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Sunday, July 27, 2008

2005 Kirkland Napa Valley Meritage

A Costco find for something like $12 – I don't know if I've ever seen a Meritage for under $15, so let's take a look.

The nose on this one is tight – maybe some vague earthy qualities and berries, but I can't pinpoint much – after being open for a couple hours, I'm definitely getting some carob.

A nicely balanced wine to be sure – spice, fruit, and oak are all in good harmony here. A little bit of green pepper, some clove notes, bing cherry, and nice smooth smokey oak. Somewhat tannic at first but it really faded into a smooth, easy drinking wine after a few hours.

The finish presents some plum along with some linger sweet oak.

No issues at all with the $12 pricetag.

N/V Paul Cheneau Cava Brut

We had planned on having a guest reviewer for this one, here's a photo from the session:

Unfortunately, Pudge felt the nose did not remind her enough of cat food and refused to continue with the blog post.*

Back to the regulars: this was about $8 at Costco and always being up for a sparkler, I grabbed it.

A bit of bread – dinner roll really – with a slightest hint of blueberry.

Yes...yes indeed. Lots of berry here, some interesting and subtle flavors – boysenberry almost. Not much in terms of citrus though I suppose I do get some apple. Not much toast, not much yeast, but some nutty qualities along with the fruit – GrapeNuts, you say? Alrighty then.

The finish has more of that interesting grapey, nutty, berry profile. I can't argue with it.

This is a no-brainer. Go for it.

*Pudge was not legitimately offered wine as she is underage. Cats, dogs, and other pets who are under the age of 21 (in human years) should not be given alcohol. Once they hit 21, it's not a good idea either.

Michigan Wine Trip – Round Up

Two days, 14 wineries and tasting rooms, 99 wines sampled (actually over 100, but some were fruit based - (“this cherry wine tastes like cherries?”) - I spit most of my samples so my liver is fine, but I'll be damned if my tongue doesn't hurt.

A word on my tasting notes: they were mostly done in a somewhat high pressure situation, with a sales person standing near me, sometimes watching what I write (I counteract this by writing in a fashion that is legible only to me), and often with only a few seconds before I'm being asked a question about what I thought or what I want next. This is part of the reason there isn't much variation in the my descriptions.

Of course another reason for this is that most of the wines are made with the same handful of varietals made in similar styles – subtle differences are present, of course – but what I can break down with a full bottle and three hours in my apartment I won't find in 30 seconds at a tasting room. You still get an idea. If something is absolute crap I'll say it, if something is outstanding I'll say it – otherwise if it's just a general description that it's “fine” - not bad, but not good enough to excited about.

We grabbed quite a few bottles so you'll see a number of Michigan wines reviewed over the next few months.

Round Barn Winery/Free Run Cellars Tasting Room – Union Pier 7/15/08

Round Barn Winery / Free Run Cellars

We got here and a limo full of women were loudly drinking and having a good time, while the lone employee looked positively haggard. I figured we'd stick around and try to hang back while people watching. I'm not 100% sure how this place worked, there seemed to be wine from two different producers in this tasting room.

Free Run
2006 Dry Gewürztraminer – I thought something was up with the glass as it smelled distinctly like turned it was the wine. Oddly, it tasted thoroughly dull, almost watery. Strange.

Union – big cinnamon nose / blackberry, plum, some alcohol burn – there was a lot going on here that I couldn't place, so a bottle review is forthcoming.

2005 Cabernet Franc – mild nose, smooth, smokey, and more cherry

2005 Syrah – Lots of chocolate on the nose and palate – somewhat weird honestly, a lot of cocoa powder and just a strange feel to it....I almost wish I grabbed a bottle because it was so weird.

Round Barn
Gewürztraminer – good character – sweet, spice, peach and apricot, great balance.

Vineyard Red – earth, chocolate, and raspberry nose – not much acid, lots of chocolate, with some oak and cherry.

Merlot – trash on the nose with some oak / something seems off on this one, but I can't place it – vanilla, ultra ripe, black fruit, and some carob on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon – Oak, vanilla, and cherry – not bad at all.

Saint Julian Tasting Room – Union Pier 7/15/08

St. Julian
Saint Julian is the largest winery in Michigan – several tasting rooms are across the state and we stopped at the one in Union Pier. The folks working are clearly not too invested in the winery's operations and I found the whole place somewhat strange.

2005 St. J Merlot – extremely light, very mild tannins, cherry and spice, but just a mild wine.

2005 Braganini Reserve Cabernet Franc – earthy with mushroomy notes / cherry and almost no tannin nor much earth or structure. Weird.

2003 Braganini Reserve Meritage – a bit of coffee on the nose / best of the lot at this place, earth, oak, spice, black fruit.

2004 Braganini Reserve Chancellor – carob nose / somewhat funky, cherry, mocha, low acid and tannin, just a big meh.

Blue Heron – peachy nose / tropical fruits on the palate, but quite flabby and nondescript.

My take on this place: Meh!

Left Food Charley – Traverse City 7/14/08

Left Foot Charley

This place is in a strange area in the city – there's abandoned buildings and high end restaurants plus this winery. This place is in what I believe used to be an asylum – it's unique to say the least. We liked this place, the young woman working was friendly and the whole set up was quite cool. That being said, my palate was severely suffering at this point and sharp, acidic whites – something I like – were so not working for me at this point in the day so these notes are fairly weak....a shame because this was a good place.

2007 Pinot Grigio – Pear, somewhat sweet, with a nice acidic backbone.

2007 Pinot Blanc – Crisp green apple and nicely balanced.

2007 Dry Riesling – Mild peach, very mellow, but really not working for me.

2007 Murmur – Not bad, mostly Pinot Grigio and it shows with the pear notes as well as some green apple.

Red Drive – banana nose / banana, strawberry, and garbage on the mouth, not unlike a Beaujolais Nouveau.

This reads as thoroughly unenthusiastic, but this was a really nice place with solid wines...we'll definitely be back. If you're into crisp whites this is a place to go.

Shady Lane Cellars – Suttons Bay 7/14/08

Shady Lane Cellars

We really liked this place – you go up to the tasting bar, the first pour is free, after that for $5 you pick four more and get your choice of cheese and crackers, you get a seat on the patio and they bring it to you – jolly good. This is a great place to slow down and relax.

2006 Semi-Dry Riesling – fantastic stuff, good acid, just enough sugar - excellent balance – with mostly grapefruit.

2006 Pinot Noir Rose – dry and peppery, strawberry notes, mild tannins – quite good.

2007 Gewurztraminer – this was their first vintage of Gewurz and I think it shows promise as a work in progress. Floral and honey noteeso n the nose. Quite dry, but it drinks like a Riesling – not enough spice though the acid was pretty good – by no means bad but I'd wait a few years.

2007 Coop De Blanc – Nectarine on the nose / spiced stone fruit palate – not bad, but so much of the wine up here is like this, it's just not interesting.

2006 Roost – cherry cough syrup on the nose / a simple palate, cherry, a bit of sweetness and some medicinal qualities, but really this isn't bad.

2005 Pinot Noir – cherry and dirt on the nose / good acid balance, earth, cherry, spice – detailed notes coming.

2005 Cabernet Franc – Pepper on the nose / cherry, earth, solid tannins, and good stucture

2006 Late Harvest Vignoles – honey and under ripe cantaloupe on the nose here. Good crisp acid, more of that mellow melon and some musty qualities too. Good stuff.

Black Star Farms – Suttons Bay 7/14/08

Black Star Farms

This place had a bit of a corporate feel – take that for what it is, on the one hand it's impersonal – the staff can answer only the most basic of questions - on the other they charge you for the samplings, you get the keep the glass, and since the tasting bar is completely separate from the cash register, there's zero pressure to buy. $3 for five wines and then there's a reserve list where it's $5 for two.

2006 Arcturos Pinot Noir – spicy and a bit of earth, cherry, medium body with mostly cinnamon and nutmeg.

2005 Arcturos Cabernet Franc – peppery nose / cherry, mild tannins, chocolate, and cedar

2006 Leorie Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc – earth on the nose / really good, balanced, complex but approachable black spice, pepper, cherry, oak, tobacco, and cedar.

2006 Arcturos Merlot – Light bodied, cherry, oak and spice...meh.

Red House Red – light, easy drinking, cherry – a good pizza wine

Red House Rose – all strawberry, really more of a blush

Late Harvest Riesling – nicely made, good balance of acid and sugar with a whole mess of peach.

Sparkling Wine – too sweet for us, a bit of toast on the nose / good body and well made just not our style.

2007 A Capella Riesling Ice Wine – At $92.50 this is easily the priciest of what we've sampled – peach nose, nice and balanced but honestly this is incredibly mild – no great explosiveness on the palate, nor any significant depth....of the ice wines we had, this was probably the least interesting.

L Mawby – Suttons Bay 7/14/08

L Mawby

We've had a couple of this producer's wines before – in fact, this winery was one of the motivating factors to making this trip....the room was worked by two women, both friendly and really knew their stuff. So how does this place hold up to scrutiny?

Here's how it works: They only making sparkling wines, you get two free samples, and for $5 you can get two glasses of your choice plus crackers and cheese.

Sandpiper – peachy nose / light bodied, sweet and peachy, though quite good for a sweeter sparkler, somewhat like a sparkling muscat

Blanc de Blancs – hell yeah – dry, crisp green apple with citrus notes.

US – not too much jumped out at me here, fruity and a bit of sugar.

Cremant – not a whole lot on the nose / palate is quite nutty, a bit of apple and orange zest, good stuff.

Talismon – yeasty and toasty with green apple, quite good.

Sex – smells sweeter than it is, a bit of peach and grapefruit, good stuff.

Blanc de Noir – toasty, yeasty, citrus zest – very good, probably the best of the lot.

Easily the best sparkling wines in the area – and best of all, to our palates, were the mid-priced ones – excellent.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Peninsula Cellars – Traverse City 7/14/08

Peninsula Cellars

Most of the time, people working in wineries see nerds like me taking notes and respect it. Well sometimes they don't – in fact, sometimes it seems to piss the person working off. I present to you: Peninsula Cellars.

I'll point out at this point – I am not obnoxious with what I do – I try to be discreet, we stand in the corner if at all possible, I write quickly, and never make faces or nasty comments out before you go thinking “well you're a snob” - you are mistaken.

2006 Pinot Noir – earth and funk on the nose / cherry, wood, but something weirdly artificial going on, almost plastic?

2005 Cabernet Franc – Good stuff, cherry, vanilla, oak, strawberry, and a bit of tobacco.

2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve – Black fruit and black licorice on the nose / bigger and bolder than the regular, good tannic structure, menthol, cherry, blackberry, plum, and cigar box.

2005 Hog's Back Merlot – Not much nose / cherry, cedar and a lot of acid.

Old School Red – Italian style nose / harshly acidic, raspberry, herbal notes, a bit like a Chianti

Melange – a cherry and grape fortified wine – orange nose / lots of citrus and black cherry with some nice cinnamon and spice.

As we exited, we walked quickly thus preventing the door from hitting us with the good lord split us. The building is cute and the Cab Franc is great, perhaps one of the best we've had - I've been informed the management of the winery has changed so next time we're in the area we definitely will be giving Peninsula Cellars another try.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards – Traverse City 7/14/08

Bowers Harbor Vineyards

This place was run by a couple women who were very friendly and talkative – we liked them a lot.

2007 Gewürztraminer – spiced apricot nose / light peach, somewhat dry, and overall quite mild.

2004 Cabernet Franc – earthy nose / the palate here is funky with a fair amount of garbage...

2005 Cabernet Franc – a more herbal nose / earthy mouth with some cherry, nice firm tannins.

Bowers Harbor Red – a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend – earth, cherry, and cinnamon on the nose / fairly light, nice acid mild cherry with a bit of spice.

2004 Pinot Noir – a mild nose with mostly earth / a bit of cherry, nothing here suggests Pinot Noir really.

2005 2896, Langley Vineyard – menthol nose / very nice body, smooth, black cherry, plum, blackberries, and firm tannins.

Chateau Grand Traverse – Traverse City 7/14/08

Chateau Grand Traverse

This was a nice place, the people working the bar were very friendly and knew their stuff - the tasting room was fairly bit with an array of sauces and knicknacks.

2006 Pinot Noir Vin Gris – I grabbed a bottle of this just because it's so unusual – a white wine made with Pinot Noir, the juice saw absolutely no time with the skins. Dry, fruity, very light with cherry notes- expect full notes in time.

2006 Gamay Noir Limited Bottling – an earthy, Pinot Noir like nose / the palate is like a tremendous Beaujolais – earth, cherry, nice tannins, a great botte.

2005 Gamay Noir Reserve – Eucalyptus and cherry on the nose – a cherry cough drop if you will / earth and cola notes plus some strawberry. Outstanding.

2004 Merlot Reserve – when you're a nerd and you're spitting your wine and taking notes, sometimes the people like you – this bottle was “not available” for sampling but they had an open bottle and hooked us up – earth, wood, and cherry on the nose / quite big, spicy, black fruit, earth, and cedar – great balance.

2007 Semidry Riesling – Good acid and fruit, but not terribly sweet, all stone fruit of course.

Cherry Port – Imagine eating a chocolate covered cherry with a brandy filling – yes sir, I'll take a bottle.

Chateau Chantal Winery – Traverse City 7/14/08

Chateau Chantal

This is a beautiful property – worth visiting for the views alone. The tasting room was run by a young girl who I can't imagine was 18 and was so socially awkward I can only assume it was her first week on the job, she was some sort of alternate, or she was intimidated by my shiny balding head.

Tonight Sparkling Wine – apple nose / red apple in the mouth, simple though not bad.

2006 Pinot Noir – extremely light in color, cherry nose, cherry and earth on the palate, nicely balanced but absurdly light.

2006 Proprietor's Reserve Trio – cherry cola nose / cherry and oak on the palate, a nice one.

Naughty Red – like a good Beaujolais, just a faint bit of banana with funk, cherry and earth. If you are into Beaujolais (not Nouveau) this is your thing.

2006 Riesling Late Harvest – peachy nose / spice stone fruit, somewhat flabby to be blunt.

The wine here was fine and it's worth a visit if you're in the area and have time but honestly I don't foresee a revisit from us in the immediate future.

Two Lads Winery – Traverse City 7/14/08

Two Lads Winery

We absolutely winged this trip – other than the hotel room, nothing else was planned including which of the many wineries in the area to go to we'd browsing the “Wine Country” magazine the state puts out, I'll freely admit something about this place's logo spoke to me....yep, the logo.

Working the tasting bar was a young woman who was friendly and knowledgeable.

At the time of our visit, none of their reds had been released – this is a brandspanking new winery which opened in 2008, but the quality in these bottles was the best we've seen among young wineries. The woman in the tasting room told us their plan is to specialize in reds and try to outdo everyone else in the state – I intend to be back after they're released next spring.

Pinot Grigio – Spicy peach on the nose / A bit fruity, green apple, pear, dry, and nicely balanced – there is something here, some extra “oomph” which sets it apart from every other Pinot Grigio I've had.

Sparkling Wine – my notes say “smooth but blah.”

Chardonnay – as a rule, I hate Chardonnay – we said we'd pass, the woman working suggested we try it anyway - “why not?” - I stand corrected....light and fruity, a little butter but none of that overoaked nonsense – a damn good Chardonnay, perhaps the first oaked Chardonnay we've had that I've truly enjoyed.

Rose – a fairly big rose, dry and fruity...I bought a bottle and will do full notes eventually.

Off Dry Pinot Grigio – somewhat like a Riesling with some stone fruit notes, light bodied and good balance.

A beautiful setup, a great building, a winery that I think shows tremendous promise.

Tabor Hill Winery Tasting Room - Saugatuck Tasting Room 7/13/08

Tabor Hill

In this winery, I noticed a trend present at all three we had been to – bougie women come in, try wine, bitch it's not sweet enough, and buy stuff that's on par with White Zinfandel....when you're at a small winery and are talking to someone involved in the winemaking process, part of them dies every time this happens. I've heard – from a winemaker in Illinois – that the most difficult part of his business is he can't spend enough time crafting good wine, because everyone in his area, who make up most of his business, like the sweet, blush wines....what can you do?

Anyway – the guy at this tasting room clearly didn't know what to make of us and seemed hesitant, but there's something about a youngish guy swashing around a mouthful of wine, discreetly spitting it into a plastic cup, and frantically writing notes that either wins you over with the person working or just plain pisses them off – this guy liked us.

Red Heritage – A bit of funk on the nose / smooth cigar box and cherry.

Red Arrow Red – earth and tobacco nose / easy drinking, earthy, mild oak, vanilla, mild/medium tannin, cinnamon and cherry.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc – Mild cherry nose / lots of spice and oak on this one.

Lake Michigan Shore Merlot – Ultra soft, raspberry and cherry, some earth and medium tannings – a good, light wine with some nice depth.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Sauvignon – a bit of “White Out” on the nose, light bodied, some bell pepper, and a lot of tannins – this would be an interesting one to put away for five to seven years and revisit.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc Rose – a bit of stone fruit on the nose / fruity but dry, strawberry, an easy quaff – a good, genuine, rose.

Lake Michigan Shore Kerner – Honey, peach, and stone fruit – a Riesling cousin and it shows.

Gewurz – Floral and peachy nose / excellent balance of acid and sugar, peach pie filling is all over this.

Classic Demi-Sec – we weren't going to try this one but the guy working said it was their best selling bottle, outselling almost every other white combined so we should try it. A peachy nose mostly / extremely good, I'm glad we tried it, Auslese style, nearly ideal balance of acid, with peach and spice.

Special Select Classic Demi-Sec – if I'm not mistaken this is made slightly differently in that the grapes are not pressed...the bottle is more expensive by a few dollars but I think it's somewhat less interesting – a mild, grapey nose and a grapey palate, a bit sweeter with less acid, but by all means it's still a good bottle.

Tabor Hill is a must visit in Southwest Michigan!

Fenn Valley Winery – Saugatuck Tasting Room 7/13/08

Fenn Valley

I must talk about Saugatuck before I talk about anything else.

It is the whitest place on earth – seriously...this is where the ultra-rich, Midwestern white elderly people take their grandkids, it would be funny if there wasn't something so menacing lurking underneath. Even seen “Hostel”? I'll bet when the guys who go there are on vacation, their wives are here.

Anyway – the tasting room was being worked by a man and a woman of about 50 and another guy who was perhaps in his 70s – the older guy was cool, the other two, not so much.

Blanc de Noir – Dry, acidic, crisp green apple, a bit of toast, not bad even at $25.

Sparkling Riesling – Somewhat like a sparkling Muscat, flabby and sweet.

Capriccio – Soft raspberry nose / soft and low tannins, lots of berry fruit, but by no means sweet, a nice easy going bottle.

2007 Chambourcin – the nose had a distinct whiff of skunk / a good Chambourcin though, strong acid, raspberry and cherry with a bit of tobacco.

2007 Pinot Noir – Simple, earthy, and dry.

2006 Meritage – Good Bordeaux blend, oak, spice, earth, cherry, and cinnamon.

Lakeshore Demi-Sec – typical, sweet, Midwest style white.

Port – Prune, black fruit, rich tobacco nose / fruity, oaky, spicy, and smooth.

Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2007 – Solid apricot/stone fruit nose / Honey, apricot, great balance, and a lengthy finish.

Warner Vineyards – South Haven Tasting Room 7/13/08

Warner Vineyards

A friendly, young blonde woman was working the room – this was our first winery of the trip and took us off to a good start.

Gewurztraminer – Spice and apricot nose / sweet, stone fruit, good acid – well done.

Cabernet Franc – Earthy nose / dry, good tannic structure, tobacco and black currant

Cabernet Sauvignon – Cherry nose, smooth and mellow, blackberry and some plum, good but unexciting.

Merlot – Quite acidic, cherry, and overall rather light in body.

Veritas – Mellow vanilla nose. No tannins to speak of, smooth overall, vanilla and blueberry – a good pizza wine.

Port – The nose was like smelling a landfill – thick with honey and caramel notes, a touch of raisin and maybe some tobacco with a strong burn.