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Archive for the ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ Category

This weekend, four friends and I headed out to Michigan to participate in our first ever grape stomp competition. Dubbing ourselves the Grapeful Dead, we jumped into a huge barrel full of white grapes, we were given a time limit of 2 minutes to try squeeze out as much juice as possible. It was a warm, muggy day, and the barrel smelled ripe with the mash of grapes, skins, and baby poo-like pulp. But gamely, we lowered ourselves into the slippery mixture, and as the techno soundtrack that also worked as our starter gun sounded, we started piling and mashing the grapes against the filter screen in the front of the barrel. The three boys knelt in the front, Jonathan clearing the filter screen of stems and skins and Bruce and Chuck mashed the grapes with their fists. Jen and I were crouched in the back, shoveling whole bunches of grapes to them.

Our efforts? A pretty respectable 43 pounds. The team we were competing against raked in 47 pounds, and the top placing team had an astounding 83 pounds of juice, but we were placed pretty far ahead of the bottom teams of 14 pounds, and 20 plus and 30 plus pounds.

We were pretty doused in grape juice by the end, but it was a hilarious experience. Given that we weren’t intending to participate in the final the next day regardless of the outcome (because we’d signed up for a bike ride through the vineyards), we took a quick rinse and then went in search of food and free wine tastings.

I have to say, after having tried most of the vineyards in Michigan, few wineries impress me. Which is not to say all the wines I tasted were bad – there were some beautiful ones, like the 2 Cabernet Merlot blend I tried at Warner Vineyard, but even I felt weren’t really value for money at their price (that Warner blend cost $30). Most of the decent/normal dinner night/gulpable wines cost at least $20, and the barely drinkable wines cost around $10. For that money, I’d recommend plenty of delightful Chilean, Argentinean, Greek, and Spanish wines. The Michigan whites, were, on the most part, insipidly sweet, with little nose and finish, while the reds were frightfully tannic and bitter. Still, I can’t really complain, given that we spent a fun hour tasting over 20 different wines from both the Warner Vineyard and the St. Julian Vineyard.

We stayed at a coworker’s sister’s cute little cottage that evening, and early next morning, we headed out again to the vineyards, this time for a 20-mile bike ride. Thanks to a late frost in April, the harvesting season started early this year, and we could see the huge machines going up and down the rows of vines, shaking out whole bunches of grapes which are then gently transported via a mechanical belt into huge baskets. The air too, was heavy with the fragrant aroma of ripe grapes. Ah, to own and live in a vineyard!

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As the other Asian who did not venture on the Memorial Day Michigan wine trip, I felt obligated to go on my own outing and explore the wine region closest to the Windy City, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. The trip was a great break from the city. We managed to fit in all the wineries. So there is A LOT to review, hence the “Part I.”

We stayed at Benton Harbor (features much cheaper lodgings) and drove the 5 minutes into St. Joseph’s and toured the local wineries. We used the handy dandy wine trail map provided by the wineries

wine_trail_map.pdf
There was a lot to do and see, especially since this was a first visit for all of us. So I want to keep this short and informational. We went to almost all of the wineries in the region, and almost all of the tourist attractions in there area. First the WINE…Some general comments:

  1. Stick to the whites, the reds fall a little flat and can be a little too tannin. Rieslings abound, many of them are styled more in the California or French style, meaning less fruity, more mineral
  2. Do leave room to try the fruit wines and dessert wines if you have a sweet tooth
  3. ALL of the tastings were FREE

THE WINERIES IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE

Best: Round Barn, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill

Eh, So-So: Karma Vista, Lemon Creek, Warner

Pass: St. Julian, Contessa, Free Run, Hickory Creek

Round Barn Winery

By far the best experience we had. The winery is nestled in a scenic spot. The tastings are generous and we felt it a rare treat to find a place that makes wine, beer, and vodka.

Tasting: $8= 5 wines, 1 dessert, 1 vodka, 3 beers + Free Glass + Free Tastings at Free Run Cellars

ORGASMIC :o : DiVine Vodka ($34.99)- A unique grape vodka, this stuff is smooth, so very smooth, makes-babies-bottoms seem-like-sandpaper smooth
DAMN GOODS ;) : Gerwurstraminer ($15.99)-floral, honey, spice, complex
NOT BADS :) : Artesia Spumante ($14.99)- fruity, refreshing, sparkling…you could get worse with the price, but you could get better
Golden Ale-
refreshing light, hoppy
GHETTO HOOCH :( : Pale Ale, Amber Ale, most of the dry reds

Domaine Berrien Cellars

Although this has less of the fun and flair of vineyards like Round Barn, St. Julian, or Warner, the wines here are surprisingly good and very drinkable. There is a nice outdoor deck where you can enjoy your wine and they will fix you a nice picnic basket of local treats from their fridge case so you can have a little snack. Try the local buffalo and venison sausage. Laid back and unassuming, the standout thing about this place is its wine.
ORGASMIC :o : Cabernet Franc Ice Wine ($50.00)- A cool half a benji this ice wine is unique and flavorful. If you like madeira and sherry, you might find yourself forking over the cash for this tasty liquid. With hints of toasted almonds, walnut, caramel, and raisins, its a complex rich drink. I did not regret giving up my 5 bucks for a taste, but unfortunately felt that I could get a better madiera like experience with a true $50 madiera. Still it is neat to see such a rare type of ice wine.
DAMN GOODS ;) : Vignoles 2006 ($10.50)- A nice summer white, it has hints of pineapple, apple, and citrus. Its a great clean and fruity pour and well worth the price tag.
Marsanne 2006 ($14.50)- I preferred the Vignoles, but this is less sweet and has a lot of great complexity. Hints of spice and honey, this has good body and is very light and drinkable.
NOT BADS :) : Crown of Cabernet 2004($23)- has good body, fruit, hint of oak. Not sure if its worth the $ Viognier 2006 ($18.50)- viogniers are so great in general, complex, flowery, fruity, this one is okay, but again you can get better for the money
GHETTO HOOCH :( : Grandma’s Red

Tabor Hill

Probably one of the most successful wineries on the trail, Tabor Hill is definitely has the feel of a larger more professional winery. The restaurant features fine American dining. There are several tasting rooms in the area so where ever you go it is worth a stop to sample. 8 Free Tastings offered.

DAMN GOODS ;) : Angelo Spinazze’s Spumante ($13.45)- Good complexity, sweet, bubbly, fruity, and floral. Worth the price, especially if you are a fan of sweeter spumante or asti
Classic Demi-Sec ($8.45)- One of their most populat with good reason. A very good basic fruity wine, refreshing and crisp.

NOT BADS :) : Blanc de Blanc ($13.45)- Not as sweet or complex as the Spumante, but definitely in the same vein of style. It is more of a mellow, fruity sparkling white. Some may prefer it over the Spumante if they lean more towards salt than sweet.

TO BE CONTINUED!!!

 

 

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This Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to take a trip to the nearby Michigan wineries – and then on to the not-so-nearby Canadian wineries…

Early Saturday morning, a group of eight of us from the Dead Grapes Society (DGS) made the 1.5 hour drive to St. Joseph, Michigan, where a whole belt of wineries is located. Our first stop was Tabor Hills, where we sampled over five glasses of wines each. Aza, with his sweet tooth, bypassed all the reds and dove straight into the demi-sweet wines and ice wines. He and Amelia quickly found that they didn’t like the vineyard’s rendition of Gerwerstraminer, which had spicy overtones. While he waxed lyrical over the $78 bottle of icewine that the manager Bob kindly let him try (it was noted down on the tasting sheet as “unavailable”), Amelia was taken with a bottle of semi-sweet Riesling Bob called the “romance wine” – evidently, everyone he’d recommended the wine to subsequently gotten married or engaged. I liked the ice wine tasting – in my notes, I’d written: “HONEY SUCKLE, HONEY, in the nose, body and finish. Beautiful.” I found the other whites – a couple of blends, the Riesling, and a Chardonnay pleasant-tasting but simple. They were all on the sweeter end of the scale, but then, the sweeter ones tend to sell better. I was disappointed with the reds that I tried – a Merlot, and a Cabernet Franc. Both wines were weak, watery, and flat in the finish.

Since it was noon (eastern time) at this point, we headed over to Tabor Hill’s restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is set on top of a hill and the tall elegant french windows offer a beautiful view of the green vines below. I could see why the vineyard is a favorite with the locals; it’s a relaxing and pleasant way to spend the weekend. I had grilled white fish washed down with a glass of Blanc de Blanc. The steady stream of bubbles from the light and semi-sweet sparkling wine nicely complemented the creamy fish. Quite a delicious combination actually.

Next, we drove around the corner to Round Barns, where we were treated to a long tasting list: 5 wine samples, 3 pis and/or brandy samples, a sampling of their famous grape vodka, four tastings from their still-in-barrel-wines-that-are-only-to-be-bottled-this-July, and two samplings of their own-brewed beer. Bruce was in high heavens over the grape vodka, so much so he was tempted to purchase a bottle ($39.95) right then and there, even though the manager told us that due to Michigan tax laws (a cool $20 per bottle), it was actually cheaper to buy it in Sam’s in Chicago. I had a glass of Cabernet that had a strong “steamed towel” nose – odd I know, but everyone else agreed with my declaration. Again, I wasn’t impressed by the red wine offerings – a Cabernet Sauvignon limited edition, a Merlot limited edition. Steve sampled a Pinot Noveau, which wasn’t actually on the list. That was a much livelier wine, bright and fruity, perfect for a light meat meal. The apricot brandy took me by surprise – its scent, and even mouthfeel reminded me of apricot-flavored hookah, and left a lingering spicy aftertaste. The cranberry pi was interesting – sort of a cross between a madeira (toasted nose) and a port, with a generous serving of cranberries. I enjoyed the yet-unbottled Pinot Noir that is still sitting in the barrel, served by the youthful-looking winemaker who began learning the art at the tender age of 6. The wine was still young, tasted a little rough on the edges and sourish, but evidently the vineyard thought it warranted the $36 price tag – $10 off if you pre-purchased it now, and then picked it up once it’s bottled in July. I think, my favorite Pinot Noirs still hail from Oregon, but Jonathan liked it enough to buy a bottle.

<b>Tabor Hill</b>

Lake Michigan Shore Barrel Select Chardonnay, $22.95
“Our 2003 vintage is one of our best efforts with this grape. Aged 18 months in French and American oak, this Chardonnay displays well-developed varietal character, great balance and a toasted, buttery finish.” –> It tasted very alcoholic; sour punch.

Lake Michigan Shore Dry Traminette, $13.95
“Made in a dry style, this wine is very much like a traditional Alsatian Gewurztraminer. It has a very fruity, complex bouquet and finishes slightly spicy. It will pair well with most foods.” –> I got a whiff of honeysuckle in the nose; body felt watery but also alcoholic.

Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Franc 2004, $24.95
“The release of our 2004 vintage shows great varietal characteristics. this Cabernet has a luscious black cherry and berry nose with a soft pepper, chocolate and oak predominating the finish.” –> Smells: hay, farm, sweat; tuna mouthfeel, spicy; slightly bitter finish

Lake Michigan Share Merlot 2005, $31,95
“Our 2005 is one of the best in recent years. Deep color with a plum, dark chocolate and cherry nose. Big cherry, oak and tannin caress the palate with a smooth finish.”

Classic Demi-Sec, $9.45
“Our most consistent winner!!! Soft, slightly fruity and semi-dry… by far our most popular wine.”

Michigan Cherry, $10.45
“The closest thing to cherry pie in a bottle! Made from 100% Michigan Cherries, this wine is softly sweet with a spicy, yet tart finish.” –> Smells like a candy store; interesting nose, but REALLY not wine. Hooch??

Lake Michigan Shore Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2005, $78
“Intense, vibrant fruit flavors and aromas, blanaced with fine acidity, caress the palate leaving a lasting smooth finish.” –> HONEY, consistently thick throughout the nose, body, finish.

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Now, a word of disclaimer: we didn’t choose the wines to suit the cuisine – peppery pork rib soup, Malay beef curry, and stir fried chili vegetables.

Beringer Founder’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 $10 – Not bad

Fruit forward – strong blackberry nose. Light tannins. Mild wine, very sippable. Some websites described the wine as “boring”… but hey, in my book, wine’s never boring. Horrible maybe (the heavy kerosene-scented muscadet I tried in Ushuaia, Argentina comes to mind), but never boring. Granted, it may not be the most exciting of wine – I’d call it the girl next door. Very pleasant. :)

Brown Estate Zinfandel 2004 $40 – Damn good

Let me preface by saying that I’m not really a big fan of Zinfandels. But that could just be because the earliest Zinfandels I tried were cheap bottles pulled off shelves without much thought, other than the fact that they were cheap. Consequently, most of them had a really heavy metallic flavor that frankly just left a bad taste in my mouth. One trip to Napa, I tried a Zinfandel port, and that nasty metallic flavor shone through too. After that, I tried to steer clear away from the wines.

But then, at our New Year’s party last year, Mike brought a bottle of Zinfandel, which he claims is his favorite wine ever. I was skeptical of course, but gamely tasted some. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of that bottle, though, if I need to, Mike of course remembers. But it was a beautiful wine – fruit forward with bursts of berries, rich, and smooth.

This bottle of Brown Zin that Jon brought out for dinner reminded me of that one that Mike brought. Jon had purchased a whole case, following a tasting at the Tasting Room for my birthday this year (I’ve actually procured a bottle from him too, but intend to leave it in his wine fridge until after I move). If the cabernet we tried earlier was flat, this was exciting. The flavors of berries just danced in our mouths, and the light tannins allowed us to swirl the wine around without that dry puckering feel. It opened up more with time and became even smoother. Quite an elegant wine.

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