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Star Thistle Mead and More from St. Ambrose Cellars

A few months ago, we got a private message on our Gang of Pour Facebook page from Matt Frollo, the winemaker at St. Ambrose Cellars, in Michigan’s Benzie County, asking if we’d like to sample some of his wines for review. I’d never heard of this producer before, but Matt filled me in on some of their background information. It turns out to be a small winery operating from the former shipping department of Sleeping Bear Farms. They started making meads in 2010 (Kirk Jones, founder and owner of Saint Ambrose Cellars, is a bee-keeper, and, coincidentally, his Star Thistle Honey is my absolute favorite) and moved into wines in 2011. Frollo came on board as winemaker in 2012, after making wine at Peninsula Cellars on the Old Mission Peninsula for the previous 6 years. He tells me that the business is growing exponentially, and that a new winery and tasting room will open next door sometime this summer. From pictures that I’ve seen on their Facebook page, that may have already taken place, with a Grand Opening scheduled for September 13.

We took our time getting around to trying the four wines and one mead, as we’ve had a backlog of review samples to get through, but we’ve finally tasted them all, and here are our impressions. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Giggin’ and Swiggin’ at Shady Lane Cellars

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being the first performer in Shady Lane Cellars‘ Summer Music on the Patio series. I’ve been a fan of this fine Leelanau Peninsula winery since we first visited the estate back in November of 2009, so this gig was a special treat for me. The music series celebrates Shady Lane’s beautiful new tasting bar and patio, and I loved singing and playing to a sizable crowd of very appreciative listeners and Michigan wine lovers, with vineyards spread out all around.

Since our last visit, Shady Lane has changed hands, with Richard Fortune taking over proprietorship from Dr. Joseph O’Donnell, but happily, the positions as Winemaker and General Manager remain in the very capable hands of Adam Satchwell. If anything, the wines are even better than when we last stopped in to the tasting room that was once an old stone chicken coop, and we quite liked them then. Being the bubble-head that I am, my choice of libation to whet my whistle during my performance was obvious from the get-go, and it did not disappoint in the slightest.


2012 Shady Lane Cellars Leelanau Sparkling Riesling, 10.6% alc., $20: Medium straw color, with a fine, active bead. Nice “froth in the mouth” (I’m going to use that line in a song one day, I swear), with flavors not unlike a big, rich mélange of multi-colored apples. The scale on the back label says it’s semi-sweet, and I’d only bicker by calling it quite ripe, with some subtle mineral to offset the sugars nicely. It’s obviously Riesling, and the “ample bubbles” (same song?) kick the varietal character into overdrive, while the good acids take you off to a far out place, man.

This sparkler is delicious, and sipping on it while playing made my performance at Shady Lane even more enjoyable. I didn’t have it with food, and while it will certainly pair well with a wide assortment of culinary delights, my taste for spicy wants to drink this with some Thai or Indian dishes. Find this wine

I’m really looking forward to going back to play Shady Lane again, and Adam and I are already discussing when that might be. I’m also especially pleased to present this report as my first cross-blog on both our Gang of Pour site and my own eponymous blog. You might see some more of that down the road, as well.

Reporting from Day-twah,

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A Fistful of Ridge

During her last visit, Ridge Vineyards Regional Sales Manager, Christina Donley aka “The Donley,” spent her days making the rounds to both on-and-off-premise accounts in the Detroit area sampling some of our favorite wines here at Gang Central. On her second night in town, she came home with four bottles that still had enough left in them so that Kim and I could enjoy a good taste of each. I wasn’t about to try these babies and not take notes, so I pulled out my trusty notebook and pen, put on my old “Bastardo” hat and went to work. (Click images to enlarge.)

2012 Ridge Geyserville® Sonoma County, 71% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane, 7% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro (Mourvedre), 1% Alicante Bouschet, 14.4% alc., $38.00: Slightly lighter in color than I might have expected, but don’t let that fool you. It exudes lovely Draper perfume, and flavors and aromas are all about well-integrated oak, even at this early stage, and a pretty mélange of red and black berries and cherries; there’s also a note of aquarium on the nose. Even with the air that this got from being sampled all day, the tannin and acid structure is formidable, as one would expect from any good Geezer. I had a glass of this with Kim’s chorizo tostadas and it still needs a minimum of five years in the cellar. Lots of potential here, so be patient.

(For the serious wine geeks, Ridge goes above and beyond to provide tech info like the following on the production of most of the wines on their website.) Harvest Dates: 17 September – 17 October. Average brix 24.5° degrees. Fermentation: Natural primary and secondary; 6 of the 27 tanks were fitted with submerged cap grids, both those and the tanks with a floating cap were given full pumpovers; pressed at 9 days. 100% air-dried American oak barrels (24% new, 25% one and two years old, 51% three and four years old.) Thirteen months in barrel. All estate-grown, hand harvested grapes. Destemmed and crushed. Fermented on the native yeasts, followed by full malolactic on the naturally-occurring bacteria. Six fresh egg whites per barrel to moderate the firm texture of tannins; minimum effective sulfur for this wine (30 ppm at crush; 164 ppm over the course of aging); oak from barrel aging; pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions. Find this wine
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Six Rosés

When we had our Cowan Cellars wine dinner back in November, we only tasted four of the six wines that we had purchased from our friends Florida Jim Cowan and Diane Arthur. We took our sweet old time getting around to the other two, and in fact, we still haven’t tried the Ribolla Gialla (but we will soon). We did, however, try the rosé just a few nights ago, and we really enjoyed it. Here are my impressions. (Click images to enlarge.)

2012 Cowan Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir North Coast, 13.9% alc., $15.00: Salmon pink color, not too dark, not too pale; aromas of watermelon and strawberry only hint at the intensity of the mineral-laden flavors. Medium-to-medium full bodied, with excellent acids and very good length. The minerality figures prominently in the wine’s personality, playing a nice counterpoint to the rich fruit. This is the kind of rosé I would expect Florida Jim to make, knowing his personal tastes as I do, and it made a nice match for our quasi-Salad Niçoise of arugula and mustard greens, green beans, hard boiled eggs, sliced avocado and tuna. Jim is dead-on about serving this at cellar temperature; I disregarded his recommendation and gave it a good chill, wanting to observe how it changed in the glass, and I can report that as I sipped a glass slowly, it became considerably more expressive after 30 minutes in the glass. Comprised of saignée (bleedings) from several prestigious vineyards of Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Coast area of Sonoma County; partially fermented in open bins and part in 8 year old French oak; then combined and stored in tank for 6 months where it went through malolactic fermentation. Bravo, Jim Cowan! Find this wine

We’ve also sampled five other fine rosés over the last several weeks, from four of our favorite producers. I’ll say it again, rosés aren’t just warm weather quaffers at our house; we drink and enjoy them throughout the year. Here are my impressions of four domestics and one from the old world.

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Alan Kerr’s Vintage’s June 7th Release – Tasting Notes

Australia is the principal feature of the June 7th release. I must confess to not buying a lot from down under recently, but there are a couple of tasty treats to be found.

675223 KILIKANOON KILLERMAN’S RUN CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Clare Valley, South Australia $19.95

A little tight at first, but eventually it releases some dark fruit, cassis and mocha aromas, palate is tight too, but as it opens it leans towards being rather one dimensional focusing on currant and dark fruit. Find this wine

084996 WYNNS COONAWARRA ESTATE BLACK LABEL CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 Coonawarra, South Australia $27.95

Back in the days before the LCBO slapped their ridiculously high “Provincial Liquor fee” tariff on wines brought across the border, I used to buy this wine at Century Liquor in Rochester New York for about six bucks a bottle and I would bring back a case at a time paying a pittance on duties at the border. That was a while ago and the price has obviously increased since then, in fact it is now about $35.00 south of the border, making the asking price in the LCBO a great deal. It is so focused, the solid core of blackcurrant, polished leather, mint, eucalyptus and freshly ground black pepper is amazing. A big lift on the palate, laden with blackcurrant, cedar, chalky tannins, but well balanced, clean acidity and a long fruit focused finish. Find this wine

043224 MITOLO JESTER CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 McLaren Vale, South Australia $22.95

Quite stellar aromas of wet earth, chalk, leather, mineral and layers of dried dark fruits, lovely mix of currant and dark cherry on the palate, mixing nicely with milk chocolate, black raspberry to a finish with good length and structure. Find this wine

327395 DOMAINE TOURNON MATHILDA SHIRAZ 2011 Victoria $19.95

Black toffee, cedar, dried mushroom, tomato, bay leaf and red fruit roll up, a little chunky on the palate, lots of red fruit and a candy like sweetness on the finish. Another 94 point wine from Mr. P, so this will sell quickly. Find this wine

367425 HASELGROVE FIRST CUT SHIRAZ 2010 McLaren Vale, South Australia $18.95

Dusty and earthy, with layers of sweet dark fruit, vanilla, its palate has a sweet syrupy texture, there is plenty of acidity to balance, but it remains little jammy on the finish. Find this wine

236257 GRANT BURGE THE HOLY TRINITY GRENACHE/SHIRAZ/MOURVÈDRE 2010 Barossa, South Australia $29.95

Tree bark, forest floor, pure velvety black fruit lead to a palate that is viscous, has tingly red currant flavours bound with caramel, Asian spice and red licorice. Find this wine

290874 DOMAINE TERLATO & CHAPOUTIER LIEU DIT MALAKOFF SHIRAZ 2011 Pyrenees, Victoria $55.95

Funky and full of such oddities as damp soil, coconut shell, wet fur, shitake mushroom, rosemary, thyme, barnyard straw and mocha and a little dark fruit. Structurally, the palate is lean and surprisingly light, showing cherry and plum that disappears quickly on the finish. Robert P bestowed 95 points to this wine, maybe I am missing something, but I tasted twice with similar notes. Find this wine

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A Tale of Two ¿Querrys?

As reported last January, we were quite fond of Bonny Doon’s 2011 ¿Querry? Pear Apple Quince Cider when we tried it, so when we got our hands on their new 2013 version, we were geeked to have a go at that one too. It was produced in a different manner than the previous model, as explained by Randall Grahm: “The production technique has changed slightly since the last (2011) bottling, which derived its carbonation from bottle conditioning. This time we’ve gone with a less labor-intensive methodology, (i.e. bottling @ 30° F. and saturating w/ CO2), enabling us to offer the new vintage at a more accessible price.” The ’11 was produced with secondary fermentation in bottle, à la méthode champenoise. (Click image to enlarge.)

I figured that since the 2011 is still available here in the Detroit area, it might be fun and instructive to try them side-by-side, which, as it turns out, put the ’13 at something of a disadvantage.
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A Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc Vertical

A few months ago, our friends at Napa Valley’s Cornerstone Cellars sent out a three-year vertical of their Sauvignon Blanc to selected critics, reviewers and old folksingers. The idea was to demonstrate just how well these age and develop. We had already reviewed the 2009 back around the time of its release, and had quite liked it then, so, of course, I was very interested to see not only how it had fared in the intervening time, but how it compared to the two succeeding vintages.

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Alan Kerr’s Vintage’s May 24th Release – Tasting Notes

Fans of wines from the Cotes Du Rhone will be very happy on May 24th especially folks, like myself, that love great quality wines at reasonable prices. The board sent most of the red wines slotted for the release, made me happy, so read on, free up your credit cards and head to the store because you won’t be disappointed.

370189 CHÂTEAU SAINT ESTÈVE D’UCHAUX MASSIF D’UCHAUX CÔTES DU RHONE VILLAGES $18.95
A beautiful nose laden with Christmas cake spice, coal dust and smoke, backed up with dark cherry, dark fruit and treacle. Super silky blueberry fruit and dried strawberry on the palate, very good concentration and good length on the finish. Find this wine

374991 CLOS BELLANE CÔTES DU RHÔNE-VILLAGES VALRÉAS 2010 $19.95
An interesting blend of cedar, smoked meat, Nori and dried cherry, showing super fruit flavours of redcurrant, raspberry and blackberry on the palate all bound with milky chocolate and clean acidity. Find this wine

374983 DOMAINE COURTOIS LA GRANGE VINSOBRES 2011 $20.95
Heady aromas of black raspberry, sweet smoke, Asian spice and a whiff of mandarin peel, solid structure on the palate featuring damson and plum, black tea and a hefty layer of bitter chocolate tannin. A wine soon to be very good, but needs a little time to do so. Find this wine

374280 DOMAINE DE LA VALÉRIANE VIEILLES VIGNES CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2012 $17.95
Very ripe, projecting aromas of tar, blueberry, black pepper grounds, dried mushroom and briar, quite smooth and round on the palate showing black cherry and currant flavours controlled by a gentle layer of tannin. Find this wine

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Three Late Model Left Foot Charley Libations

I had the great pleasure of playing music again at Left Foot Charley Winery a few weeks ago. It’s always a treat for me to play at any of our fine Michigan wineries, tasting rooms and breweries, but LFC is special for me, because we’ve followed their progress from the very beginning and we’re big fans of their wines and ciders. It was a good night of music and a great night for trying different LFC wines. I strayed from my usual choice, the Island View Pinot Blanc, opting instead for the 2012 Dry Riesling, a glass of which I nursed over my two set performance. I didn’t manage to record any impressions, other than the fact that it’s a delicious example of just how good Michigan Riesling can be.

A few months before this, LFC announced on their Facebook page that there wouldn’t be a lot of the Island View Pinot Blanc to go around this vintage, and that the savvy customer would be wise to take advantage of a six-pack pre-order priced at $18 per bottle, which I jumped on immediately. The fine folks in the tasting room held it for me to pick up at the gig, and, of course, we tried one as soon as we got back home. Here’s what we found.
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Alan Kerr’s Vintage’s May 10th Release – Tasting Notes

I do not have a lot to report on for this release. Believe it or not, my notes on the wines of Chile and Argentina, the feature of the release for May 10th, are M.I.A. While driving home from the tasting, the weather cleared and the sun came out. Thus I opened my windows and instantly my notes started to fly around the car and by the time I reacted, a couple of pages exited my vehicle and by now are in tatters somewhere on Highway 401. Therefore, here are the notes from the rest of the release.

145920 MARCHESI DE’ FRESCOBALDI TENUTA DI CASTIGLIONI 2011 Tuscany $21.95
An inky enticing blend of moss, black licorice, treacle and blackberry aromas with an initial firm structure of tannin on the palate, but black cherry, currant and sweet blueberry flavours shine through. Perfect acidity, well balanced, just needs time. Find this wine

326710 LIRICA PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA 2007, Puglia $18.95
Dark chocolate infused with black raspberry with a touch of mocha, pressed flowers and black pepper. Lovely flavourful palate, showing bright and fleshy flavours of blackberry, raspberry, lavender, cake spice and mellow tannins. A pleasing touch of sweetness on the finish along with a medicinal candy note, plus this wine is from the 2007 vintages, which indicates some bottle aging, rendering this very drinkable now. Find this wine

317313 CASALE DELLO SPARVIERO CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2010, Tuscany $19.95
Lots of aromas featuring dried cherry, underbrush, coffee grounds, prune and dark bitter chocolate lead to a mostly fruit focused palate of blackberry, damson, cherry and currant. Simple clean finish, balanced acids and minimal tannins. Find this wine

166512 VALDEMAR INSPIRACIÓN SELECCIÓN 2010, Rioja $17.00
I enjoy writing about a wine costing $17.00 that offers so much drinking pleasure at such a young age, but that also has potential to get even better with a couple of years in slumber. A dark fruit focused wine displaying great depth of black currant, black cherry, Dutch salty licorice and ground pepper. The palate hits with a whack of Ribena, dark chocolate infused with cherry liqueur, perfect acidity with a blackcurrant focused finish enhanced with mineral. Find this wine

287961 OSCAR’S ESTATE VINEYARD SHIRAZ/VIOGNIER 2011 Barossa Valley, South Australia $17.95
Sawdust, wet earth, violets, blackcurrant, Middle Eastern sweet spice and milk chocolate. Its palate is solid with plenty of dark fruit, a touch of tamarind, clean acidity and gentle tannins. Find this wine

097220 TORBRECK THE STEADING 2009 Barossa Valley, South Australia $53.95
A bit of a clumsy powerhouse right now, its nose is almost Port like, brimming with dark chocolate, blueberry, tar and candy floss. There is lively acidity, it is laden with chunky dark fruit, sweet toffee and has a finish of Fry’s chocolate cream. Tannins are silky, but solid, however, this will be quite the wine given time, but nonetheless it’s tasty albeit disjointed right now. Find this wine

948992 HEDGES CELLARS CMS 2011 Columbia Valley, Washington $19.95
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah boasting aromas of dark fruit, chocolate covered raisins, Coffee Crisp candy bar, bacon/smoked meat and wet soil. It is a meaty wine, well balanced; the dark fruit shows well, a touch of pepper and spice lead to a clean and well balanced finish. Find this wine

951889 IRONSTONE OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2012 Lodi $17.00
I like the crushed blackberry, blueberry, sweet cherry, black tea, lavender and linalool aromas. It is highly extracted, but no excessive heat, solid dark fruit flavours, some peppery spice, dusty blueberry, bubble gum and dried raspberry. Find this wine

186171 DECOY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 Sonoma County $33.95
Duckhorn’s second wine displays lots of dusty warm dark fruit, a little nutshell and plenty of mineral notes on the nose. A solid palate, with currant and raspberry, nice clean acidity, dusty chocolate tannins and spicy finish. Find this wine
That’s it!
Cheers
CZ

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