Archive for April, 2015

Hangin’ With Randall Grahm

It’s not every day that Randall Grahm comes to Day-twah, so when it was announced a little over a week ago that the Bonny Doon Vineyard wine maestro was headed our way for a meet and greet at Cloverleaf Fine Wine and Craft Beer in Royal Oak this past Tuesday, Kim and I immediately adjusted our schedules accordingly. I discovered firsthand what a cool dude Randall is when I interviewed him back in 2005, so that was reason enough to attend this event. Add to that the fact that we’ve been enjoying his wines since well before that, and saying so time and again in numerous Gang of Pour reports, this was simply not something we were going to miss.

Randall’s appearance was sponsored by his Michigan distributor, Little Guy Wine Company, and ampelography, a fine wine sales and marketing company based in Toledo, Ohio. Both focus on artisan producers, and avoid corporate industrial wine manufacturers like that plague that they are. As for Cloverleaf, we’ve been customers for close to 20 years, so this was “old home” night for us. We were the first to arrive, following close on the heels of Randall and Adam Mahler, who IS ampelography (it’s a one-man outfit). On hand to facilitate to the festivities were Cloverleaf’s Tom Natoci, Little Guy Wine rep Ryan White and the ever delightful Rebecca Poling, of Great Lakes Wine and Spirits.

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There are few moments of pleasure and satisfaction that are better than going to eat at a restaurant where a former student is in charge of the kitchen. Even better, my great friend and fellow chef Ruth Nixon and I were able to prop ourselves at the counter of the open kitchen and gaze at the goings on at the pass. As a topper, local lad makes good, Chef Anthony Greco (shown below, photo courtesy of, suggested we abandon menus, throw caution to the wind and trust him to serve what he felt would be his unsurpassed and finest food. (Click images to enlarge.)

Anthony Greco graduated from Niagara College eight years ago. Having apprenticed in numerous eateries in and around the region, he is now in charge of the stoves at Zest, a highly touted restaurant in Fonthill, a small hamlet just outside of Niagara.

Within minutes of being seated, a plate of P.E.IShiny Seas” briny and aromatic oysters arrived, all perfectly shucked, plump, juicy and neatly garnished with freshly grated horseradish and lemons.

Zest is one of numerous restaurants in the Niagara area that offers its clients the option to bring their own wine, aka corkage, so I had grabbed a couple of bottles from the cellar before we left.

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Two Tablas Creek Rosés

We love dry rosé here at Gang Central, and we’ve stated on numerous occasions that we don’t consider them to be just warm weather wines; we drink them in June and we drink them in January. Still, with a recent outbreak of nice weather here in Day-twah, we took advantage of what seemed to be the perfect opportunity to chill down and try the two new 2014 Tablas Creek bottlings, and we really liked what we tasted. Tablas Creek doesn’t make bad wine, period. We’ve quite enjoyed the previous two vintages of these, and, if anything, these two new ones are even better than their predecessors. Here are my impressions. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Snapshots from the Michigan Wines Showcase Detroit

Kim and I had the pleasure of attending the Michigan Wines Showcase Detroit this past Monday, April 20th, at The RattleSnake Club. Hosted by Vintage Michigan and organized by our friends Master Sommeliers Claudia Tyagi and Madeline Triffon, the event featured the wares of more than 25 Michigan wineries, as well as appetizers created by RattleSnake Club Chef Chris Franz. This is a don’t-miss show that we go to every year, as much to renew acquaintances with our friends in the industry as to taste the wines being presented. My intent this time out was to focus on just a few producers that held special interest to me, and there was only one place to start, with Larry Mawby’s sparkling wines. All notes are necessarily of the “snapshot” variety, because of time constraints. (Click images to enlarge.)

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Two From Brengman Brothers

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.

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The One That Didn’t Get Away

(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

C. Z.

Mingling Singles

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.

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Alan Kerr’s Vintage’s April 18th Release Notes

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

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Pairs and Pairings

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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Tasting Verterra at MBTBTR

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.)

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