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A Crown of Cab Vertical

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in a vertical tasting of the Lake Michigan Shore winery Domaine Berrien Cellars Bordeaux-style dry red blend, Crown of Cab. The tasting, open to invited members of the Michigan wine press and a limited number of ticketed wine lovers, was held at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room’s Royal Oak location, and featured vintages 2006 through 2010, pulled from MBTBTR proprietors Shannon and Cortney Casey’s personal cellar, along with the current vintage, 2012. Domaine Berrien Winemaker/Co-Owner Wally Maurer and Co-Owner Katie Maurer were also on hand, and they brought along the 2005 vintage to add to the lineup. (Click images to enlarge.)

Up until this tasting, my experience with Domaine Berrien had been limited to trying some of their wines at the two MBTB tasting rooms (they’re one of the wineries that partnered with the Caseys to create these establishments) and evaluating some of their offerings as part of the tasting panel some years back. I’d been impressed with what I’d tried previously, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get to know one of their premier bottlings a lot better.

Domaine Berrien Cellars is a small, boutique winery specializing in estate-grown, handcrafted wines, and, depending on the ravages of recent winters, annual production can be as much as 4,500 cases. Readers can learn more about the history of this fine producer at their website; for my purposes, I’ll focus on the wines featured at the tasting.

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Bargain Hunter Bastardo

I’m always on the lookout for good buys in any wine department that my adventures take me through, and I’ve been fortunate to come upon five over the last few months. The first is one I reported on in August, the 2012 Domaine Laroche Saint Martin Chablis. It was a good buy at the Costco price of $19.99, but I guess it wasn’t moving fast enough for them, so they hung a closeout price price of $9.97 on it, and I brought home a dozen or more. I mean, where do you find quality Chablis for $10?! You may still find some of this at various Costcos in the metro Day-twah area, but I cleaned out the stash at our friendly neighborhood outlet on Stephenson Highway in Madison Heights.

There were two other terrific buys at the Madison Heights store, a white and a red, and while I took advantage of both, so did other intrepid buyers, so they were snatched up quickly. As to whether they’re still available at other locations, I can’t say, but I rather doubt it, especially, the Siduri Pinot Noir. Here are my notes on both, starting with the pale Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

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Two Late Model Cornerstone Reds

In March of this year, the folks at Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley announced their intention to begin releasing a series of single vineyard wines from the elite properties that they work with under their White Label. That was good news as far as we were concerned, since we’ve loved everything they’ve produced for that program for the last several vintages.

Then, in July, we received the first bottling of the series, or maybe it was the first two, I’m not sure. The Oakville Station Merlot is definitely one of the wines mentioned in the March announcement, but the Michael’s Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon, named for Cornerstone founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky, was not on that list, and while it isn’t a single vineyard wine, it does include fruit from two of the sites in the new series, Oakville Station and Kairos Vineyard. (Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain has been a staple source for Cornerstone fruit for about as long as we’ve been tasting and reviewing them.)

Whatever the case, we didn’t get around to trying them until Labor Day, when I relented from my vegetarian druthers and bought a nice cut of C. Roy beef steak to grill and pair them with. As a great man once sang, “Time passes slowly when you’re lost in a dream,” but the wait was well worth it.

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Parting Gifts From Clos Roche Blanche

We’ve crossed paths with some very nice wines from the non-interventionist Loire Valley producer Clos Roche Blanche a time or two, but never paid them as much attention as we should have. This point was driven home a few weeks ago, when my buddy Jarred informed me that two of the wines I had in my cart (noted below) were from Didier Barrouillet and Catherine Roussel’s last vintage, 2014. The vineyards are sold, they have retired, and why in the hell didn’t I get to know their wares better when I had the chance? My bad.

The very short Clos Roche Blanche story is that that Catherine Roussel had owned and operated this estate since in 1975, having taken over from her father, and was later joined by Barrouillet, who tended the vineyards and made the wine. Both were and still are enthusiastic proponents of non-interventionist winemaking. Now, they just want to do whatever they want, instead of being tied down by the duties of the estate. You can read more about what they did here, and at this link to a worthwhile blog entry about a visit to the estate late in the game.

The first three wines are labeled as Vin de France rather than Touraine because, apparently, they wanted to make a statement with their final efforts about not bothering to endure the usual hassles from the appellation.

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Three From Brundlmayer

Just about every Thursday, Great Lakes Coffee Detroit, a cool little coffee shop, café and wine bar in midtown Detroit, has a wine tasting of selections you’re not likely to find at many other locations. When it comes to the coffee, wines, beers and ales or food stuff for small plates, James Cadariu aka Roastmaster General is uncompromising in his selections, focusing on small, artisanal producers he admires.

This past Thursday, Great Lakes offered three wines from the exceptional Austrian producer Bründlmayer. We’ve enjoyed Willi Bründlmayer’s wines quite a bit on past occasions, perhaps none more than on Monte Bello Ridge, of all places, back in about ’98 or ’99. It’s rare to get a taste of these in the Metro Detroit area, so we availed ourselves of the opportunity, saddled up with our good friend Gary Shea and trucked on down to the corner of Woodward and Alexandrine, where we hooked up with another good friend in the person of Noelle Lothamer.

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Mixed Bag

From the Not-Quite-Quick-and-Dirty Department: Each of the wines featured in this report bears a connection to one of our previous two reports. I tasted this first one with Luke McCollom from Left Coast Cellars last week; the wine was given to him by a generous Ann Arbor retailer, and then he sent me home with the bottle to share with Kim. As promised, here are my impressions.

2006 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 80% Roussanne, the balance from Grenache blanc, Picardan, Bourboulenc and Clairette, 14% alc., $69.99: Clean, rich color; stony mineral and a hint of beeswax over bone dry stone fruit in both flavor and aroma. Full bodied, with great acidity and outstanding presence. I had the opportunity to taste this over a couple of hours and the beeswax emerged to take a more prominent place in the wine’s personality. Quite tasty already, but not yet at its peak, perhaps not even close. Organically grown, 80% fermented in stainless steel, 20% in 225 liter oak casks. Find this wine

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL

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Hangin’ with Luke McCollom of Left Coast Cellars

There are so many wine producers in so many regions of the world that fly well under our radar, it’s always a treat for us when we happen upon one that really impresses us. Case in point; we’d never heard of Left Coast Cellars until a few weeks ago, when their PR firm contacted us to inquire as to whether we’d be interested in meeting their winemaker and viticulturist, Luke McCollom, who would be in Michigan during the week of August 17.

I did some quick research, and found that this family owned winery seemingly had much to admire, starting with a commitment to sustainability. 150 of the 353 acres on the property, located in Rickreall, Oregon, are planted to nine vineyards, with a focus on exclusively estate-grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier and Syrah, with several single vineyard wines in their lineup. Besides growing grapes, Left Coast Cellars has also undertaken a project of growing European truffles (mostly Périgord, with some Italian whites) on a four acre site of hazelnut trees, shrub roses and holly oaks. There are also oak groves, fruit orchards, organic gardens, bee hives, streams and a small lake which adds to the site’s biodiversity and provides water for gravity fed irrigation. (Click images to enlarge.)

The vineyards themselves contain a wide variety of clonal and rootstock combinations, elevations, row orientations and soil compositions, which provide for a significant range of nuance to what we’ve quickly come to recognize as a distinctive LCC house style. Based on what I discovered on the winery web presence, we decided that this was an operation we’d like to learn (and taste) more about, so we accepted their kind offer and a time was set to meet with Mr. McCollom last Wednesday, at Birmingham’s The Bird & The Bread.

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A Pair of Swans

Every so often over the past few years, I’ve been struck by the following thought: we don’t drink enough Pinot Noir at our house, not nearly as much as we did back in the late ‘90s and on through the turn of the century. For whatever reason, we just kind of drifted away from the variety, which is a shame, because it can be so very, very fine.

So it was that, when I celebrated a certain annual milestone last week, I pulled the first wine in this report from the cellar, almost as an afterthought. I eat almost no red meat these days, but I look more favorably upon good seafood and decided that wild caught salmon would make for a nice dinner, and so we procured a nice filet that fed both Kim and me very well. I could have chosen a nice Morgon, since we have several of those down in the Cellar from Heck, but I decided to go with one of the very few Pinot Noirs in our possession instead. I had no idea how fortuitous my choice would be.

As far as I can tell, we haven’t talked about any of the wonderful wines from Joseph Swan Vineyards since late 2007, which is too bad, because, A. they’re SO good, and B. that means we’ve been missing out on a lot of mighty fine drinking.

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Summer Wines So Far

We’ve been celebrating the slightly oddball summer with some interesting, and mostly very good, wines of the pale and pink persuasions. June and July were all over the place, weather-wise, ranging from wet and unseasonably cool to the more usual oppressive hot-and-muggy that rears its sweaty head in Michigan this time of year, but we’ve stuck with our warm weather game plan throughout. Some of these are new vintages from old friends, and some we tried for the first time. Here are seven that we’ve encountered over the last four or five weeks, starting with the whites.

This first one had sat patiently in the cellar since early winter, waiting for just the right moment to pop its cork, and I found it a few days ago.

2012 Gilbert Picq Chablis, 12.5% alc., $23.99: Clean medium color; tart, yet rich and quite tasty, with mineral-driven green apple and quince flavors and aromas. Great presence and balance, full bodied without being heavy in any way, with racy acids and a nice long finish. An excellent food wine, but I chose to sip and savor it on its own after a week without wine, and it’s a very fine choice indeed. It just gets better as it opens and warms a little in the glass. I want more of this one.

Imported by Vintage ’59 Importers LLC, Washington, DC

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Three Wines From The Mitten

I had the distinct pleasure of going on a five day northern Michigan musical road trip over the last weekend in July. I performed my music on four successive evenings, starting off at two of my favorite wineries, Left Foot Charley and Shady Lane Cellars. (I finished up with my first ever appearance at Short’s Brew Pub in Bellaire, and finally at the quaint old one-room Green River Schoolhouse, in Mancelona. Both were tons of fun, but those are stories for another occasion.)

The appearances at the two wineries gave me the opportunity to try fresh new versions of a couple of my favorite wines from the Mitten, and they do not disappoint in the least.

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