Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Two Lads Winery

The modernistic tasting room at Two Lads Winery is on a striking site among the vineyards near the top of the peninsula. I chose the White Tasting Flight and was impressed with the wines.

2012 Rose of Cabernet Franc ($19): This wine reminds of the rose wines from Tavel and other areas of the Southern Rhone--not too sweet and with some interesting spice and leather aromas and flavors.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($17): A very flamboyant Pinot Grigio with lots of flavor interest. Yes, I do smell the "cantaloupe, lychee fruit, and soft magnolia blossoms" described on the tasting sheet. And I like the wine, although, if I tasted this blind, I would think it was Gewurztraminer rather than Pinot Grigio.

2012 Chardonnay ($24): This is a unique style of Chardonnay, aged six months in neutral 630-gallon tanks. Has the ripe pear, apple and pineapple traits of unoaked Chardonnay but with lush body and complexity of an oaked version. Buttery, silky texture. I like this wine.

2012 Riesling ($16): Another flamboyant Gewurztraminer look-alike. Papaya, pineapple, spices. I can't find even a hint of the petroleum/slate traits that are more typical of Riesling.

2012 Fouch Vineyards Riesling ($20): Now we're talking Riesling. And damn fine Riesling it is. Delicate, fine-boned, floral. Well defined aromas and flavors.\

2011 Fouch Vineyards Riesling ($20): I like this one even better, perhaps because it has matured for an extra year (although, as the server reminds me, there were certainly differences in the growing seasons). A bit fuller and more complex than the 2012. I'd like to come back to both of these wines in another year.

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Brys Estates

I was taken aback when the server told me that Brys Estates is focused on making high quality red wines. I later read that the owner has chosen red wine as a preferred marketing niche. I have always believed that Michigan, and particularly northern Michigan, is best suited for white wines. And the tasting today did not budge me from that notion.

2012 Pinot Blanc ($24): Ripe pear and apple with a hint of citrus on the finish. This is an enjoyable Pinot Blanc, richer and maybe a bit sweeter than the Pinot Blancs at Peninsula Cellars and Chateau Chantal.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($22): Another Italian-style Pinot Grigio, although a bit pricier than most. Lemon, lime, green herbs. Slightly tonic. Very refreshing for summer drinking.

2011 Pinot Noir ($30): Dark cherry, pepper and smokey oak. An attractive Pinot but a bit sweetish on the finish for my taste.

2011 Cabernet Franc/Merlot ($22): On my first sniff, I got a hint of green bell pepper leaning toward Jalapeno. I'm a bit sensitive to those traits but know many enthusiasts who find them quite attractive. Otherwise, the wine has good fruit-forward smells and flavors. And a good bit of oak.

2011 Merlot ($40): I tend to attribute green bell pepper notes to Merlot, not my favorite wine grape. Unlike the wine above, however, this wine has clear focus on the red rather than green qualities of the grape. Rich dark cherry smells and flavors. Full bodied and, again, a good bit of oak.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Peninsula Cellars

This is by no means a new winery, but somehow Peninsula Cellars wines have passed me by. Glad I stopped by the tasting room; there are some good wines here, worth trying and buying.

2012 Pinot Blanc ($17.99): Of all the Pinot Blancs I tasted today, this is probably my favorite. Clean lines, good acidity, pear and citrus flavors.

2012 Manigold Gewurztraminer ($19.99): Very dry for a Gewurztraminer and without the hallmark barbershop qualities but very appealing. Full bodied, floral, spicy, very strong grapefruit qualities.

2011 Cabernet Franc: Very oaky--coffee and chocolate. Cherry/berry flavors. Lush and fairly full bodied for a Cab Franc. Not for lovers of Loire Valley Cab Franc but has some appeal.

Wine Tasting on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula: Chateau Grand Traverse

On a visit to Traverse City this week, I had a chance to do some wine tasting on Old Mission Peninsula, a sliver of land that juts into Grand Traverse Bay. It is arguably the best wine appellation in Michigan, ranking slightly ahead of the nearby Leelanau Peninsula. Chateau Grand Traverse was the first winery on Old Mission, and, in my view, it still offers the best wines at the best prices.

2012 Laika Gruner Veltliner ($17): I'm a real fan of Austrian Gruner and very pleased to see the grape introduced to Michigan. The wine is light and crisp with some of the verve of Austrian Gruve. It is a bit disappointing, though, since it doesn't have the range of fruit and herb flavors I expected. Maybe these will come as the vines mature.

2012 Ship of Fools ($15): A blend of Pinot Blanc (70%), Pinot Gris (25%) and Pinot Noir (5%), this is one of my favorites from this estate. It's a powerful, concentrated wine with a good range of aromas and flavors. The cuvee varies with the vintage, and 2012 seems drier than the 2010 I tried here a couple of years ago.

2012 Pinot Grigio ($11): Lots of bright fruit and mineral qualities in this wine. A hint of green herbs on the noise and zesty floral citrus flavors. In the style of Italian Pinot Grigios such as MezzaCorona--which suits me just fine.

2012 Whole Cluster Riesling ($15): Wow! This wine is special. Rich, full mid-palate with a full range of Riesling aromas and flavors. While there is plenty of richness on the mid-palate, the wine has all the crisp, finely tuned qualities of a fine Riesling. The grape is well suited to these cool northern Michigan appellations, and Chateau Grand Traverse has always made very good Rieslings,  both sweet and dry. This Whole Cluster Riesling, though, is something else--ranking with the best Michigan wines I've tasted.

2011 Pinot Noir ($14): I've never been a fan of Michigan reds, but this Pinot is coming close. Medium to light color and body. Cherry/cranberry aromas with a firm, peppery mid-palate and a fruity finish.

More on other wineries later.

Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo, 2010

Any restaurant offering Langhe Nebbiolo as a wine by the glass has to rank high with me. And Restaurant Stella in Traverse City earns its high marks in many ways. Actually, at Stella you can order a number of high quality Italian wines by the glass, half liter or bottle. Donna and I ordered a half liter, about the equivalent of two glasses each for $30.

Deep, bright crimson. Has all the aromas you expect from a young Nebbiolo--dark cherries, licorice and a hint of roses. Very dry on the mid-palate--a common trait of many young Barolos and Barbarescos. Skin tannins are high but so are the bright fruit acids. Deep, concentrated flavors carry over into a long, fruit-oriented finish. My only complaint is that the wine was served about 5 to 10 degrees too warm for my taste.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Franco Serra Barbera d'Alba, 2010

I was surprised to find this Barbera d'Alba for $12, then $10, at Bud and Elsie's (formerly Bacchus) in Kalamazoo. Most Barbera d'Albas (and Barbera d'Astis) are upwards of $20. At the pricel, I thought this was at least worth a try, but tonight's tasting confirmed that it is worth much more than that. Wish I had bought a case.

Medium deep, saturated color. Vibrant aromas typical of Italian reds. Cherry, licorice--bright and lively but also with deep tannic structure from the peels. The dark licorice tones give it backbone but it's countered by plenty of ripe cherry. Lots of depth and interest right now. Dances on the palate.

SeaGlass Santa Barbara County Pinot Gris, 2011

This is definitely Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio style. It's the same grape, of course, but Pinot Gris wines from Alsace or the Pacific Northwest are usually much richer and less herbal. Deep gold color of Pinot Gris. Ripe pears and vanilla cream. Not as sweet as most Pinot Gris wines from Alsace. Good tannic grip for a white wine.

So far, I like the wines I have tried from SeaGlass. They are all very reasonably priced, but I suspect that is a move to gain market share in this part of the country.

Boskydel Leelanau Peninsula Vignoles, 2009

I'll be headed up to Leelanau soon. Should I bring back another case of Bernie Rink's Boskydel Vignoles? A case is only about $70, and the wine is very versatile, going well with almost any vegetable or pork dish. Ordinarily, Vignoles ages nicely, although this 2009 seems to have reached a plateau, maybe its peak.

Medium deep gold. Very lemony--maybe too much. I usually get both lemon and pineapple from Vignoles; this vintage seems a bit short on the pineapple. Rich on the palate, though--lemon butter. Has lost some of its freshness and zing, and I'm not sure it's replaced this with anything substantial. Time will tell. Bernie warned me that 2009 was not the best of vintages.

Cave St. Verny Le Pinot Noir, 2007

This is probably the least expensive Pinot Noir on the market, and it's a far cry from being the worst. It comes from a cooperative in the Cotes d'Auvergne in the center of France.

Medium garnet. Subtle red berries, cherries. Taut. Slight pepper on the mid-palate. Light bodied and subtle with a spicy finish with a hint of almonds. Is it subtle or stingy? Some would say the latter but I far prefer over any of the overly sweet, cinnamon tinged Pinots I've had from Monterey County. Over the course of the meal, the flavors start to open. Flowers and cranberries. I think the wine may get better over the next year or so.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Val de Sil Valdeorras Godello, 2008

There are many old vineyards of Godello in this area of northern Spain, but the wines were fading in popularity until interest was revived recently with the help of importer Erik Solomon. This is the first Godello I have tasted so I can't tell you how true it is to its traditions. But it is a special wine, better than the As Sortes I have tried and at least as good as the Sabrego I have reported on several times.

Medium to deep gold. Lovely floral, herbal, mineral bouquet. Hints of almonds and grains. Almost like a fine white Burgundy. With 13.5% alcohol, the wine is full bodied with flavors that are almost buttery in their concentration. I say that with hesitation because this wine has no resemblance whatsoever to the "big, buttery" New World Chardonnays that were once popular and still have their advocates. More like a Puligny-Montrachet or Mersault. Great depth of flavor.Clings to the palate and dances. Undoubtedly at its peak right now. Drink and enjoy.

Domaine Sainte-Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 2004

2004 is becoming one of my favorite vintages for Sainte-Anne. The 1998s and 2000s are a bit too ripe for my taste and the 1999 lacks the fruit power that 2004 is showing right now.

Beautiful deep crimson color. Subtle scents of wild berries and flowers. Grenache raspberry with firm, spicy Mourvedre giving it backbone. There is still some tannin on the mid-palate but I don't think it's shutting out any fruit flavors. A beauty to drink right now. Has the elegance and charm of a good Pinot Noir and matches up well with salmon or rainbow trout.

Domaine Loew Cormier Tokay Pinot Gris, 2004

This wine is fully mature now and a good example of Alsace Pinot Gris. Alsace wines have become a tad sweet in recent years--too sweet for my wife's tastes. I'm reluctant to open a bottle, but when I do, I always enjoy what I find.

Full gold color. Rich, honeyed Pinot Gris scents. Ripe apples, butterscotch. Unctuous on palate. Goes well with roast pork or bratwurst sausages.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Domaine de la Motte Coteaux du Layon Rochefort, 1969

For a wine that's been in the bottle for 40-some years, this is amazing. It's billed as demi-sec on the label, but it has enough botrytis and sweetness to make it an extremely enjoyable dessert wine.

Medium gold. Unbelievably youthful appearance considering its age. Some immediately tanky smells are apparent from the first sniff--probably stale sulfur dioxide. Undoubtedly, the same SO2 that has helped it maintain that youthful appearance. These blow away rather quickly though or at least blend in nicely with deep scents of almonds, apricots, coconut, peach pits and honey. Very, very concentrated on palate with  flavors that just keep bringing out nuance after nuance. The more I drink, the more impressed I become. A real treat.

After being opened and re-corked, the wine holds up beautifully over nearly a week. In fact, it seems to get better every night. The off notes are definitely gone, and the sparkling intricacies of mature Chenin Blanc keep emerging in brief, exciting glimpses. A great wine.

Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf du Pape, 1995

Grand Tinel now makes a semi-modern style Chateauneuf under the guidance of well regarded wine consultant Phillippe Cambie. And the best grapes of the estate, from the oldest vineyards, now go into a prestige bottling, Alexis Establit, that always gets very high ratings from the Wine Advocate.

Back in 1995, though, Grand Tinel made only one bottling from all of its vineyards, and the wine was still a bit less expensive than most of its peers and rarely got 90 plus scores from Parker. As a result, it was often overlooked, and some reviews from consumers I found online were negative. Some people simply can't believe that a $25 wine can be better than one selling for three or four times that much. Tasted alongside the Raymond Usseglio, however, this wine performed quite nicely. Guests at the table were split evenly as to which wine is more enjoyable at this stage.

Slightly lighter color than Usseglio. Probably more Grenache in the blend. Also notably less intense in aromas and flavors. Dried rather than fresh fruits, sweetish rather than savory tones. Both wines have 14% alcohol content, but the Grand Tinel shows as a bit warmer but it's also more powerful. Eventually, this power becomes quite exciting. Excellent accompaniment to roast lamb. I'm glad I have a few more bottles of this to enjoy over the next six to eight years.

Domaine Raymond Usseglio Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Girard, 1998

Hachette's Guide to French Wines (2002) consider this one of the top Chateauneufs of the 1998 vintage, and that was the major reason I bought a few bottles. A decade and a bit later, I am not disappointed.

The bouquet is intense and deep--everything I expect from a traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape. Spice, cherries, garrigue and black pepper. A little bit of barnyard funk, but it's the funk that I love in old-style Chateauneuf du Pape. Smells and flavors are high toned and intense. Heady and full bodied with savory well defined fruit on the finish.