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Thursday, July 30, 2009

2007 Circa Estate Winery Cabernet Franc Leelanau Peninsula

On our visit to Traverse City, Chris from Two Lads Winery told me about this guy, Terry Stingley, who is planning on a "taste off" of Cab Francs. He feels that Cab Franc may be Michigan's "identity" grape. That is, when you think Argentina - what grape do you think? Probably Malbec. Germany? Riesling. Read up here if you want.

No one is really "known" for their Cab Franc, so this is an interesting idea. (Michigan's most popular grape seems to be Rielsing, but many - hell, most - are lackluster compared to their Alsatian and German bretheren.) I have made some subtle jabs at Cab Franc as a single varietal wine, but on our most recent trip we sampled a few that were impressive without qualification - including a forthcoming that's probably going to blow minds.

So here's a Cab Franc from Circa Winery - a wine that may be in the "Michigan Cab Franc Challenge" - that goes for about thirty big ones.

First - check out this cork - I'm glad we opened this sooner rather than later. It's a good idea to check bottles you're sitting on a few times a year anyway, but I definitely would keep an eye on this. My impression is this wine is well crafted and would benefit from aging.
Second - this is perhaps obvious by the last comment, but this wine needs a few hours to open.

The nose has cherry liqueur with cedar and tobacco - burning tobacco, sorta like a pipe - notes all with some stewed green peppers (not in a bad way).

Earth, oak, cherry, spices - clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, a bit of dried mint - all with firm tannins and blueberry coming through on the back palate (and more so up front as the bottle opens), plus just the slightest hint of "natural" cola (the Whole Foods stuff, not Coke). Excellent balance all around.

No vegetal qualities at all - a lot of people avoid Cab Franc because they're afraid of that funky cabbage or strong bell pepper quality quality, but very few, if any of the Michigan wines (at least at the higher pricepoint) show any of those notes. There may be some bell pepper (as here) but they are typically subtle and well integrated.

The exceptionally long finish brings more of that quirky natural cola quality, as well as some nice puckering tannins, good lingering acidic punch, and some ever so slightly unripe raspberry. Way back on the end, as it fades, a distinct cigar quality comes through.

Thirty bucks is nothing to sneeze at, but there's nothing to argue with here. Well crafted, interesting, and a fantastic wine all around - among the best Cab Francs we've had.

Wine: 8.5
Value: Go for it

Monday, July 27, 2009

N/V Cooper's Hawk Winery Cooper's Hawk Red

Cooper's Hawk is a local chain of restaurants/wineries. After a few visits and some serious thought, I've decided it's a very good restaurant and the wines are more than acceptable when consumed at the restaurant. To take home? They strike me as a tad pricey (retail and wine list prices give different expectations). This is, I believe, their cheapest red - a blend - which goes for somewhere around $14 in the shop.

Almost a fruit bomb Australian Shiraz quality on the nose - powerful, potent, black fruit, all with, dare I say, a green bean thing going on.

On the light side of medium bodied, with mild tannins, solid acid, good spice - various dried Italian, anise, and black pepper - not to mention a good punch of plum and cherry, and yes - some of the green beans on the nose comes through here on the palate. It's curious, not bad, if you're eating when you consume this you may not notice, but it's there, somewhat on the back palate. .

Some minty notes come through on the finish as well as lingering anise and cherry, but it does fade quickly.

I've gone through a number of their reds, and oddly enough I think this is one of the better ones, even when price isn't an issue. For a take home souvenir, gift, accompaniment to a gift certificate, or just for something to take home and pop open with pizza, this is probably Cooper's Hawk best bet. If you're at the restaurant - snag a flight. To take home - this is it.

Wine: 7
Value: Yep

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2007 Albero Bobal Rose

This was six bones at Trader Joe's - how bad can a $6 Spanish Rose be?

A very nice nose, strong with strawberry, cherry, and even cinnamon notes.

Cherry mostly with some minty things going on, as well as some light spices, along with some apple notes.

I'm getting a watermelon rind thing on the finish, as well as some somewhat unripe strawberries.

Decent, cheap rose rocks and this is certainly one of them. There are more complex and better rounded ones out there to be sure, but I doubt you'll snag one for under $10 that's better than this.

Wine: 7
Value: Yes

Monday, July 20, 2009

2006 French Rabbit Pinot Noir

This was in the clearance bin for $5, I think it retails for around $10.

A cherry jam quality on the nose, maybe even cherry liqueur.

While there is some cherry present, this is potent with blackberry. There's a bit of white pepper here, some very very mild woody notes, not quite oak not quite cedar, and a nice bit of dirt. The tannins are present and well integrated. Quite good, especially from a box.

Ever so slightly tart blackberry lingers on the finish.

Easy drinking and simple? To be sure. Tasty and nicely balanced? I do believe so.

Wine: 6.5
Value: Yes

Saturday, July 18, 2009

2005 Croix Du Mayne Cahors

It's a good idea to give all of your red wines (and you know, even your whites to a lesser extent) some time to aerate - if you don't want to mess around with a decanter, at least pour a glass or two and let them sit for an hour before you start drinking.

When I first popped open this $10 bottle, I took a sip and thought it was disgustingly sour - so much I wasn't sure I could drink it. Realizing I was getting ahead of myself, I waited two hours and lo and behold all that blew off leaving us with a groingabblingly good deal..

Basically a raspberry thing is going on here on the nose with all sorts of crazy earth/mud and even some barnyard.

Very nice - potent acid, definitely with a big enough punch that you may want some food with it. Light and tart cherries, with a punch of blackberry, black pepper, anise, and nice cigar box notes. The second day a big punch of eucalyptus came through with cherry and anise and the rest more or less blowing off.

Cedar and cherry stick around for a while on the finish.

I just looked this one up and it's 85% Malbec - how about that? Damn fine - unfortunately I have no clue where I bought this otherwise this is an obvious recommendation.

Wine: 8
Value: Yes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

2007 Funf Riesling

We're back from Michigan, our palates have recovered and I decided, on a blazing hot day, to pop open a German Riesling that went for around seven bucks.

An odd grapey nose with little else.

This is a Riesling? From Germany? Come on man! I feel like Andy Millman! No, I don't buy it. Seriously. This is white grape juice spiked with a shot of vodka. This is either the lamest Manischewitz white wine ever made or it's a joke. Come on! Really? The Germans can make this ridiculous of a Riesling?

Where's Dom DeLuise and the Candid Camera crew? He's pulling pranks on me from beyond the grave! Always a kidder, that Dom. Did you ever see that movie Fatso? Hilarious. Just thinking about that move makes me hungry. Speaking of works of art with Dom that make me hungry - he was the voice of Pizza the Hut in Spaceballs. That's easily one of my top five favorite movies....

Grape juice on the finish.

Maybe if this come out of a box or something I would've been prepared, but I'm dumbfounded. I've never had a wine so bad that it amused me - that alone made it worth the seven bucks.

Worst. Wine. Ever.

Wine: Ha!
Value: Ho!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

There ya go

This marker was right off the highway in Wisconsin. I saw a couple signs in the TC area, but none were of the photo op variety like this one.

So our full notes from the Lake Michigan Circle Tour are up....if you're reading this in the distant future, just click the "July 2009" link to your right and you'll see them all on a page or two.

I do encourage you all to comment or drop us an e-mail if you have any questions, comments, or observations.

Parallel 44 - Kewaunee, WI - 7/4/09

Parallel 44 is located around 30 minutes southeast of Green Bay in a somewhat tucked away area - it's not right off the highway and you do have to be looking for it.

The notes:

Seyval Blanc - Floral nose, a tad sweet, with floral/herbal tea qualities on the palate.

Riesling - Sweet, a bit of acid, pink apples, with peach and various stone fruit lingering around.

Rosso - Cherry nose, semisweet, decent acid and mildly tannic, with cherry flavors but still a bit sweet for our liking.

Baco Noir - A goofy grape varietal that I was happy to see. Cherry, chocolate, and blueberry, still sweet and lacking tannin or oak, but interesting enough that it's worth a try.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon - A funky nose, light in body with spice and a bit of funk and mild sweet oak with strawberry notes hanging around in the background.

Meditation - A sweet, heavy dessert wine with cherry notes - full notes at some point in the future.

A nice place with some unusual wines, perhaps worth a stop if you're in the area. I'm not glowing about it, but just for a chance to try some Baco and go for a country drive I'd say it's worth the trip.

Captain's Walk Winery - Green Bay, WI - 7/4/09

On the way to this winery, I needed gas only to be met by the WORST GAS ATTENDANT EVER.

This is what liberal America is doing...making small businesses - like Shell - hire employees who don't even have opposable thumbs. Did we lose a war? That's not America...that's not even Mexico.

I digress.

We've been to many wineries in our day, but the staff at Captain's Hawk wins the prize of the friendliest, most outgoing, easiest going staff we have ever encountered. Seriously. Even if the wines here sucked, which they don't, I'd still recommend visiting because everyone rocks.

This place is apparently tied to von Stiehl Winery, also in Wisconsin, which he haven't been to yet, but plan to sooner rather than later.

The notes:

2006 Riesling - Just a tad flabby for my tastes with peach being the strongest flavor.

Sangiovese - Menthol on the nose, light in body, some bell pepper, cherry, spice, and a tad of plum.

Merlot - Smooth, low tannins, cherry, a bit of tannin and cinnamon come through on the finish, but I can't help but call this one a bit blah.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Cedar and black cherry on the nose and palate with dark black fruit, medium tannins, clove, and nice structure.

Captain's Red - Grapey all around, we were told this is their top selling red which is just sad.

Gewurz - Sweet and slightly flabby, but fine - peach, apricot, a bit of spice.

Maiden Voyage - This wine comes in an awesome ship shaped bottle that I would've bought if it wasn't thirty bones. Strawberry nose with a big fat artificial watermelon thing going on on the palate, good acid, sweet but not cloying - if this was ten bucks I'd probably buy it. This is the perfect wine to drink while listening to Alestorm:

The wines here are sampled in Riedel glasses, which should really be the standard, but almost no one does it. There's a sign that says something along the lines of "Does the glass matter? Ask for a demonstration." I should've, just to see what they do. The staff here clearly know their stuff and I gotta tell ya, I'm beyond down.

My favorite Wisconsin winery? I think so.

Threefold Vine Winery - Garden, MI - 7/3/09

So we're driving along the dirt road to get to the winery and I absentmindedly passed it up. Suddenly, I heard "Hey man, you missed it." Fran and I looked around wondering who said it only to find....

Larry the llama pointed the way back to the winery. Thanks Larry!

Anyway, as an anti-theist of the Dawkins school I was a bit taken about when we walked into a place which had Bible quotes on the wall. The tension of a guy with a goat skull tattoo on his wrist walking in was broken by the friendly house dog coming up to say hello. The woman working was friendly enough, but we were clearly not terribly welcome outsiders in a place where we didn't belong, so we didn't linger.

Here's our notes:

Valiant - Grapey, every so slight tannins and even a bit dry, but basically this sort of tasted like a dry wine of the Concord variety.

906 - Tasting almost exactly the same as the Valiant, a cherry quality comes through but that's about it.

Glory Bee - A wine made of peaches, honey, and ginger that's actually extremely tasty.

Confection - Almost like a cherry port, fairly strong, and fine for a powerful cherry wine.

Basically, the products here are aimed more for the fruit wine drinker. They're not "bad" at all, but it's just operating as a different type of place than most of the places we hit on this trip. We won't be back, but we wish Larry well!

Mackinaw Trail Winery - Manistique, MI - 7/3/09

Ah, the Upper Peninsula - home of pasties (the food, not the garment - though whose to say the garment isn't featured there as well), smoked fish, and wild animals who dart out in front of your car.

There really is a wikipedia entry for everything, isn't there?

This winery tasting room is located on US-2 in the Upper Peninsula, we visited because we saw a faded sign at the side of the road that said fifteen miles to the MACK TRAIL. MACK TRAIL YEAH!

You get two samples for free and five for $5 - so technically seven samples for five bones. I didn't even ask where the actual vineyards and winery are....seriously a deer had just jumped in front of my car, and I drive a tiny one made of plastic, I'd lose that fight.....I can't be expected to remember basic questions.

The notes:

2006 Shiraz - A funky/garbagey nose with earthy, peppery, and cherry notes on the palate.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot - Light in body with cedar and raspberry notes.

2006 Pinot Noir - Cinnamon, clove, all sorts of spices all around really, with some blueberry notes as well.

2007 Cabernet Franc - A bit of sugar, with a bit of a cherry cough syrup thing going on.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon - Blackberry notes along with cedar and spice.

2007 Merlot - all my notes say is "cherry."

2008 Vidal Ice Wine - Peachy nose with honey, orange, and peach on the palate.

This may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it really is - everything here was at a minimum good (maybe not the Cab Franc). Did anything jump up to the level of transcendence? Perhaps not, but few places do. If you're anywhere near the area (there's another tasting room in Mackinaw City), hit this place up.

Ciccone Vineyards - Suttons Bay, MI - 7/2/09

Ciccone's website will be your destination if you click that.

This winery is owned by Madonna's dad. Yeah, that Madonna...besides a few bottles of "Madonna wine" that is close to being sold out and not available for tasting, you'd never know it. Seriously - if you want glitz and tackiness, you'll be disappointed.

I was going to put in a bunch of lame puns about Madonna, referencing how if an older gentleman was working the room I'd insist he 'not preach' and making sure to tell everyone we were on 'holiday' - but I'm not going to do that. That would be tacky. I was hoping for something light so I could say something like "there's no evidence of body" - but really, this is a classy blog. So, instead, I present you my notes:

2007 Chardonnay - Enough butter and oak to turn me off, but not enough that I couldn't respect this as a well crafted wine.

2007 Pinot Grigio - Dry with muskmelon and honeydew notes - well played.

2007 Pinot Noir - Cherry and eucalyptus on the nose with plum, cherry, and even some chocolatey notes on the palate.

2007 Cabernet Franc - Smoke with green pepper, cherry, and soft tannins over all.

Lee La Tage - A Bordeaux blend with cedar, cigar, and cherry.

Marechal Foch/DeChaunac - Cinnamon and plum, not doing much for me.

You know, the notes here may not reflect it, but I really dug this place. The wines are mostly Old World in style, subtle, refined, and well crafted - not to mention cheap, I don't think anything we tried was over $16. I bought a bottle and we'll see how it holds up to concentration, but based on the samples, I'm down. Well played! Five for five on Leelanau!

L Mawby – Suttons Bay - 7/2/09

This was an obvious, must revisit - one of our favorite wineries in the country, L Mawby rocks my face. You get two free samples (Sandpiper is mandatory, I think, and the other is up to you) and then for five bones you get two addition 2oz pours with some crackers and spread.

We've reviewed a lot of L Mawby here, so do a search for more....these are what I jotted down in the room.

Talismon - Apples, light in body, though some interesting toasty notes come through.

Cremant Classic - This wine sickens me, I hate it, I can't stand it, I drink it and want to throw it out....yet I cannot put it down. Funky and weird, rye toast comes through as does some blueberry essence, with a strange gasoline component. Complex, frustrating, and not at all to my liking, yet I felt compelled to buy a case. I didn't though. I hope to never taste it again, but if I see it at a store I'll buy them out.

Sex - Strawberry and cranberry, slightly off dry, certainly tasty.

US - Fruity with bubble gum qualities even though it's not all that sweet.

Jadore - Treat this as a dessert wine and you're set - sweet with honey and apricot notes. No toast or whatever and no apologies, just layers of fruit and sugar - it works nicely.

Gil's Pier, L Mawby, Circa, and 45 North - four damn fine places all within a few miles - you can't beat it.

45 North Winery - Lake Leelanau, MI - 7/2/09

Here is 45 North's webpage.

With vineyards situated more or less on the 45th parallel - the halfway point between the North Pole of the Equator - this winery is right down the road from Circa and only opened a couple years back.

It was busy enough that I didn't feel comfortable taking up too much of the young woman's time, but buildings seem to be under construction, so I'm not sure we tasted in the permanent tasting room or not.

A group of people made a comment about seeing us the day before at some other winery, which made me extremely self conscious as I was wearing the same you've never done that....whatever.

Anyway....the notes:

2008 Riesling - Light bodied with mostly apple notes, low acid and low sugar so still balanced but more in the quaffable range. The finish brought out some nice acidic notes for what it's worth.

2007 Sparkling Pinot Noir - Basically a bad ass sparkling rose. Dry and crisp with strawberry notes. Detailed notes coming soon, but I gotta tell you I'm already pissed at myself for only buying one.

2008 Pinot Noir Noveau - An earthy nose on this blush style wine - strawberry, cherry, nice acid, but a dash of sugar. Rather nice, even though I prefer dryer roses (they had a dry rose, but we inadvertently skipped it).

2007 Pinot Noir - I snagged a bottle of this one because it was so damn intriguing. I couldn't place it, but I was getting strange notes of whiskey or maybe brandy on top of odd petrol and stone fruit notes along with some berry like things - I am stoked to pop it open at some point.

2007 Cabernet Franc - Light body, cherry, cedar, and cigar notes. Not bad.

Peach Cremant - Like a bellini without the work - peachy but light in body and even nicely acidic, and oddly enough I was getting some sort of (extremely mild) tea like tannin, though that may have been residual Cab Franc swirling around the cavities. Either way, well played.

If Circa gets my top recommendation, this winery - right down the road - gets an easy second, if not tie. I think I'm going to have to start saving for next year's trip now as we've found some winners.

Circa Winery - Lake Leelanau, MI - 7/2/09

Check out Circa's by clicking that underlined word.

The guy working at Gil's Pier suggested that if we hit any other winery, we should hit this place as it was recently renovated. I'm game, let's try it.

The outside of this winery was, I believe, designed to look like an old Tuscan winery. The inside was dimly lit and had a rather swanky feel - I admit feeling impressed and underdressed, but quickly got over it. The two young women working - one who looked so much like a cousin of mine that I no doubt acted strangely as we first walked in - were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Right on.

Pinot Grigio - Floral notes on the nose. A light, easy drinking wine with pear notes.

Chardonnay - Very light in body, so light one may not even think it was the satan of grapes, crisp and with apple notes, this was quite enjoyable.

Requisite - This wine is made with a grape known as Blaufrankisch - if you've never had a Blaufrankisch, they tend to be from Hungary and are frequently disgustingly sweet. This? Fruity, but basically dry, with cherry and a nice amount of spice - cinnamon and clove dominating. Well done!

Cabernet Franc - Blueberry and light cherry with mild cedar and clove, all with great tannic structure - full bottle review coming soon enough.

At least one wine was about to be released, so there will be more in their portfolio soon. Few places hit four for four, so I'm very much down - as far as the Leelanau Peninsula goes, this winery gets my strongest recommendation.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Gill's Pier - Northport, MI - 7/2/09

Gill's Pier is fairly high up there on the Leelanau fact, I'm not sure there are any wineries further north so you probably won't just drive by it - is it worth seeking out?

Here's our notes:

2007 Royce - spice on the nose. Golden apple on the palate with a bit of pear and honey. The best part of this wine is it contains Auxerrois which is a grape varietal we haven't had yet, inching us ever closer to the Wine Century Club.

2007 Riesling - Peachy nose with peachy notes on the palate.

2006 Cab Franc/Merlot - Oak and black cherry notes, nicely done.

N/V Just Unleashed - an easy drinking, light bodied wine with cherry notes - full notes to come eventually.

N/V Cherrio Cherry - light in body and a nice combination of fruit and tartness. Not a bad offering at all - so many cherry wines we try are cough syrupy, it's always pleasant to find one that's not.

The young guy working the bar was friendly and very helpful, he gave us plenty of info on the wine and the area itself. The woman we encountered was positively hilarious - pray these people are working when you was almost a Groucho Marx/Margaret Dumont pairing (with genders reversed).

Is Gill's Pier - in an area with so many wineries - worth driving the slight extra distance? I'm gonna have to say yes - in fact, I think if you're hitting Leelanau, this should be your first visit and then you can work your way south back towards the cities.

Left Foot Charley - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Last year we hit up Left Foot Charley at the end of a ridiculous day of visiting something like eight wineries (this photo is from that day - there was no sun or blue sky in the first days of July 2009), we got lost finding it, and had a crappy attitude all around - I remember my tongue hurting.

The wines, though, still shined through even though we weren't having it...the irony, of course, is the bottle we bought wound up getting one of the most enthusiastic reviews we've done. I was very happy to be able to revisit when we were more enthusiastic.

2008 Pinot Grigio - Melon, pear, and green apple on the nose, more of the same on the palate with a punch of acid. Bottle review coming eventualy.

2008 Pinot Blanc Island View Vineyard - Light, quaffable, slightly sweet, not a lot of acid, but still strikes me as balanced.

2008 Rose - Light bodied with strawberry and a tad of banana - not working for me.

2008 7th Hill Riesling - Light in body with apple and peach dominating.

You know, I'll admit something. I'm the kind of guy who gets weirded out when there's no 'limits' placed. Put down "You can try six wines!" and I'll try six and think the employee is being rude if they cut me off at five. Put down nothing and I start feeling awkward - even though the staff gives no reason to. Maybe it's because the staff seems so accommodating I feel like I'm taking advantage.

I don't know what it is, residual Catholic guilt?

This is also the reason I strongly prefer visiting tasting rooms with a fee - a few bucks and I'm fine working my way down a menu.

Where was I?

They also have a small food menu as well as hard cider - which was quite tasty.

Left Foot Charley - good stuff, when I work out my issues I'll head back. Hell, maybe I'll head back to help work out my issues.

Peninsula Cellars - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Last year we hit up Peninsula and were met by the most unfriendly winery staff we've yet encountered - I badmouthed them on this blog and received an apology from the owner and an invitation back since the two people we encountered were, according to him, terminated. I was hesitant, but we returned anonymously.

I left this second visit feeling like a real dick. The owner is clearly a decent guy, and most of his staff are probably awesome.

It's highly likely we hit them up (the first time) when the two ladies working were having a bad day and I talked smack. Maybe they jerk I dealt with at Brys just left and they were sick of it and a guy with a notebook was the last thing they wanted to deal with.

But the point of writing a blog is to give an honest assessment, and in that spirit, the staff here was great and any bad voodoo sent their way is hereby ceased.

This tasting room lets you try six wines for free. The notes:

2006 Manigold Gewurztraminer - Nice spice and acid with peachy notes dominating.

2006 Pinot Noir - Cherry, funk, and earth with a mediumish body - sorta like a slightly lighter bodied California Pinot Noir. Well played, if that's your style.

2005 Cab Franc - Quite a bit of an acidic punch, so much so that I'd say this one begs for food, black cherry is the dominant force along with some strawberry and spice - perfect for Italian faire.

2006 Merlot - On first sip, there's not much going on but it develops on the mid palate with some interesting cherry, stone fruit, and minty notes. Nicely done.

2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve - Big charcoal notes on the nose. Chocolate, cherry, with a nice punch of acid, some anise, and even a brandy like thing going on. Nice!

Melange - A slight alcohol burn with vaguely grapey notes, but then BAM - a burst of cherry explodes on the finish with a dash of cinnamon. Very nice.

There you have it. Peninsula Cellars makes some damn fine reds and if service is a priority, they nailed it, so good on you PC in the TC.

Next time - and there will be a next time I reckon - I'll give their whites a spin.

Brys Estate - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Brys Estate website can be found here.

Brys lets you try six wines for five bones and with that you get a coupon for $3 off a bottle, some oyster crackers, and a square of a "reduced fat cheese product."

The notes:

2008 Pinot Grigio - Apples and pears on the palate, little nose.

2008 Pinot Blanc - Dryer and simpler than the PG with no nose.

2007 Pinot Noir Rose - A decent, typical rose with some funky woody/earthy notes - so right on.

2008 Gewurz - Dry and fruity with stone fruit notes.

2007 Dry Riesling - Not what I'd call dry, miscellaneous stone fruit and decent acid.

2007 Off Dry Riesling - Pink apple dominate this rather flabby wine.

2006 Signature Red - A soft and light bodied offering which I took few notes on.

2006 Merlot - Very light in body, soft, cherry, light tannins, I'd almost guess this was a Pinot Noir.

2007 Riesling/Pinot Gris - Sweet and gulpable but another flabby one.

2008 Pinot Noir/Riesling - Not unlike a damn good White Zin - in fact, if White Zin was like this I don't think it would have such a bad reputation.

2007 Later Harvest Riesling - Perhaps the best this place has, nice balance of sugar and acid.

The problem with situations like this - especially as someone who works in the service industry - is crappy customers can ruin my good time, because I know the pain of dealing with jerks. We were surrounded by pompous fools who harshed our mellows. This is no fault of the winery, but we worked this room more quickly than we normally would to get away.

One guy even kept bashing their wine saying "oh, (that other) winery up the road makes this wine far better."

(The worst part is I agreed with two of his assessments, but I'd never say something like that, because it's ultimately irrelevant - no matter what wine you drink, someone probably makes a better one, but really now, who does that? Talk your shit on the Internet, dude.)

That being said, nothing jumped out at us, but as you can see - nothing was "bad" either. Different strokes for different folks.

Two Lads Winery - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Two Lads is the northern most winery on the Old Mission Peninsula.

The tasting room deal changes, but for now the first sample is free and then for eight bones you get three more pours and a small food plate with some smoked gouda and two baked goods from Morsels - a cheddar/olive savory morsel, and a sweet chocolate/black pepper. When the new reds are released, this will change a bit.

When we got home from our first Traverse City visit, Two Lads was easily our favorite in the area, after our second visit to the area, even after finding some other good places, I gotta say it still us.

This time around we met the owners and got a tour which was very informative. We don't often do tours - in fact, it's been a few years since we've done one because they're frequently uninteresting or led by people who only know a script. When talking to the winemakers directly, so much information is available that it's at times overwhelming.

If either Chris or Cornel are working the tasting room, it's very much in your interests to chat them up.

The winery itself is somewhat different than many in Traverse City - it's modern, it's sleek, and it's dare I say, serious, all while totally lacking pretension. It can be an intimidating place to the new wine drinker perhaps, but it also can be the most informative if you allow it to be.

More wines are forthcoming from the Two Lads, including a sparkler, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cab Franc Reserve. We were able to try the last three in progress and all were excellent.

No wine notes from the tasting room, but here's write ups of the Rose, Riesling, and Cab Franc (a revisit is coming soon on the Cab Franc, we've had two bottles since and both were noticeably better).

There you have it - our warmest recommendation overall in terms of wine, tasting menu, and venue. The sort of place to get excited about - well worth your time.

Chateau Grand Traverse – Traverse City 7/1/09

Check out their site here.

(Please note: I am really bad at taking photos, and I distinctly recall thinking: "meh, there are photos on the blog already" - guess what, there aren't of this place. Their site has some though).

This was the first place we hit up in Traverse City because we had time to kill and because - and I apologize for the slightly backhanded praise - but they sell this incredible mustard:

They don't make it, but they sell it, and man, is it worth it - seriously. I have never felt even an inkling of what I'd describe as "passion" for a condiment before, but this mustard is...well, if you smear it on a penguin, I'm taking a bite out of him, even if he's frozen through and through. Put it on a crocodile along the river Nile, I'll tell you I will take a bite and then I'll surely smile.

I digress.

CGT lets you taste six wines for free and the winery seems to lean heavily on whites - their site features eight Rieslings. Here's the notes:

2007 Ship of Fools - fairly dry, apricot notes with orange or maybe grapefruit zest, all with a nice hint of spice.

2008 Pinot Grigio Festival Time - Cantaloupe/melon nose. A typical PG, fruity, balanced, with miscellaneous Italian melon notes dominating.

2007 Gamay Noir Limited - I nearly flipped over how much I dug the 2006, so I was dismayed to find that I found this to be a less than stellar offerng, mostly dominated by cherry and strawberry with enough of the dreaded banana coming through to really bum me out. Not terrible, but not up to expectations.

2006 Pinot Noir - Candied cherry on the nose with cherry and cola coming through on the palate - light in body and an easy drinking wine to be sure.

2006 Gamay Reserve - Black pepper, cherry, cola, sassafras - many of the qualities I loved about the regular 2006 Gamay - I guess I just prefer this vintage. Full bottle review will be coming eventually.

2006 Edelzwicker - A sweeter white - honey dew nose, with a nice balance of fruit - pear, peach, apple - and a touch of spice.

So there you have it - go for the mustard, stay for the wine.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lake Michigan Circle Tour 7/1 - 7/4/09

We just got in from the Lake Michigan Circle Tour and, boy, are my arms tired.

(I'm being told that joke doesn't work in this context.)

Anyway, Fran and I decided a fun little trip would be to do the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, stopping occasionally to take in the scenery and hit up some wineries along the way along with some goofy spots which we haven't visited before.

I guess I expected most of the roads to be like driving on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, but the only stretch of road really like that was up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Most of the time we may have been close to the lake, but there was no view. Fine by me - many stretches were in forested areas with hills which is a big enough change to be interesting - but if you want all lakefront driving, you may find it disappointing.

The 1000 mile or so trip does take roughly 20 hours, so audiobooks are a must - our play list included: The Bro Code by Barney Stinson (annoying), Why We Suck by Denis Leary (the best read audiobook ever - it sounded like Leary was just ranting off the top of his head), Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (fantastic), a few Ricky Gervais Guides to Life (dangerously funny to listen to while driving), plus an unsuccessful attempt to get through God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens (you thought I mumble? Listen to this guy).

Anyway -

We visited thirteen wineries on the trip, three of which were revisits from our last visit. I'll be putting my notes up slowly but surely over the coming days.

When visiting wineries, we tend to be our typical socially awkward selves - I take notes, but no mention of this blog is mentioned (unless noted).

I don't mention the blog for two main reasons:

1) I don't want special treatment - especially on a first visit. I'd hate to be treated very well by someone who tends to be a total prick because they're afraid of bad press.

2) I'm too emotionally fragile to risk hearing things like: "Oh, you write that crappy blog?" or "Oh, you think you're so big, Mr. Blogger, well get the hell out of my winery, you prick!" Seriously - I fear such things. I have getaway music cued on my car stereo just in case such an incident occurs.

The notes I take are scribbled in a book using a shorthand and writing style only legible to me. I remember feeling guilty when I jotted down "flabby" about a wine and the person working clearly saw (no doubt thinking "look who's talking") so I've created a shorthand that works well.

Many of these tastings are based on a shot glass worth of wine and frequently served in terrible stemware - so of course the notes aren't perfect, but based on the circumstances, I think we do alright.

This was our second trip to Traverse City, and I'm betting that this will be an annual pilgrimage for us. It's true there is a disproportionate number of lame, sweet Rieslings (with exceptions mind you) and there's also an odd push of cherry wine. That being said, there is little that is outright bad, and many places are pretty damn solid.

I do find it interesting that the newer places all seem to be operating at a higher level than the old standbys - will TC, as a whole, win over the wine snob today? I'm not sure....but many of the new guys (2 Lads, Circa, and 45 North) are kicking some serious ass.

Dobber's Pasties - Escanaba, MI - 7/4/09 through the Upper Peninsula and you'll see tons of signs that look a little something like this:

We tried a couple different places, but Dobbers was the best by far, located in Escanaba, MI.

A pasty is basically a savory turnover - you frequently see them in beef, chicken, or vegetable (the vegetable seem to have chicken broth, so they are probably not vegetarian friendly). Basically you get diced potatoes, meat, maybe some carrots - it's hearty, perfect for a cold winter night, but as you may guess it's not exactly subtle, delicate faire. Most places offer ketchup, though I did see some steak sauce at one place which I think would work nicely.

Morsels - Traverse City, MI - 7/3/09

Here's their site - located right downtown in Traverse City.

They look like schmancified Hostess Mini Muffins, but brother, they ain't Hostess Mini Muffins.

Among others, featured here are: Tall on Taste (raspberry shortbread), Redhead (carrot cake), Devil's in the Details (devil's food cake with chocolate cream), Something to Wine About (flourless chocolate cake), Brownie Excite-Mint (chocolate/mint - my personal favorite).

A dozen go for around nine bucks and though they are small, they're dense (yet, paradoxically light) enough that you'll probably be set, for a while at least, with four or five. Let's pretend you have a seven hour drive in front of you, you'll probably want to stock up on a few dozen. We didn't. We should've.

This is yet another place we stumbled upon on our first visit and knew we had to return. These two bite pastries pack a lot of punch.

The Cook's House - Traverse City, MI - 7/2/09

The site for this tiny restaurant can be found here. They might take walk-ins, but I think I counted 18 seats - don't risk it, get a reservation.

Hypothetically, I would've brought an L. Mawby Blanc de Noir and a Two Lads Cab Franc to go with this tasting menu. Hypothetically, if I did, they would've gone great. Hypothetically.

You can pick from appetizers/entrees like a typical restaurant or you can do a five course tasting menu for $45 or a seven course tasting menu for $55.

I am a fan of the tasting menu. I think the tasting menu is the best way to eat - if a restaurant has one, I do it. If I can't afford it, I wait until I can. It is the way to go.

I've done many tasting menus in Chicago plus a couple in other Midwest cities and this is the cheapest - $55 - for what was served. In terms of the dollar/deliciousness ratio, this one wins.

I admit, I like my molecular gastronomy and I like my foams which this has neither of. This is classic preparations with high quality ingredients. To compare to Chicago establishments, The Cook's House can most closely be compared to the food of Charlie Trotter's with the atmosphere of Schwa - only the chef's don't seem to hate you and getting a reservation is easy.

Our seat was right against a cooler which divided the kitchen from the dining room - the back and front panels were glass so we got to watch the chef work, but didn't get a chance to chat.

Seven we go

White Bean and Red Wine Soup (not pictured)
Unless you have a really goofy looking bowl or you do some creative garnish, soup can't be plated interestingly, so I didn't take a photo...I should've, but I hadn't planned on taking photos until course #2. This was one of those soups where it seemed there couldn't be more than a handful of ingredients but they were clearly better quality than most places and prepared perfectly.

Risotto with Racelette Cheese, Fennel and Reduced Sherry Wine

I admit, I don't care much for risottos, but this one worked nicely. Subtlety abound - the only risotto I ever went nuts over was explosive, so this is probably a more traditional preparation. Fran dug it a lot.

Sautéed Gnocchi with Asparagus, Warm Arugula, and Wild Shiitake Mushrooms

I've never had gnocchi like this. Light, soft little pillows - I've had good gnocchi and perhaps I've had gnocchi I liked more than this, but this really took the pillowy airy softness to a new level.

Rabbit Braised in Late Harvest Wine, Dried Plums, and Sauerkraut

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. When rabbit is on a menu, one of us orders it, among the best preparations we've had.

Salad of argula, rose petals, walnuts

I love rose water and rose essence in Indian desserts and that sorta thing, but I've never actually had rose petals - they did not disappoint. This was, I suppose, more of a palate cleanser than anything else, but it was tasty.

Cheese plate (not pictured)
I don't know why I didn't take a picture of this...weird. Four cheeses with a honeycomb and some fruit. If memory serves there was a cheddar, a brie, a chevre, and I don't know - I dig cheese, but my knowledge is limited.

Strawberry Shortbread

Just how it looks. Nice presentation, good ingredients - a dessert that could go horribly wrong if they used crappy products, but it all worked out.

We haven't eaten everywhere in Traverse City, but we've been to a good chunk of the "nice" places - this was easily the best meal we've had. At $55 a head, it was also the best bargain. As much as I like Stella or think some other places have potential, if you're going to TC and you want a special meal, look no further.

Don's Drive In - Traverse City, MI - 7/2/09

It seems silly to take photos of a burger, but hey - this is a wine and food blog. No website for this place, but here's the address: 2030 N US Highway 31 N, Traverse City, MI 49686

The burger was alright....I mean, it's better than any fast food, but it basically just struck me a diner burger.

The cherry shake, on the other hand, is the reason I took photos:

I suppose anything related to cherries (except wine, no offense folks) in this area is going to be solid, but I was a big fan of this shake.

This is an indoor sit down place and they offer car service as well. I will never understand the allure of car service, but maybe if I drove a 65 Chevy (primered flames I'd trade it for powdered goods).

We arrived at 11 am and were the first ones in, by the time we left about twenty minutes later there was a line - crazy. For a cheap meal of the burger persuasion, this certainly works.

Trattoria Stella - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Check out Stella's website here - if you want to eat here, I'm gonna recommend calling ahead and getting a reservation.

We had planned on dining elsewhere, but we had little choice after I found myself tearing off my shirt yelling STELLA!!!!!

Here's a seafood special appetizer feature mussels, clams, and shrimp in a tomato cream sauce.

So, look, I like Stella...but I don't care much for seafood. I try to get it as an appetizer from time to time to try things out, but I learned an important lesson from this dish - I hate mussels.

The schmancy pulled pork sandwiches were the opposite of undelicious.

Fran's beef tenderloin rocked the house.

My veal kicked my face in, but honestly the pasta did little for me.

Stella is definitely one our favorite spots in Traverse City. It's not cheap - four courses without drinks or tip hit $91, but I'd say it's worth it, and easily on par with some of the three star Italian places in Chicago.

Bad Dog Deli - Traverse City, MI - 7/1/09

Check 'em out at here. The Bad Dog Deli is located out on route 37 on the road to many wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula.

How can one get excited about a sandwich, you ask? How can a deli be among the first places in the area about which I said "we need to go back there"?

It's quite simple.

Sourdough, roast beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, green pepper, cole slaw, cream mustard, horseradish.

Just thinking about this - a simple sandwich but with good quality ingredients - is making me hungry.

Big Boy - South Haven, MI - 7/1/09

Yep, a chain, but one we don't have in Illinois. The dirt can be found here.

I hate eggs. Can't stand them. If eggs are an ingredient for binding, but not flavor, I'm fine, but even a slight taste of eggs makes me want to vomit. Big Boy is, as far as I know, the only restaurant that has a savory breakfast that's not egg based - the stuffed potato pancake. I would open a Big Boy in this area if I had the business sense, just so I could get one of these without having to drive two hours.

Anyway, here we are - the stuffed potato pancake with chopped onions and filled with sausage and bacon. Groingrabbingly good.

Friday, July 03, 2009

2006 Histoire Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon

The guy at the shop described this one as being awesome. We'll see. The pricetag is around eleven big ones.

A bit of candy apple with a bit of mint on the nose.

An interesting combo here - candy apple and mint show themselves as do clove, cigar, bright red strawberry - almost in a Twizzler kind of way - all with some green olive.

On the second night we consumed this bottle, the nose disappeared and the fruit on the palate blew off, but what's left are some very nice cigar, cedar, and spice notes.

A slightly mentholly finish with a vaguely bacon-like thing going on back on the finish.

There's nothing to bip about here at all. For the price, this is well worth a shot especially for those perhaps used to fruitier Cabs who want to expand a bit. While I wouldn't call it awesome, it's a reasonable bottle and worth snagging.

Wine: 7
Value: Yep