, Domaine Berrien Cellars, Gill’s Pier Vineyard & Winery, who are closing their doors as of April 15th, but have a good deal of inventory still available at MBTBTR, Peninsula Cellars and Sandhill Crane Vineyards), and it has succeeded brilliantly, so much so, that they’ve recently added a second location in Royal Oak, and partnered with two more wineries for that location, 2 Lads Winery and Verterra Winery. Both locations also offer a wide range of Michigan food products from producers such as Beau Bien Fine Foods of Detroit and Leelanau Cheese from Suttons Bay. (Click images to enlarge.)
It had been almost a year and a half since I last attended one of Plum Market’s Thursday night wine events, and more than four years since my last J et R Selections tasting. J et R specializes in importing some of our very favorite wines in the world, those being from the southern Rhône Valley, and I was a big fan of their portfolio long before I interviewed head honcho J. C. Mathes back in 2003. Mathes retired several years ago, and his place was taken by Dan Farley, who has continued to shepherd these excellent wines to the U.S. They have been distributed here in Michigan for years by Wines of Distinction, located in Troy, and during my time in wine retail, they were one of my favorite vendors. The business changed its name to Woodberry Wines a few years ago; not long after that, there was a change of ownership as well, but the high quality of their products and staff has remained consistent. (Click images to enlarge.)
So it was that when I caught wind of the “Complete Southern Rhône” tasting scheduled for April 2nd at Plum’s West Bloomfield location, with Farley himself on hand to talk about the ten wines being poured, I blocked out the time on my schedule to make sure I didn’t miss it. It was great to reconnect with Dan; I also enjoyed renewing acquaintances with Michael Korn, who has not only been with Wines of Distinction and Woodberry for many years, but is also a musical colleague of mine. Best of all, it was a pleasure to taste through the selections presented on this evening, as all but one of the wines being poured were from producers that feel like old friends to me. Here are my snapshot impressions of what I tasted.
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It’s been two years since I named Charlie Edson’s Bel Lago Auxerrois as one of my two favorite Michigan wines, along with Left Foot Charley’s Island View Pinot Blanc, and I promised to file a follow-up report on the Auxerrois at that time. I didn’t promise how long it would take me to get around to filing said report, and while I wish I would have gotten to it sooner, I do feel that this blog entry is a “better-late-then-never” kind o’ review. (Click image to enlarge.)
(Disclaimer: My original statement should now be amended to these two being my favorite still wines, given my recent revelations as to just how fine our northern Michigan sparkling wines are, and I doubt that Charlie or Charley aka Bryan Ulbrich will take issue with that.)
I first learned to love Bel Lago Auxerrois back in 2009, during a remarkable November tour of Leelanau Peninsula vineyards and wineries. You can see what Charlie had to say about his version of the variety in the following video that Kim recorded and edited at that time:
I had originally intended to do a comparison tasting of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, and, in fact, we did so about four or five months ago, and what stuck with me then was the contrast between those two vintages. The 2011 was in a prime drinking window, being very mineral-driven, with perfectly balanced acids; it would make a good “ringer” in any number of blind Alsatian (or perhaps even Loire) white wine tastings. The 2012 was racier, with a little less mineral and a big hit of lime that differentiated it from the earlier vintage. It was a great demonstration of how both different vintage conditions and an extra year in the bottle can impact this consistently fine wine.
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This release showcases some interesting juice from Italy’s famed Verona region. There are some tasty wines, but the French contingent impressed me far more in terms of value and drinking quality. My advice is to just read on…
Wines of the Month
990440 KENWOOD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Sonoma County, California $23.95
Nice aromas of forest floor, ripe black fruit, mostly currant, Chinese black mushrooms, spice box and cedar. Good concentration, a little spicy now, but decanting will help, tannins are medium. Fun wine. Find this wine
672931 ALLEGRINI PALAZZO DELLA TORRE 2011 Veronese, Italy $24.95
Oozing notes of blackberry, cassis, cherry liqueur, mocha, pressed flowers and lavender. A little fruit forward on the palate, but bitter chocolate helps to balance, finishing with cherry and anise. Find this wine
WINES FROM THE VENETO RELEASE
403840 LE BERTAROLE PODERE CARIANO AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2009 $44.95
Very tight in its youth, teasing with notes of hay, straw and with much coaxing, hints of chocolate, caramel and dark fruit appear. It is sweeter than anticipated, as raspberry liqueur takes centre stage accented by cinnamon and anise. Quite disjointed right now, but time will render good stuff. Find this wine
332403 DONATONI MASSENÀ APPASSIMENTO 2011 $16.95
Very fruity, bolstered with mint and floral aromas and coffee grounds; an odd sweetness hits the palate along with cough candy, blueberry and blackberry. Down side is it finishes rather stickily. Find this wine
Editor’s note: For more on the Appassimento method of winemaking, go here.
181446 FEUDI SAN PIO RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE 2012 $17.95
Enticing floral aromas complete with cake spice, dark fudge, balsa and sweet vanilla bean; lovely sweet flavours of cherry and currant. Some grip and the solid tannins do suggest time. Find this wine
April is Michigan Wine Month, and I can’t think of a better way to start the celebration than with a dandy sparkling wine from up north. Michigan is probably best known for the fine Riesling produced here (although one observer has proposed that Pinot Blanc “could be the wine that provides Northern Michigan with an opportunity to create a global brand name”), but I was struck by the following thought as I prepared this blog entry: Michigan could very well make as much a name for its wine industry with sparkling wine as with Riesling. I wonder if Larry Mawby would agree with that?
Think about it; the finest sparkling wines in the world are made in the northern-most wine region in France, Champagne. It’s a cold climate where grapes can have a hard time ripening. Sound familiar? It seems like every time I turn around, I’m trying another delicious Michigan sparkler. Mawby has been spearheading the movement for three decades, but there are other producers making fine bubbly as well. A few that come to mind are Shady Lane Cellars’ Sparkling Riesling, Left Foot Charley’s Chapter Nine Sparkling Pinot Blanc and 2 Lads Sparkling Pinot Grigio. Now, add to that list the one that I tried just this Sunday, bigLITTLE Tire Swing. (Click image to enlarge.)
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