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Four Austrian Whites

One of my favorite memories of this past summer is the delightful Terry Theise Estate Selections tasting that I attended at Ferndale’s Otus Supply, in June. The wines were uniformly outstanding, and I came away from the event so impressed with just about everything I tasted. I was particularly wowed by the Austrian whites that I tasted at that event, so when I happened upon the four wines noted in this report during a recent scouting mission to Western Market in the same town, there was no way I wasn’t going to pick them up and try them. I believe Nikolaihof had been represented at the tasting, though I never got to that table, but I’ve had at least one other from this fine producer in that past that I liked quite a bit. The Ott Grüner Veltliners that I tasted at the Otus Supply event were all excellent, so finding an earlier vintage of the “Am Berg” was a very easy choice, for starters.

I picked up two each from these fine producers, starting with Grüner Veltliners and then moving on to Rieslings. It didn’t matter to me that vintages didn’t match, I just wanted to try some really good Austrian whites, and that’s exactly what I got with these four.

These are two rather different, yet delicious, Grüner Veltliner specimens; the Ott is more angular, while the Nikolaihof is rounder.

2014 Ott Grüner Veltliner “Am Berg,” 11.5% alc., $23.99: Clean, medium color, with a mineral-driven nose, featuring quince and green apple playing second fiddles; things initially do an about-face in the mouth, with fruit coming to the fore, and minerality taking a supporting role. With just a little air, however, that stony character reasserts itself big time. Ultimately, this is like a big mouthful of river rocks, more than medium bodied and driven along by brisk acidity, with a lingering finish. The price point, compared to the other three in this report, makes this even more attractive. Find this wine

2013 Nikolaihof Wachau Grüner Veltliner “Hefeabzug,” 12% alc., $31.99: Clean, medium color, with less mineral and more fruit than the Am Berg in both flavor and aroma; green apple, citrus and mineral set the tone here. Medium bodied, with ample acids and very good length on the finish, this is a bit less “wild and wooly” than the previous selection, but no less enjoyable for what it is. Rich and appealing, with nice intensity of flavor. Find this wine

Next came the Rieslings. Mmm, Riesling…

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Learning To Loveblock

My first encounter with the wines of Loveblock was a few years back, when I was filling in a day or two a week at an area wine department during my last gasp in retail sales. Their Sauvignon Blanc maintained a spot in the New Zealand section, but I never spent enough time with this establishment to get to know all of the products, so I had no idea that it was actually the project of Kim and Erica Crawford, which they started after selling their famous and wildly successful “Kim Crawford” label to Constellation Brands.

In 2004, the Crawfords found a parcel of land situated high on the hills overlooking Marlborough’s Awatere Valley that they fell in love with and began planting vineyards there, employing both sustainable and organic viticulture practices, depending on the requirements of specific plots. They now produce eight different grape varieties, three of which were shipped to us recently for review by their public relations and brand marketing agency, Donna White Communications. (DWC has sent us wines for review on several occasions in the past; they’ve all been of high quality, so we’re always interested in sampling anything they send our way.)

We began our Loveblock survey with the two whites.

2014 Loveblock Pinot Gris Marlborough, 13% alc., $21.99 SRP: Clean, medium color, with more green apple than citrus on the moderately expressive nose; flavors echo and expand nicely, being rich, dense and fairly intense. Medium-to-medium-full bodied, with good acids and length, and more lime-citrus emerging as it opens; a second pour shows some salty sea air on the nose as well. Solid varietal character here. Find this wine

2015 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, 13.5% alc., $21.99 SRP: Woah, there’s no mistaking this for anything but Sauvignon Blanc! With clean, medium color, this is all grapefruit, mineral and green apple in both flavor and aroma; medium bodied, with zippy acids and very good length. Nicely balanced, with fruit, mineral and acids in harmonious agreement. Textbook Sauvignon Blanc. Find this wine

2012 Loveblock Pinot Noir Marlborough, 13.8% alc., $29.99 SRP: Smoky garnet in color, with aromatics that could only come from Pinot Noir, all smoke, black cherry and earth, which follow through on the palate with good depth and structure. Kim finds this “somewhat bitter, stemmy and green and not delicate like I want my Pinots to be.” I get some of the “green,” but I don’t mind it so much, because I like the earthier quality that the wine exhibits now and think that it has at least five years of development ahead of it to evolve into something even better. This paired well with poached salmon; time will tell where it goes from here. Find this wine

Obviously, I like the Pinot Noir a bit more than Kim, and we both enjoy the two whites. Our only complaint is that we’d like them even more if they were priced at around $5 less than the SRPs listed here. I’d be more inclined to purchase the whites at around $16.99 and the PN at around $24.99, and a quick look at shows that they can be found at those prices. Click the “find this wine links” to see prices. Your mileage may vary, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Reporting from Day-twah,



Island View Is Back

The first new Left Foot Charley Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc in three years is finally out, and the wait has been well worth it. The winters of 2013-14 and 2014-2015 hit this great Old Mission Peninsula vineyard hard, and it’s taken this long for it to recover, and considering that the wines produced here are consistently on my very short list of favorite Michigan wines, I couldn’t be more pleased, especially after getting my first taste. I make a point of buying this on futures, and picked up my 6-pack during a visit to Traverse City last week. Here are my impressions.

2016 Left Foot Charley Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc Old Mission Peninsula, 12.2% alc., $18 on futures, $25 regular: Clean pale-to-medium color, with a tinge of lime; expressive green apple nose shaded with a bit of lime echoes and practically explodes on the palate with underlying minerality. Rich, fairly ripe and intense; medium-to-medium-full body, somewhat dense and decidedly intense, with racy acids and good, long length. I’m thinking that a nice Michigan trout, grilled or pan fried, would be a great match for this beauty, and, considering the track records of past vintages, this will only get better over at least the next few years. The LFC Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Blanc that I reviewed recently is quite good. As I expected, this one is really, really good!

LFC: The vines are hand thinned 6 times throughout the growing season to ensure that every cluster gets the proper amount of sunlight and every shoot is carefully positioned so that the leaves can receive the maximum amount of light as well. The fruit is hand harvested by friends and family in a joyous celebration of wine, work, and food. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,


A Box of Tablas Creek

So we got this box of six late model wines from Tablas Creek Vineyard several weeks ago, and, as always, we were delighted to once again have the opportunity to taste what’s new from our favorite Paso Robles producer. Everything these folks turn out is exceptional, and they do it in a manner that is always impressive without any of the over-ripe, over-oaked excesses you get from far too many Californian producers, in my not-so-humble opinion.

We gave the wines three weeks in the cellar to settle down after their cross-country journey, and then began our investigation with the two selections of the pink persuasion.

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rosé Paso Robles, 73% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise, 4% Syrah, 13.0% alc., $25.00: Pale peachy pink in color, with mineral-laden watermelon and strawberry flavors and aromas, more in the French style than Californian; medium bodied, with racy acidity and good length. The minerality is what strikes me most about this wine, as it may be more upfront than any TC rosé I can remember, and that’s a good thing in my book.

TC: The bulk of the Patelin de Tablas Rosé is Grenache, picked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks with minimum skin contact. The small Syrah component was treated similarly. These were supplemented with saignée lots (bleedings) from Mourvèdre and Counoise in the cellar to provide some color and structure. Only native yeasts were used in the fermentation. After fermentation, the wines were blended and cold-stabilized, and bottled in February 2017. Find this wine

34% Grenache and Tablas-clone Mourvèdre from Hollyhock (El Pomar)
18% Grenache from KamRidge (Creston)
12% Greanche from Starr Ranch (Adelaida District)
11% Syrah and Mourvedre from Derby (Templeton Gap)
8% Grenache from Beckwith (Adelaida District)
7% Grenache from Cass (El Pomar)
6% Counoise from Clautiere (Geneseo District)
4% Grenache from the Tablas Creek certified organic estate vineyard

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Rockin’ Red Number One

It was just Kim and me for the 4th of July. We didn’t want to do anything “special,” so it was nice to simply relax at home, grill a C. Roy steak for two, along with some corn on the cob and see what this old friend from Mr. Ridge had to offer. We’ve had it several times before (here’s one time, and here’s another), but not in quite a few years, so we figured it had to have gone through some changes for the better in the intervening years.

Guess what? It has!

1997 Ridge Geyserville Sonoma; 74 % Zinfandel, 15 % Carignane, 10 % Petite Sirah, 1 % Mataro, 14.9% alc.: The cork broke while I attempted to pry it from the bottle, so we had to excavate it and carefully decant through a strainer. Once we got past that, it was all good. There’s more than a hint of brick to the otherwise clean, dark color, and it’s slightly funky on the nose at first, but leather, berry and plum shine through with some swirlatude. Big, rich, luscious and silky smooth in the mouth; there’s definitely some secondary action going on here, mostly leather with a hint of mahogany, and the big core of fruit wears it so well, all with a nice, earthy base underneath. You can certainly tell that this is a Ridge, but I wouldn’t characterize it as having what we often refer to as “Draper perfume.” That’s a descriptor I usually reserve for younger wines. Utterly delicious; this is why you lay these babies down with confidence for 20 years, because they usually evolve into things of beauty. This one is in no danger of fading anytime soon, so you can leave it alone for five-to-ten years or more, but it’s so good now, I’d have a hard time keeping hands off, if we had more. Sadly, this was the last one. Find this wine

I stated at the beginning of this blog entry that we didn’t want to do anything special on this 4th of July, but now that I look back, this amazing wine was something very special indeed. If you have any of this in your cellar, chances are very good that yours will be very special too.

Reporting from Day-twah,


Rockin’ Red Number Two

That ne’er-do-well Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan showed up at our door last week for our annual pre-Electric Forest dinner. Chef Kerr has been my accomplice for the last four EF festivals, proving that old dudes like us can indeed find fulfillment each summer with all “the hippies and dub-steppers and the techno-matic freaks” that I sing about in my song, “In My Element.” I don’t know about him, but it’s my best four days of every year. He keeps coming back for more, so I’m guessing that he enjoys himself too.

We kept things simple. I ran for a couple of pizzas, some meatballs and a roasted beet and arugula salad, and after enjoying a bottle of the 2008 Cantina Sociale Cooperativa Copertino Riserva that I reported on most recently, Alan pulled this little beauty out of his bag of tricks. I’ve had plenty of Bandol in my day, but very little from Domaines Ott, those being a red and a rosé. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that we might be in for a treat, and I wasn’t wrong.

1999 Domaines Ott Bandol, 13% alc.: Clean, dark color, with little, if any, bricking to speak of at this point; aromatics reminiscent of leather, tobacco and a bit of the barnyard carry over onto the palate, where they grace a huge core of big, earthy black plum. This is a big red, still substantially structured and not close to its peak, but it’s already delivering ample pleasure at 19 years of age, and it works well with Bigalora Bacco Sausage and White Anchovies Pizzas. CZ added, “The tannins are nice and silky.” Find this wine

It was a great way to start another extended wild weekend in the Forest, and the last wine I would drink until the following Monday.

Reporting from Day-twah,



Rockin’ Red Number Three

As previously mentioned in these pages, our new go-to restaurant in the greater Day-twah area is Otus Supply, in Ferndale. Owners Thom Bloom and Scott Myrick have created a spacious, well-appointed venue that we’ve been hooked on since we paid our first visit late this past winter. (It should also be mentioned here that we directed our partner-in-crime, Alan Kerr aka Canadian Zinfan, and three of his Niagara College chef-type colleagues, to stop in to Otus during a recent visit, and they were just as jazzed with the place as we are.) The staff is very well trained and knowledgeable, the food is uniformly excellent, and the small wine list looks to be composed of high quality bottlings, but, truth be told, we haven’t been able to tear ourselves away from our initial selection noted here to try any of the others, because we like it so well.

2008 Cantina Sociale Cooperativa Copertino Riserva, 95% Negroamaro, 5% Malvasia Nera, 13% alc., $40 restaurant, $20 take out: Clean and dark in color, with a lovely nose of mahogany, tobacco, dried cherries and leather; rich, earthy and intense, the flavors echo and expand beautifully. Full bodied, but not “heavy,” and still structured for several more years of aging and development, this is drinking very well right now, which is why we order another bottle every time we dine at Otus Supply, where it pairs so well with the Wagyu Beef Tartar, Filthy Animal Pizza (pesto, pine nuts and guanciale) and Rigatoni Alla Norcina. Find this wine

Imported by Banville Wine Merchants, North Bergen, NJ

Reporting from Day-twah,





Doon Moon Yay

Pinot Meunier is hardly a household name among casual wine drinkers, but wine “geeks” and those in the biz know it to be a red grape in the Pinot family that is one of the three main varieties employed in the making of Champagne. While rarely used by itself to make wines of any kind, there is a small group of grower-producers in Champagne who are bucking that trend, as Eric Asimov reported in late 2012. There are also the very occasional still wines, in both red and rosé hues. We had a nice red version from WillaKenzie back in the late 90s, and another from Flowers around that same time that was good, but sadly never made it into these pages.

I was quite excited to find out recently that our friends at Bonny Doon Vineyard had a Pinot Meunier in their book, and even more excited when our friends at Western Market in Ferndale started stocking it on their shelves. Needless to say, we were the first kids on our block to try this one, and we liked it so well, we had to go back for more.

2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard Pinot Meunier Yountville, 13% alc., $25.99: Smoky ruby garnet color; throws a very pretty nose that’s like a blend of cranberry and cherry, with hints of rhubarb lurking here and there and a subtle perfume a little reminiscent of Foillard and Breton Morgons tasted a while back. There’s plenty more of the same on the smooth, rich, almost creamy palate; luscious in the mouth, this gives immediate, and for me, immense pleasure. Still, it’s deceptively well-structured, on a medium-to-medium-full bodied frame to develop over at least the next five years. The wine offers excellent value for the Western Market price, especially considering that Bonny Doon sells it for $30. Most definitely a turkey/duck kind o’ wine, and I’m betting that it’ll work pretty well with smoked grilled chicken as well. Find this wine

Reporting from Day-twah,




A Splendid Terry Theise Tasting

These days, I don’t do as many big tastings as I used to. I’m not engaged in wine retail on a daily basis, so I don’t have to be as up-to-the-minute on all the latest releases as I once was, and, frankly, I just don’t like spitting. From the very beginning, Gang of Pour’s motto has been “Nunquam Spuemus,” faux-Latin for “never spit,” and while I fully understand the importance of expectoration at these events, it just doesn’t spit…, I mean sit well with me.

Furthermore, when I do attend one of these events, after a certain point, something like “palate fatigue” sets in. It’s not that my buds stop working, exactly, it’s more a case of simply getting tired of tasting multiple selections on the fly over a period of a few hours, so more often than not, I simply say “No thanks,” stay home and play music.

Every once in a while, however, something comes along that’s just too good to miss, kind of like when one of my very favorite bands, Elephant Revival, blew in to play Otus Supply in Ferndale a few months ago. If these folks come anywhere near where we live, I’m there to hear them, because they’re just so good.

Such was the case last week, when the Terry Theise Estate Selections 2017 Fall Offering was held at, how about that, Otus Supply in Ferndale! Theise is a wine author and a leading importer of high quality wines from Germany, Austria and Champagne. In previous years, one had to travel to Chicago for this event, so a lot of his local fans and followers were really pleased to have this opportunity to try the latest offerings much closer to home. I heard about this tasting from my friends Kimberly Hartnett Bricker of Imperial Beverage and Western Market’s Jarred Gild, and after giving it just a little consideration, I decided this was one that was not to be missed. I’ve had just enough experience with wines from the Theise portfolio to have a good idea of what was going to be poured, and the venue offered a great setting for this walk-around.

(As a brief aside, I should mention that Otus Supply has become our new favorite restaurant in the greater Day-twah area. We’ve been there four times for dinner in the past few months, and the food is always top-notch. The wine list is small, but focused, the excellent craft beer selection is rather larger, rotating on a regular basis, and while I don’t do cocktails, I have it on good authority that they have that area covered really well too. They also have the very cool ongoing music series that brought in the aforementioned Elephant Revival, so these folks are doing a lot of things right.)

My intention was to not even try and taste through everything being poured, but rather, to try some very specific selections from certain producers and look for a few surprises as well. As it turned out, that was the perfect plan for my two-hour investment, and yes, I spit everything I tasted. Pretty much…

All prices given are based on presale listings, with standard markup from my retail days. Your mileage may vary. I’ve also taken the liberty of using Theise’s own comments about producers and individual wines to flesh out this report. (I love his use of musical analogies to describe some of the wines.) I decided to start with a German sparkler, then move on to some Austrian wines. My notes and impressions are necessarily brief, because of time limitations and the number of selections tasted.

2013 Eugen Müller Sekt, Forster Pechstein Riesling Brut, $28.99: Crisp, rich and lively; nice depth and good underlying mineral. I could drink this on a regular basis. Find this wine

TT: Müller is an old-school German estate selling mostly to a base of private customers, and to local taverns and restaurants. They aren’t “trendy.” But the current proprietor Stefan Müller’s father, Kurt, was also cellar master at a venerable Forst estate, long out of business (but whose wines I sold in my early days) called Wilhelm Spindler, and when the old gentleman died his widow leased the best vineyards to Kurt as a reward for his service and loyalty.

It helps to have truly exceptional land. And when you find a grower like this, you can score terroir-saturated wines of impeccable aristocracy, yet the prices are most gentle and the folks are super down to earth.

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New From Left Foot Charley

It’s always a treat to get the first taste of new releases from our favorite producers, be they bold Zins from California, brawny blends from the Rhone Valley and, yes, crisp whites from Michigan. We’ve followed Bryan Ulbrich’s Left Foot Charley up in Traverse City from their inception, and they have consistently remained at the top of our short list of preferred producers from “the mitten.” We got our first taste of these two noted here at the recent Michigan Wine Showcase in Day-twah, and while we liked what we tasted, we didn’t get the opportunity to spend a little time with them to get to know them better. I’m happy to announce that they are now available at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room in Auburn Hills and Holiday Market in Royal Oak, where I picked up the bottles reviewed here.

LFC’s Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc has been one of our two or three favorite Michigan wines since we first tasted the ‘06 from tank back in 2007, and we bought every vintage in quantities until 2015. That was when Ulbrich was unable to bottle from this site exclusively, because of seriously lower yields, due to the brutal winter of 2013-14. His solution was to combine what could be harvested from Island View with two adjacent Pinot Blanc plots and come up with a very good 2014 “Island View Corner” bottling that would seem to have given him the idea that there might be enough good fruit to be had from other vineyards to create a second LFC Pinot Blanc, once the original plot had recovered to once again make the single vineyard bottling. That time has come, and here’s what he came up with.

2016 Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc Old Mission Peninsula, 13% alc., $17.99: Clean, medium color, with a pleasantly inviting nose of green apple and citrus; flavors echo, being a little tart on the tongue, with some underlying mineral and a very subtle herbaceous quality. Medium body, with great acids and good length, this is the kind of dry white that I like to drink, and really has me itching to try the soon-to-be-released 2016 LFC Island View Pinot Blanc.
LFC: “This Pinot Blanc is a blend of three excellent young vineyard sites on Old Mission Peninsula. We fermented each lot independently to get a feel for their respective terroir contributions. Each was fermented in stainless steel. The three work very well to bring a complement of fresh apple and pear qualities with a firm but well layered palate. We expect this Pinot Blanc to develop more complexity in the bottle over the next two years.” Find this wine

Bryan Ulbrich LOVES Riesling, and it shows in each and every bottling his urban winery has produced since its inception. My personal favorite is the Seventh Hill Farm.

2013 Left Foot Charley Seventh Hill Farm Riesling Old Mission Peninsula, 11.3% alc., $19.99: Pale in color, with no floaties of any kind; the pleasant, if not overly effusive nose offers not-quite-equal parts citrus mineral and petrol. Things pick up nicely on the palate with rich medium-dry Riesling character, and the slightly oily texture makes this seem a little more than medium bodied, with racy acids and good length on the finish. I was wondering how this might compare with the brilliant 2012 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling, but that one set a mighty high bar, so this one will have to settle for being “merely” really tasty, and cellar time is likely to allow it to evolve into something even better.
LFC: “We took a very relaxed approach with this Riesling in 2013 and it has been aging in our cellar for two years in the bottle. The vintage delivered an edge that needed to be softened. We let this part of the vineyard ride a very slow fermentation throughout the stillness of winter and spring. The long aging with the yeast gave the wine a rounded counterpart to the fruity acid. It’s different than any Riesling we have made from this site. Rather like nectarine jam over a soft English muffin – no butter of course.”
Find this wine

I’ll be going back for more of these little lovelies, both of which are very food friendly, and a delight to serve as both aperitifs and back deck sippers.

Reporting from Day-twah,


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