Wine Reviews: Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-23-2018

This week, I’m digging into some wines from Michigan. The state has lots of vineyards, most of which are planted to juice grapes like Concord and Niagara. But, wine grape acreage has been increasing and now tops 3,000 acres, putting it in the top 10 states. Some 50 different wine grape varieties are grown here, with Riesling the main one, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.

Most of Michigan’s grapes are grown close to Lake Michigan, like these ones from the Old Mission Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA). The lake affects the winegrowing by extending the growing season, and it moderates the climate in the coldest months, which can protect against frost. The Old Mission Peninsula juts out from Traverse City, and its rolling hills are surrounded on both sides by the East and West Traverse Bays of Lake Michigan.

The nine wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula account for nearly 30% of the state’s wine grapes (and each winery is represented in this report).

Xx1GUlVfTJuW5zxMVpywFQI’ve tasted a decent amount of Michigan wines in the past, but this lot was the most impressive I’ve come across yet. The white wines have a brisk, vibrant, aspect to them. Just smelling a few of these wines made me salivate. I’m glad this lot focused less on reds. I love Loire Valley reds even in wet vintages, for example, but I’ve felt some Michigan reds can struggle with body and depth.

That said, I am stoked about the Michigan Gamay in this report. I kept revisiting it because it fascinated me, as a Beaujolais devotee and fan of Gamay from other regions. I was also excited to learn that, according to Michigan Wines, Gamay Noir acreage jumped from almost nothing in 2014, to 29 acres in 2016. I can only hope to find more Michigan Gamay of this quality.

You may be skeptical (and for good reason), and surely there are some uninspired wines from Michigan. But there are some seriously good wines out here. I would drink the Bowers Chardonnay in this report over pretty much any California Chardonnay at a $16 price point, for example. And, seriously, the Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling may be my favorite Riesling in America for its price. And even though this is a small sample size, I’m excited to follow how the rest of American opens up to Michigan’s wine culture.

The wines below were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Year-End Round-Up

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-22-2018

Happy holidays, wine-lovers! I sure hope your holidays are filled with friends, family, fun, and plenty of good wine. As the year wraps up, I have a bunch of wines that didn’t fit neatly into a particular category, so I wanted to include them in my final grab bag report of 2018. And this one has some goodies.

Starting with Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet: Their vineyards, in the Andes foothills appellation of Tupungato, sit in gravelly, sandy soils at about 4,000 feet in elevation. The wines have lots of juicy fruit but the freshness is really attractive, and the balance and depth for their prices is quite impressive.

Ferraton Père & Fils deliver yet again with a pair of sub-$20 Rhone blends, a white and a red, which offer up a lot of class and style in this price point. At $30, M. Chapoutier’s new vintage of the Occultum Lapidem red blend is insanely good, deep, and cellar-worthy.

Italy’s Abruzzi region has a few value-friendly wines in this report, as well as an Amarone that would pair perfectly with a snowstorm and a campfire. Portugal’s Douro provides a few tasty red blends in this report, while I’ve included three American reds from Inconceivable. Lastly, Troon, from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, comes through again with an excellent pair of Tannat-based reds. They excel with all sorts of grapes and wines, and I loved these reds for their uniquely fresh, crunchy, lip-smacking appeal.

All of these wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Sparkling Wines for the Holidays

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-15-2018

So, the holiday season is in full swing, and, like every year, the bubbles abound.

I drink Champagne (and, to a lesser extent, Champagne-method bubbles from other regions) year-round, but the average occurrence of bubbly-popping definitely spikes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

In this report, Champagne gets its due, with some wines from the houses of Bruno Paillard and Laurent Perrier. Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma bubbly powerhouse, offers up three budget-friendly offerings, and a Santa Barbara sparkler from Lucas & Lewellen impresses. Lastly, a few sparklers from Alsace deliver — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favorite sources of inexpensive but delicious sparkling wines, and this duo is a great example.

All of the wines in this report were received as samples and tasted sighted. Happy holidays to you all, and I hope the last few days of your 2018 include some lovely Champagne-method wines. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reivews: New Releases from California

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-08-2018

We’re headed back to California this week for another batch of new releases.

I’ve reviewed the wines of Jed Steele several times in the past, and they continue to offer tons of value for the money. Although the winery sources grapes from other regions, all of the wines in this report hail from Lake County. With more than 50 vintages under his belt, these are tried and true California wines that deliver gobs of goodness, and most of them cost $20 or less.

I also reviewed two wines from Windvane, the new Ramey Claret, and the new release of Cardinale, the latter of which (while expensive), is something to behold.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Albariño from Rias Baixas

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 12-01-2018

I love Albariño, and there’s no better place to find the good ones than the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, Spain.

This winegrowing region, located across the Miño River from Portugal, produces 99% white wine, and Albariño makes up about 96% of all grape varieties planted there. So, it’s safe to say, producers here know what they’re doing with the grape.

Rias Baixas wines get lots of cooling, coastal influences from the Atlantic Ocean, and the region is also known for its series of jagged inlets, like shallow fjords, called rias. (The region’s name means “lower rias.”) The region is divided into five subzones (Val do Salnés, Ribeira do Ulla, Condado de Tea, O Rosal, and Soutomaior) typified by their topography and proximity to the ocean or rivers. The soils here boast lots of granite and schist, and the rivers add in alluvial elements.

All of this results in wines that are bright, vibrant, floral, salty, crisp and full of minerals. Plenty of fruit for sure, but I love the complexity of non-fruit elements in Albariño, and its lively, food-friendly appeal. It’s cold and windy on the East Coast as I write this, but crisp white wines are always welcome on my table, regardless of season.

I’ve covered this region before, but I recently tasted a few Albariño wines from Rias Baixas, and found a lot of quality for the price points. I received these wines as trade samples and tasted them single-blind (except for the sole sparkling one). Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Australia

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-24-2018

When I first started getting into wine, I fell hard for Australian stuff. Inexpensive, fun, reliable, yummy, it allowed me to explore different regions and grapes without a lot of effort or money. While my wine purchases have moved away from Australia over the years, I never outgrew my love for Australian wine.

And that’s thanks to producers like Wakefield, and many others, make wines that are much more than just fruit and alcohol. I’ve reviewed Wakefield wines before (check them out here and here), and this crop of new releases reinforces my respect for this producer.

The Taylor family kicked off their winery in 1969, after purchasing a 430-acre vineyard near the Wakefield River in the Clare Valley region. These wines are known as Taylor’s in Australia but, due to trademark restrictions, they’re labeled as Wakefield in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Clare Valley wines all come from the Taylor family estate, where vineyards at more than 1,100 feet above sea level vineyards get plenty of sun but receive the benefit if large diurnal temperature swings. The St. Andrews wines come from the estate fruit grown in their terra rossa soil, while the Jaraman wines are blended with fruit from other sites. For this report I also tasted two vintages apiece of Wakefield’s flagship Cabernet, the Visionary, and Shiraz, the Pioneer. They’re expensive, but so, so good.

I’ve also included four other Australian wines, from Jansz, Tyrell’s, Torbreck and Chambers.

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: International Grab Bag

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-17-2018

This week’s report covers wines from all over the globe, including Chile, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The new vintage of Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor (the 2015), is a real stunner, while the Chilean producer Odfjell offers less expensive but exciting wines.

I cover a few wines from the Abruzzo region of Italy, along with the perennially value-driven wines from M. Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut brand. Yarden offers up a delicious Champagne method bubbly from Israel, while the Spanish region of Navarra (keeping with tradition) comes through with some solid buys.

These wines were all received as samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California New Releases

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-10-2018

It’s time for another roundup of California new releases, and this one has some beauties.

I found two exciting wines from Paso Robles, from producers doing things a bit differently. Frank Family comes out with some impressive reds. Napa stalwarts Robert Mondavi and Shafer have some exceptional new releases in this report. And The Merlots from Napa’s Chris Carpenter are also something to behold.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Troon Vineyard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-04-2018

I’ve been tasting the wines of Oregon’s Troon Vineyard for a few years now, and their new releases continue this winery’s tradition of excellence.

All Troon wines come from estate grapes in the cool Applegate Valley appellation of Southern Oregon. The winery sits at 1,400 feet above sea level, on a high bench above the Applegate River. Surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, the Applegate and Rogue Rivers allow cooling Pacific breezes to flow into the valley in the afternoons, which helps keep the diurnal temperature shifts high.

The Troon team has been transitioning to biodynamics, and the 2018 grapes were farmed organically and biodynamically. They expect their first Demeter certification with the next vintage. The wines are generally picked with brix measurements between 21 and 24, and the acidity really shines through in all of these wines. In the winery, all the wine are crushed by foot, fermentation is done with native yeasts, there’s no correcting for acids or sugars, and the wines don’t see any new oak.

Their range of releases is wide, from Skin-fermented Riesling, to Rhone whites, to Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Vermentino. In this new batch of Troon wines, I found, yet again, excellent wines at exceptional prices. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Champagne Lombard

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-03-2018

I had not tasted the wines of Champagne Lombard before, but after going through some of their wines recently, I am now a fan.

Stylistically, these Champagnes generally have a lower dosage (or none at all), and a dry, zesty, bracing appeal. The house makes about 15 different cuvees, and I only tasted six, and was especially wowed by the single-vineyard wines.

The house sources grapes from more than 100 hectares of vineyards. They get Chardonnay from Grand Crus Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Avize and Cramant, along with various Premier Cru villages, while the Pinot Noir is sourced largely from the east of the Montagne de Reims. The Grand Cru wines are aged at least 48-60 months before being disgorged, the Premier Cru a bit less.

The house can trace its roots back to Robert Andrieu (grandfather of the current owner), who founded the Société Anonyme de Magenta-Epernay in 1925. Phillipe Lombard took over in 1960 and expanded the winery and cellars in Epernay in 1987. The company is now run by Thierry Lombard.

The Premier Crus are really solid, and a great introduction to the house’s style, while the Grand Crus offer a whole lot of personality and depth. These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »