Archive for the Tasting Notes from the Underground Category
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.
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.
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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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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We’ve always been upfront about the fact that we receive samples for review from various wineries and importers. These are almost always shipped to us from different parts of the country, and they always go straight down to rest after their journey for at least a week in the infamous “Cellar from Hell,” which is now actually much more tidy and organized than when it was given that dubious designation. We don’t do clinical tastings when we review wines, we like to evaluate them in natural settings, enjoying them with food and/or friends. There have been more than a few occasions when some of these samples end up spending as long as a few months down there, because we like to wait for the right occasion to pull the cork or twist that stelvin enclosure, but sooner or later, the deed gets done.
Such was the case last week when we enjoyed the following two wines. Both had been sitting patiently for several weeks, when I got it in my head that it might be interesting to open them with dinner and see how they sized up against each other. We’re very familiar with Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Blanc and Tablas Creek’s Esprit de Tablas Blanc; they’re two of the very finest white Rhône blends made in California, and we’ve had multiple vintages of each. It was a decidedly unscientific setting; the blends were somewhat similar, but from different vintages. We weren’t looking for one to show that much better than the other, it was more a case of just wanting to compare them and taste what both had to offer with some good food. (Click images to enlarge.)
Considering the fact that this is my 4th blog entry about sparkling wine in a little over a month, one might get the impression that I’m getting somewhat obsessive about my bubbles. I don’t know that it’s gotten quite that bad (yet), but, truth be told, I am almost to the point where I prefer sparklers to still wines, even when it comes to my beloved red Rhônes or Mr. Ridge. Not quite, but almost. I will say that I’m now actively and regularly seeking out new things to try and to share impressions of here in this blog. (Click image to enlarge.)
Case in point: Last week, while perusing the wine selection at our friendly neighborhood Costco, I lamented the fact the two Rotaris I’d been so taken with for several months are no longer available there. Then, I took note of the Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé that had been waiting patiently to catch my attention during the same period, and this time I bit.
Mirabelle is Schramsberg’s non-vintage label, and this was my first time trying one. My experience with this storied producer goes back to the late ‘70s, when I enjoyed a ’76 Blanc de Noir with friends (you can see the actual label on this page). I also loved the ’99 Blanc de Blancs Brut 5 County and ’03 Brut Rosé 4 County in 2006, but have had nothing from them since, so I was quite looking forward to finding out just what was in this particular bottle. It turned out to be very nice indeed…
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Back in the late ‘90s through about 2005, while Australian wines were still quite popular hereabouts, there was a curiosity making the rounds known as “sparkling Shiraz,” which, of course, was, and still is, Shiraz with bubbles. I tried a few back then; I sold some of the stuff as well, during my time in wine retail, and if they never really caught my fancy, I didn’t actually dislike them either. As stated above, they were more a curiosity than anything else. One example that still stands out in my memory is a 1990 Lindemanns Sparkling Shiraz, which we enjoyed at our very first Toledo gathering 15 years ago. This particular “spurgle,” as the Aussies call them, had spent a decade or so in the cellar and showed similar qualities to that of an aged still Shiraz or Syrah, with secondary meaty and leathery characteristics that were quite enjoyable. (Click images to enlarge.)
I hadn’t thought much at all about “spurgles” lately, until we received a new batch of wines for review from our friends at Bonny Doon Vineyard, and, lo and behold, there was a California Sparkling Syrah included in the shipper. Now, we’re used to Randall Grahm and company coming up with off-the-wall bottlings; constant readers will remember how much we loved their Sparkling Albariño, and we found their ¿Querry? Pear Apple Quince Cider quite to our liking as well, so I was more than a little intrigued to see what this little number was all about.
“It’s my favorite Bonny Doon wine.” - Randall Grahm