Archive for the George Heritier Category

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,


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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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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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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Two QPR All Stars from Chateau Virgile

My first experience with the wines of Chateau Virgile, located in Costiere de Nimes, was back in the spring of 2009, when I tasted that estate’s white from the 2006 vintage with the US importer, Patrick Allen, of United Estates Wine Imports, Ltd. We liked it so well that we blew through all we could find in short order, and didn’t get a chance to try anything else from them until September of 2010, when I happened upon their 2008 rosé; it was good, but not as good as the blanc, so we didn’t buy as much, and didn’t give it any more thought until I ran into Patrick again, this time, at a Rhône trade tasting put on by our friends at AHD Vintners this past February.

Patrick is every bit as affable and informative as he was five years ago, and once again, everything from his portfolio that he was pouring was excellent. The two from Virgile were the ones that really caught my attention, both for their tasty demeanor and their excellent QPR (Quality-Price-Ratio). We liked them so much, that we picked up a half-case of each. Here are my impressions of each, starting with the 2012 rosé, which I’m pleased to report is much more to our liking that the ’08 model.

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Domaine Devillard Happy Hour

Recently, we had the pleasure of attending an intimate “Happy Hour” tasting of red and white Burgundies, courtesy of our friends at AHD Vintners. The tasting took place in a side room at Michael Symon’s Roast restaurant, in the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. The wines featured were from the portfolio of Domaine Devillard, which owns and operates, among others, Château De Chamirey and Domaine des Perdrix. At one time, these two estates were imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, but when the Devillards sold their interests in two other Burgundy producers, Domaine Jacques Prieur and Antonin Rodet, they parted ways with Wildman. The folks at AHD are thrilled to now have these wines in their book, and when Cédric Ducoté of Domaine Devillard (shown on the left in the picture below, along with AHD’s Michelle DeHayes and head honcho Anthony “Chip” Delsener) came to town to promote them, it proved to be an irresistible opportunity to try some wines that haven’t been in the state since about 2009, except for older vintages. (Click on images to enlarge.)

We tasted through seven wines, which ranged from very good to excellent. Burgundy may not be one of my strengths, but I certainly know fine wines when I taste them, I know what I like and these are all quite enjoyable. Here are my snapshot impressions. Prices listed are based on standard markups on the wholesale pricing in this market.
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Red Wings and Red Rhônes from Caves Saint-Pierre

When I purchased the 2011 Caves Saint-Pierre Vacqueyras that I reported on in my last blog entry, I had actually opted to try the least expensive of four wines from Caves Saint-Pierre that are available at our friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s. Having enjoyed that selection, I decided the other three were probably worth trying as well, so I picked them up during my next two shopping trips. While they varied some in quality, all three provided solid red Rhône mojo for my beloved Detroit Red Wings late season surge that has seen them clinch a 23rd straight berth in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, despite a rash of injuries throughout the campaign that would leave lesser teams mired in the cellar with nothing but bitter wine.

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