Gems in My Glass . . . August 2015

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Mid-America No Comments

Hybrid, native American, fruit wines and more at the 2015 Mid-American Wine Competition

The 2015 Mid-American Wine Competition in Des Moines, Iowa once again opened the eyes and minds of judges as to the merits of wines crafted from native American grapes, hybrid grapes and other fruits.  If you have not delved into wines of this ilk, it is high time you did!  And that’s not all; Gold medals were also awarded to wines produced in mid America from vinifera vines.  The competition is open to commercial wineries of Arkansas, Illinois,
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Those that spoke gratifyingly to my palate included:

Calico Skies Vineyard and Winery 2013 Geisenheim; American AVA, produced in Iowa:  This highly aromatic wine, crafted from the spunky white hybrid grape Geisenheim (a cross of Riesling and Chancellor), unveils a satisfying dose of sweetness.  Lovely floral scents lead to tangerine, apple and stone fruit laced with fresh squeezed Meyer lemon and a sprinkling of herbs elegantly caressing the palate.  A texturally smooth, smartly balanced wine.  SRP:  $16

Easley Winery 2014 Traminette; American AVA, produced in Indiana:   Traminette (a cross of Gewurztraminer and French American hybrid Joannes Seyve 23.416) can be gloriously expressive on the nose, like this one with honeysuckle and spice that mesmerize you before the wine graces your lips.  Guava, pineapple and orange zest entwine with spice components titillating the palate, and the wine continues to captivate through the lifted finish.  Bright, breezy and simply delectable.    SRP: ~$15

Soldier Creek Winery 2014 Brianna; Iowa:  Imagine collecting a basketful of fragrant flowers, setting out a tray of tasty bites and sipping wine in the backyard on a sun-speckled summer afternoon.  Refreshing and pure with loads of juicy tropical fruit at the core, this sweet Brianna (a cold climate hybrid grape) with a lively personality and delicate floral notes is a wise choice for your picture perfect afternoon; yummy.  SRP:  $20

Wollersheim Winery NV Prairie Blush; Wisconsin:  Reminiscent of a French dry rosé, this semi-dry blush crafted from 100% Marechal Foch grapes boasts a brilliant, electrifying rose-colored hue.   Flavors of strawberry pie, raspberry sorbet and hints of pink grapefruit fill the mouth.  Pure and refreshing with lively acidity; a lovely pairing for a relaxing Sunday brunch.  SRP:  $10

Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery NV Valvin Muscat; Kansas:  Holy-Field Winery has captured the essence of this fragrant grape. Showing off exotic aromas and flavors of a fresh floral bouquet, summer peaches and creamy Bartlett pears, it is mouthwateringly delicious.   Satin smooth with lively acidity and nicely sweet without being cloying, it makes for a divine summer sipper lazing out by the pool.  SRP:  ~$10

Ardon Creek Vineyard & Winery NV “Commission Man Red” Noiret; Iowa:  I often tout this spunky grape variety which has long been a favorite of mine, and here is a terrific, well-knit example.  Classic multi-colored peppercorn aromas tell you plenty up front.  That dramatic spice component and subtle oak nuances meld with fresh blackberries, plums and raspberries at the core, building on the palate to a wildly flavorful finale.  SRP:  $12.99

Apple Barn Orchard and Winery NV Strawberry Jewel; Wisconsin:  Summertime in a glass!  Engaging flavors of ripe, sweet strawberries (from their homegrown patch) with highlights of juicy tangerine and a squeeze of lemon juice refresh the palate.  Pair this gem with a fresh mixed fruit salad atop tender butter lettuce for a tasty mid-day treat. SRP:  $13.95

Oliver Winery and Vineyards NV “Soft Red”; Indiana:  This semi-sweet, juicy wine, made from the native American Concord grape, is well named.  It is lush, round, and soft on the palate with a bucket load of flavor.  Grapey and satisfying with pretty fruit at the core, it simply shines with purity and balance.   SRP:  $7.50

L. Mawby “Tradition” NV Cuvee Brut; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Yeasty aromas greet the nose and pave the way for a most enchanting Methode Champenoise sparkling wine produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.  Crisp Anjou pear, fresh lemon-lime and sautéed apples flecked with cinnamon dance with spirited acidity on the palate.  The impressive tiny bead of bubbles entertains the eye and the tongue through the persistent finish.  SRP: $21

Cedar Ridge Vineyards NV LaCrosse; Iowa:   Pretty floral notes peak your interest as this snappy LaCrosse (a light skinned hybrid grape) assuredly shows its stuff.  Flavors of creamy pears, green apple skin, a touch of herbs, nectarines and hints of vanilla taffy are ever so fresh in the mouth, and the balance is spot on.   SRP:  $13.99

Calico Skies Vineyard and Winery 2013 Frontenac; Iowa:  Here is a cool climate Frontenac that offers up black currant, black cherry and dried cranberries on the nose and through the spice driven, oak-nuanced palate.  Texturally round and lush mid palate, it displays an easy to quaff quality about it all the way through the final sip; very nicely made.  SRP:  $18.95

If your wine tasting portfolio hasn’t expanded beyond vinifera varieties (such as Cab, Chard, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling, among others), why not reach out and give hybrid, native American varieties and fruit wines a spin?  You’ll most likely be intrigued, expand your wine knowledge, and don’t be surprised if you find a few new favorites!

Gems in My Glass . . . July 2015

Australia, Gems in MY Glass . . . No Comments

Stars Aligned in the Barossa Valley, Australia – Part 3

Yalumba Family Vineyards has been in the Smith family for five generations; their first vines were planted over 165 years ago in 1849.  Yalumba means “all the land around”, and an enchanting land it is.  History shows colorfully at the property upon which sits a stately historic home, the warm and inviting tasting room, and the fully equipped winemaking facility.  Kevin Glastonbury, winemaker at Yalumba for the past 15+ years, provided us with an extensive tour and tasting.  We enjoyed sampling wines from multiple vintages, which offered an opportunity to gain insight from various harvests and a glimpse of their ageworthiness.  My favorites include:

Yalumba 2013 Roussanne; Eden Valley, Australia:  White flowers on the nose make way for a juicy fruit-packed mouthful of stone fruit, fresh apples, lemon-lime juice, shades of herbs and a pretty sweep of minerality.  Energetic and streamlined with bright acidity carrying the succulent fruit to a vibrant, clean aftertaste.  SRP:  $24

Yalumba 2013 Viognier; Eden Valley, Australia:  Aromas of stone fruit really get the juices flowing.  This phenolic driven Viognier easily wins you over, as fresh apricot and ripe peach notes spill onto the palate.  Round and mouth coating with a smooth texture and pretty balance, the wine finishes with a pop of peach schnapps.  SRP:  $24

Yalumba 2008 “The Tri-Centenary” Grenache; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Here is a deeply fruited, cohesive wine from the engaging bouquet to the palate pleasing flavors.  Raspberries, strawberries and red cherries link delightfully with savory spice accents.  Hints of vanilla and caramel join in on the back of the palate, and the nicely integrated oak peaks through on the satisfying aftertaste.   SRP:  $60

Yalumba 2009 Steeple Vineyard Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  From a well-developed vineyard dating back to 1919 comes this lush Shiraz.  Savory aromas join blackberry, boysenberry, dark chocolate shavings, spice and a touch of fresh mint cascading onto the palate.  The rich fruit is offset by lively acidity.  This Shiraz is completely engaging as it picks up steam and finishes with pizazz.  SRP:  $60

Yalumba 2010 Paradox Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Tightly wound, decant this beauty for full enjoyment.    Patience is rewarded, as aeration reveals a wonderfully complex wine.  Concentrated black plum and cassis at the core interlace with underbrush, fresh earth elements, and sweet oak spice framed by firmly structured tannins.  Remarkable purity through the persistent finish.  SRP:  $43

Yalumba 2011 Cabernet/Shiraz FDR (Fine Dry Red); Barossa Valley, Australia:  Intense yet pleasing and approachable now, this wine is oh so easy to quaff.  Layers of cassis, spiced black plum compote, wild berries and herb-dusted meat weave in harmony as the backbone of tannins and vibrant acids provide splendid framework.  This vintage may have been a challenge, but you’d not deduce that after tasting this savory, well put together wine.   SRP:  $43

Yalumba 2012 “The Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  In the glass you’ll find a classic example of just how well Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz can play together, wow.  Precise and elegant, the alluring aromas just begin the irresistible attraction.  Multilayered and captivating, black cherries, cassis, black plums, eucalyptus, black peppercorns and crushed herbs unwind with exceptional depth and complexity on the palate.  The finish explodes with brilliance.  $60

Yalumba 2009 “The Octavius” Old Vine Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Here is a powerhouse of a wine that speaks confidently of its terroir.  Expressive up front with winning aromas of dark fruit and a persuasive entry, the wine builds provocatively on the palate.  A multifaceted, intensely built Shiraz with black plum and boysenberry at the core harmonizing with accents of spice encrusted roasted meat, eucalyptus, well integrate oak and a hint of mint lingering through the long finish. I would have no qualms about cellaring this Shiraz for a decade or more.  SRP:  $100

Yalumba is another Barossa property I highly recommend for a visit; there is plenty to explore here.  Until then, check out their website at  The beauty and history of the Barossa Valley with all its charm, delicious sips and bites, and engaging personalities is guaranteed to please; certainly a region to add to your bucket list!

Gems in My Glass . . . June 2015

Australia, Tasting Notes No Comments

Stars Aligned in the Barossa Valley, Australia – Part 2

Anyone who has imbibed Shiraz from Australia is likely well attuned to Penfolds.  This winery was established in 1844 and is going strong more than 170 years later.  The meandering drive to their property in the Barossa Valley was delightful.  After a warm welcome by Matt Woo (responsible for red table wines and Penfolds fortified collection), we relaxed comfortably around a private table to engage in a lively discussion and tasting.  Matt grew up in New South Wales in a family passionate about food and wine.  He earned a Wine Science Bachelor Degree, and is dedicated to continuing the long tradition of Penfolds wines for years to come.  There is plenty of goodness to shout about here, so without further delay, let’s dive right into the wines:

Penfolds Vineyards 2014 Bin 51 Riesling; Eden Valley, Australia:  Stony minerality permeates the nose and palate with this intense, mineral driven Riesling.  Spot on varietally correct, this wine comes from a vineyard planted in the 60’s in the Eden Valley, a richer soil than what is typical in the Barossa, Matt explains.  The entry is eye opening with its vibrancy.  The stream of minerality remains constant, with flavors of white peach and citrus peel at the core, elevated by a steadfast level of acidity.  SRP:  $30

Penfolds Vineyards 2013 Reserve Bin A Chardonnay; Adelaide Hills, Australia:  This whole bunch pressed Chardonnay is tightly wound with impressive complexity.  Aged 9 months in 40% new and 60% one year seasoned French oak barriques with every new and seasoned French oak barrique its own unique 225-litre ferment, the quality of the oak program is clear. Layered and elegant as it flows from the glass, I appreciate the Asian pear, toasted oak undertones, hints of lemon verbena, a suggestion of butterscotch and the solid thread of minerality gracing the palate.   Dynamic, well-structured and perfectly balanced through the polished finish; without question an ageworthy Chardonnay.   SRP:  $100

Penfolds Vineyards 2013 Bin 144 Yattarna Chardonnay; Tasmania, Adelaide Hills, Victoria, Australia:  This Chard opens with enticing tropical aromas.  The palate shows off guava, pineapple, citrus and exotic spices that are spun together like an intricate, handwoven fabric.  The mouthfeel is divine, and the wine remains rich yet uplifted with vibrant acidity through the tasty, lasting finish.   SRP:  ~$50

Penfolds Vineyards 2011 Bin 28 Kalimna Vineyard Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia:  Aromatic flowers on the nose linger as this red fruited wine hits your lips.  Raspberry, red cherry licorice whips and pomegranate juice flavors swirl on the palate with pretty herbal accents.  The tannins are velvety smooth; a striking Shiraz from the challenging 2011 vintage.  SRP:  $40

Penfolds Vineyards 2012 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  The exquisite aromatics exude the wow factor, and it doesn’t stop there. This wine is multilayered in the mouth, where bright red and black berry fruits, spiced meat and minty accents interlace with style, beautiful richness, and purity.  Complex and deep with silky tannins; a magnificently crafted wine.  SRP:  $80

Penfolds Vineyards 2012 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon; a multi-district blend, including fruit from Bordertown, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Robe, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, Wrattonbully and Margaret River, Australia:   Black licorice drops and wild blackberries on the nose remain focused on the palate, with layers of sweet tobacco spice, eucalyptus, cassis, black plums and well integrated oak adding further dimension.  Firm tannins provide a solid backbone for this noteworthy Cabernet.  SRP:  $80

Penfolds Vineyards 2012 Magill Estate Shiraz; Adelaide, Australia:  This elegant single vineyard Shiraz enthralls the nose, delivering scents of cured meats and wild berries.  Unraveling on the palate are focused flavors of raspberries, red plums, cola, savory spice and tinges of earthiness wrapped around smooth, refined tannins.  Aging 15 months in 65% new French oak, 30% new and 5% seasoned American oak contributes spicy vanilla notes that linger on the persistent finish; a focused and delicious wine.   SRP:  $130

Penfolds Vineyards 2012 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon; Barossa Valley, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Adelaide Hills, Australia:  Black currant and spice rise from the glass of this American oak aged Cab Sauvignon.  Complex and deliciously mouth filling as distinct layers of blackberry, cassis, vanilla bean, caramelized sugar and plums meld with exotic Asian spices delighting the senses.  Marvelously cohesive, and the precise balance of fruit, acids and firm tannins promises many additional years of enjoyment.  SRP:  $350

Penfolds Vineyards 2010 Grange; Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Magill Estate, Australia:  Crafted every year since 1951, Grange is highly acclaimed around the globe, and deservedly so.  Penfolds again knocked it out of the park with this intensely weighted, extraordinary 2010 vintage.  Perfumed floral and dark fruit aromas could not be more enticing.  Tightly wound and complex, this classy wine exhibits well defined tiers of raspberries, purple plums, black licorice, olives, hints of smoke and eucalyptus, and fresh baked pastry flowing across the palate around a solid backbone of tannins.  Finishes deep, dark and incredibly long; unquestionably ageworthy with decades of life ahead.  SRP:  $785

Penfolds Vineyards Great Grandfather Rare Tawny:   One to linger over in front of a roaring fireplace.  You can’t go wrong with this expressive Tawny, sourced from the Grandfather Solera (average age above 20 years).   Scents of caramelized nuts and fig jam on the nose prepare the way for the rich palate of chewy caramel, roasted figs, orange peel and almond toffee.  Made for 75 vintages, this wine is a longtime favorite of many; simply heavenly.   SRP:  $350

Decades ago I tasted my first Penfolds wine, and a visit to the Barossa Valley has been on my bucket list for years.  It was well worth the wait, I highly recommend it!  Meanwhile, you can visit their website at for additional info about their history, the property, and their wines.

Gems in My Glass . . . May 2015

Tasting Notes No Comments

Stars Aligned in the Barossa Valley, Australia – Part 1

My visit to the Barossa Valley wine region could not have been more enlightening and enjoyable.  A big thank you to good friend Daryl Groom for providing personal introductions to winemakers and vintners he worked with for years back in his homeland.  It is no surprise Daryl, his wife Lisa, and their children still carry strong ties and a deep fondness for this beautiful countryside, and Daryl continues to produce stunning Barossa Valley Shiraz and Sauv Blanc from Adelaide Hills.

On a sparkling day under sunny skies, we meandered through rolling hills and arrived at Whistler winery.  A family operation, the Pfeiffers have been grape growers for four generations.  It all began with Albert Heinrich Pfeiffer whose passion was carried on by his son Hubert Irving Pfeiffer, his grandsons Martin and Chris Pfeiffer, and now his great grandchildren.  Whistler winery began when Martin and his wife Sally purchased “The Block” in 1982. (Martin had previously managed vineyards for Penfolds).  Martin took care of the vineyards, and Chris handled the administration side of the business.  Now, the next generation is carrying on the tradition, including Matt in finance and distribution, Mel managing the Cellar Door, events and marketing, and Josh tending to winemaking and viticulture.

They have 35 acres planted to vines, including Semillon, Riesling, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Mourvedre (Mataro).  Their picturesque property is where you’ll find their charming cellar door (tasting room), surrounded by their winemaking facility,  shade trees and picnic tables where family and friends spend relaxing, fun filled days with great sips and tasty bites.  Their charming pups BJ and Cooper, and their pet kangaroos are a stone’s throw away as well.  They generously provide shelter for rescued kangaroos.  The serene, spacious grounds are groomed and ready to welcome guests each week.  About 70% of their wines are sold on the premises out of their Cellar Door.    Josh, winemaker and viticulturist, is in the process of taking the vineyard fully organic and biodynamic.  As we headed into the tasting room, Martin enlightened us about the 2015 harvest.  After quite a dry season, they completed an extremely early harvest this year (all the fruit was picked by March 5).   Their wines are precise and pure, showcasing the Barossa Valley terroir beautifully.  Among my favorites include:

Whistler 2014 Riesling; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Inviting mineral notes rise from the glass with this snappy, expressive Riesling.  Lean, palate pleasing and nicely dry, it boasts juicy peaches and nectarines, hints of lime zest and lovely acidity while maintaining focused minerality from start to satisfying aftertaste.  SRP:  $25

Whistler 2013 Reserve Semillon; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Flinty stone notes shine with Whistler’s Reserve Semillon.  Layers of fresh picked apples and pears, hints of spice and a creamy texture entwine with vibrant acids make a memorable statement on the palate.  Dry and streamlined on the finish, it is complex and well structured.  SRP:  $23

Whistler 2014 Mathilda Louise Rose; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Named after Martin’s and Chris’s great grandmother, this spunky Rose, a blend of Grenache and Mataro, displays abundant scents of red berries and cherries on the nose.  Spirited with bracing acidity, you’ll find delicious flavors of sweet summer strawberries, raspberry sorbet, and a splash of lemonade enlivening the palate.  A trace of herbs kicks in on the bright finish.  SRP:  $20

Whistler 2014 Get in My Belly Grenache; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Here’s a rewarding quaff that opens with aromas of black licorice sticks, wild berries and a warm raspberry tart captivating the nose and mouth.  Spicy and deeply fruited with a fine balance and confident air about it.    (Sold out)

Whistler 2012 GSM; Barossa Valley, Australia:  A delightful blend of 52% Grenache, 26% Shiraz and 22% Mataro, this wine impresses with its smooth texture and rich, dense fruit displayed from the very first sip.  Succulent purple plums take the lead and join cured meats, blackberries, allspice and earthy nuances that meld in harmony as the wine richly coats the mouth.  Tannins hold firm through the lingering finish.  SRP:  $30

Whistler 2012 Hubert Irving; Barossa Valley; Australia:  Named in honor of Martin’s and Chris’s father, this blend of 41% Merlot, 37% Grenache, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Mataro is a wine to please any red wine aficionado, and easy on the pocket book, too.  Brimming with blueberries, boysenberries and Bing cherries, it is juicy and approachable now, a perfect sipper for a meal around the barbeque grill.  SRP:  $20

Whistler 2012 Merlot; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Strikingly hued with an aroma that will charm the socks off any red wine lover, here is a polished, smooth as silk Merlot.  Lush and buoyant with blackberries and blueberries joining graphite, a touch of earthiness and a generous sprinkling of spice.  Well integrated oak and supple tannins top off the superb package.  SRP: $27

Whistler 2012 Reserve Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:  The glistening entrance, jam-packed with heady fruit and freshly ground black peppercorns, is mesmerizing.  Intense in structure, you’ll revel in delicious layers of anise, cocoa-dusted berries, spiced oak and tinges of roasted meats saturating the palate.  This ageworthy Shiraz is complex and thoroughly balanced with the unwavering flavors lingering far beyond the final drop. SRP:  $70

Whistler Wines 2012 Estate Shiraz; Barossa Valley, Australia:   Full bodied and intensely structured, you’ll find power in the glass without an over the top sense of alcohol.  The plummy, dark berry, spicy entry expands in the mouth with pretty toffee accents and vanilla notes from aging in second year seasoned American oak.  This well-crafted wine is approachable now and also promises years of further enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $40

Whistler Wines 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon; Barossa Valley, Australia:  Fresh cut herbs and underbrush on the nose meld with black fruits, licorice drops and savory spice.  Hints of fresh earth and well integrated oak play a nice supporting role in the background.  Ethereal as it floats across the palate, this savvy Cab finishes bright and lifted on the memorable finish.  SRP:  $30

Put the Barossa Valley on your bucket list and don’t miss the chance to hop on over to Whistler.  Pack a picnic, sip their delicious wines, and meet this engaging family.  Chris and his wife Jayne also own and operate their charming Whistler Farms B&B, you’ll want to check that out too.  Visit Whistler’s website at

Gems in My Glass . . . April 2015

Gems in MY Glass . . . No Comments

Gems in My Glass . . . April 2015

Twomey 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; Napa/Sonoma, California:  A beautiful aromatic expression and the jazzy entry brimming with fruit sets the stage for this well balanced, energetic wine.  Mineral notes entwine with crisp apple, fresh squeezed sweet Meyer lemon and hints of fresh cut grass.  The light touch of oak stays nicely in the background and the finish shines with brightness.  SRP:  $26

Twomey 2012 Monument Tree Vineyard Pinot Noir; Anderson Valley, California:  Scents of fresh harvested mushrooms and a bowlful of cherries shout out Pinot Noir on the nose.  Layers of red cherries, raspberries, the essence of forest floor, and subtle oak converge on the palate with bracing acidity supporting the juicy fruit.  This complex wine is focused and precise with a firm structure, elegant tannins and a texture as smooth as satin.  The divine aftertaste lingers forever; simply gorgeous.  SRP:  $68

Te Motu 2013 The Strip; Waiheke Island, New Zealand:  The deep hue and irresistible aromas draw you into the glass with this engaging blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  Floral notes steer the way to pure raspberry and wild blueberry fruit highlighted by tobacco spice and a pinch of herbs.  Intensely structured and balanced with silky tannins carrying the wine seamlessly through the vibrant finish.  SRP:  $45

Te Motu 2005 red blend; Onetangi Valley, Waiheke Island, New Zealand:  Aromas of mixed cherries and berries, and leathery notes rise from the glass.  This brilliantly developed blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cab Franc is rich and dense in the mouth with flavors of black cherries, blueberries, cassis, dried cranberries, and earthy nuances melding in harmony.  The tannins are refined, and tinges of spiced oak add further dimension as the wine progresses to the memorable finish.  SRP:  $125

Te Moto 2012 Kokoro; Waiheke Island, New Zealand:  This red blend composed of 43% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec and 7% Syrah shows off aromas and flavors of red currant, tart huckleberry and tasty cranberry chutney with a thread of earthiness throughout.  It is rustic and full bodied with good balance, and the finish contributes a delightful dash of spice.  SRP:  $75

Stonyridge Vineyard 2012 Larose; Waiheke Island, New Zealand:  From the north facing slopes of this low yielding vineyard comes Larose, an exquisite, powerful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere.  This intensely structured wine opens with a heady, floral aroma.  The entry broadcasts flavors of blackberry and savory spice.  The wine broadens on the palate with plum compote, cinnamon, nutmeg, shades of tobacco and well integrated oak skillfully wrapped around a solid backbone of tannins.  Tightly wound now, this wine promises to thrive for decades.  SRP:  $290

Craggy Range 2013 Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc; Martinborough, New Zealand:  Whiffs of fresh flowers and tropical fruits on the nose lead to a delectable mouthful of lime zest accented nectarine and passion fruit interlacing with brisk acidity.  The neutral oak aging adds an understated element without taking away from the vibrant fruit.  Clean and refreshing with a bright, buoyant finish.  SRP:  $23.95

Craggy Range 2012 Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir; Martinborough, New Zealand:  This well balanced Pinot Noir offers up an enticing aroma that quickly captures your attention. Tobacco and dried cherry nuances join savory spice, hints of sandalwood and warm cherry cobbler flavors mesmerizing the palate.  The texture is silky and the spot on level of acidity lifts the wine steadfastly from entry through the extended finish.  SRP:  $42.95

Craggy Range 2011 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah; Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  Scents of white pepper and dark fruit lead to a concentrated palate deliciously full of blackberry, black plum, fresh ground pepper spice, cured meats, and black licorice.  Rich in texture with a pretty backbone of tannins, this Syrah is approachable now, and should continue stimulating the palate as it further evolves with age.  SRP:  $31.95

Craggy Range 2011 Sophia, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  Another beauty from Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, this impressive blend is composed of 60% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.   Concentrated blueberry, plum and boysenberry fruit join hands with tobacco spice, hints of graphite and beautifully integrated oak.  Complex and precisely balanced with firmly structured tannins, I envision decades of aging potential with this gem.  SRP:  $72.95

Vidal Estate 2014 Riesling; Marlborough, New Zealand:  Vivid aromas of white peach and steely minerality pop from the glass at first whiff.  Melding on the palate are bright flavors of gooseberry, passion fruit, juicy peaches and a squeeze of lime.  Crisp and refreshing with bracing acidity from the first sip through the dazzling finish.  SRP:  $16

Vidal Estate 2014 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc; Marlborough, New Zealand:  Citrus laced tropical fruits wow the nose with Vidal’s striking Reserve SB.  Luscious layers of guava, lemon curd and passion fruit interlace with lime zest, fresh chopped herbs and a persistent thread of minerality, enlivening the palate.  This vibrant wine is complex and pure with meticulous balance, and climaxes with a lingering aftertaste.   SRP:  $20

Vidal Estate 2012 Reserve Series Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon; Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  This blend of 50% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Malbec is a smoothly textured, easy to quaff wine.   The enticing aromas and flavors of blueberry compote, wild berries, red currant and savory spice interlace with gentle oak nuances, and the wine finishes upbeat and clean.  SRP:  $20

Vidal Estate 2010 Legacy Syrah; Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  Perfumed aromas of violets reel you into this remarkable Syrah.  It is complex, pure and impressively balanced with layers of roasted meat, multicolored peppercorn spice, black plums, boysenberries and just the right touch of oak, all framed by refined tannins.  An elegant, deftly crafted wine that is approachable now, and promises excellent age worthiness, as well.  SRP:  ~$75

Clearview Estate Winery 2013 Reserve Chardonnay; Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  Spiced oak and stone fruit aromas lift from the glass with this intense Chardonnay.  Juicy nectarines, peach skin, spicy baked apples and butterscotch candy coat the mouth in a decadent fashion, while a good level of acidity cuts adroitly through the richness.  Fermented in (primarily new) French oak, this wine finishes with yummy caramel apple notes.  SRP:  $36

Clearview Estate Winery 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc; Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:  The senses are altogether engaged with this focused Cab Franc.  The inviting herbaceous, meaty aroma paves the way to harmonizing flavors of a rosemary/sage rubbed roast, dark berries and succulent purple plums enhanced by graphite and cigar box accents. Well balanced and palate pleasing with hints of campfire smoke peaking through on the persistent finish.  SRP:  $45

Clearview Estate Winery 2012 Enigma Merlot; Te Awanga, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand:   This blend of 61% Merlot, 31% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in new and seasoned French and American barriques exemplifies a perfect marriage of fruit and earthy components.  Blue and red fruits with fresh herb and eucalyptus highlights leave you wanting more.  It is velvety smooth, fully flavored and firmly structured while at the same time elegant as it floats across the palate to the long-lasting, spicy aftertaste.   SRP:  $55

Judgment of Geyserville II: Riesling

Judgment of Geyserville, Tasting Notes No Comments

Wine writers joined up recently for our “Judgment of Geyserville II” blind tasting.   This year’s focus was Riesling from AVA’s located in California, Michigan, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and New York.   As you might imagine, there was a good measure of stone fruit, minerality and lively acidity tickling our palates.   Yet each wine also unveiled its own uniqueness, and a sense of place was often recognized.  My impressions below are listed in the random order in which the wines were arranged for this blind tasting:

Chateau Montelena Winery 2013 Riesling; Potter Valley, California:  Earthy spice and minerality join hand in hand on the nose and entry.  In no way bashful, this nicely composed wine unfolds on the palate with layers of peach skin, juicy pear, gooseberry, lemon verbena and lime zest framed by spirited acidity.  The finish expresses itself confidently with an emphatic lift.  SRP:  $25

Wild Goose Vineyards 2012 Stoney Slope Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  Aromas of a diced peach and nectarine compote highlighted by pleasing spice greet the nose.   Weaving through the palate you’ll find juicy nectarine, fresh chopped herbs and stony minerally interlaced with a potent level of acids.  Feisty and bright with a finely tuned integration of flavors through the finish.  SRP:  $20.10

50th Parallel Estate 2013 Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  Wow, the intense mineral aroma really awakens the senses.   The wet stone minerality stays focused on the palate interlacing with bright flavors of nectarine, lime peel, Asian pear and oyster shell brininess.  Impressive balance and precision throughout, with plenty of length.  SRP:  $18

Trisaetum Winery 2013 J&A Vineyards Estate Reserve Dry Riesling; Willamette Valley, Oregon:  Inviting aromas of fresh pineapple and citrus blossoms entice the nose.  This Riesling, with flavors of just baked peach pie, tangerine and hints of lemon oil, has a nice creaminess about it.  Earthy notes evolve from the back palate through the aftertaste.  SRP:  $38

Jones of Washington 2013 Estate Riesling; Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, Washington:  Searing acidity out of the gate with this spunky Riesling leaves a pleasant tingle on the tongue.  Sun ripened peach, apricot and citrus flavors burst in the mouth like colorful fireworks.  Focused and luminous with tangerine and lemon zest accents throughout.  For all its flamboyance, it’s at the same time beautifully elegant.  SRP:  $11.99

Black Star Farms Winery 2013 Arcturos Dry Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan:  Resplendent aromas of wet stone minerality and fresh cut peaches elaborately engage the senses.  Cascading onto the palate are juicy papaya, peach and nectarine flavors accented by a sunny squeeze of lemon.  The glorious fruit interlaces with racy acidity; a focused, classy Riesling.  SRP:  $15

Bitner Vineyards 2012 Reserve Riesling; Snake River Valley, Idaho:  Initially reserved on the nose, this Riesling opens with aeration to kumquat, baked pear and hints of petroleum.  It is round on the palate, where flavors of fruit cocktail abound.  The back palate broadcasts tart citrus notes that linger through the finish.  SRP:  ~$17

Chehalem Wines 2012 Corral Creek Vineyards Riesling; Chehalem Mountains, Oregon:  The expressive mineral laced stone fruit aroma proudly shouts out Riesling.  This wine, skillfully constructed with bracing acids outlining the juicy peach, gooseberry and apple notes, dances vividly across the palate.  The texture is silky, and the finish is both lifted and pleasingly persistent.  SRP:  $29

Coiled Wines 2013 Dry Riesling; Snake River Valley, Idaho:  Reserved aromas up front, this Riesling opens with further aeration to a wide array of citrus blossom and fruit cocktail aromas and flavors that remain consistent from entry through mid to back palate.  A good level of acidity remains ever present, enlivening the package.  SRP: $17

Chateau St. Michelle 2013 Dry Riesling; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Demonstrative aromas of minerals and nectarines richly fill the senses with this snappy, energetic Riesling.  Spice enhanced fresh white peach, nectarine and clementine join rockin’ acidity sashaying effortlessly across the palate.  Wonderfully balanced and pure, finishing bright and fresh.  SRP:  $9

Zocker 2009 Paragon Vineyard Estate Riesling; Edna Valley, California:   Displaying a fragrance of white flowers and delicate flavors, the age of this wine speaks to its subtleness. The peachy, citrus notes and minerality presented clearly confirm it is Riesling.  This vintage showcased more vibrancy in its youth, yet still displays classic components of varietal character at this age.  SRP:  $20

Charles Smith Wines 2013 Kung Fu Girl Riesling; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Floral aromas are entirely engaging with this succulent, easy to quaff wine.  It’s round on the palate, where waves of sweet sliced peaches, lemon drops and creamy pears join bracing acidity.  The wine is juicy and fresh, finishing with a kick of peach schnapps.  SRP: $12

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2011 Riesling; Umpqua Valley, Oregon:  Herbaceous on the nose and entry, here is a lean, mineral laden Riesling with flavors of sliced kiwi, tart lemon candy and a touch of earthiness.   A bit Sauvignon Blanc like in its flavor profile yet also offering up Riesling characteristics, you may think the two were blended. Dynamic acidity is displayed throughout, and the wine finishes bright and clean.  SRP: $16

Tierce 2012 Dry Riesling; Finger Lakes, New York:  Imagine walking along a flowing stream and catching the aromas of river rock, wild herbs and fresh spring air.  That is vividly captured in this well-crafted Riesling.  Lean and exuberant, you’ll find layers of peach skin, lime zest, tart green apple, wet stone minerality and a pinch of herbs fully invigorating the palate.  Purity and elevated acids thrive through the lingering final sip.  SRP: $30

Fox Run Vineyards 2013 Dry Riesling; Finger Lakes, New York:  Earthy, floral aromas rise from the glass with this smoothly textured Riesling.  Flavors of crisp apples and peaches join stimulating jalapeno accents creating an arousing impression.  The wine builds intriguingly through the finish with a nice level of acidity keeping it vibrant.   SRP: $17.99

Tantalus Vineyards 2013 Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  This finely balanced Riesling is immensely enticing on the nose with floral nuances and perfectly ripe nectarine flavors flooding the senses.   It flows seamlessly across the palate with layers of fresh peach, nectarine and apple/pear compote entwined with a generous twist of lime.   Steely minerality and unreserved acidity captivate through the upbeat finish.  SRP: $34.90

Smith Madrone Vineyards & Winery 2013 Riesling; Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, California:  A bit restrained on the nose initially, minerality peeks through after aeration.   Granny Smith apples and sweet citrus fruit unfold in the mouth with lemon taffy, freshly squeezed lime and orange rind flavors playing off one another.  This is a sassy, edgy Riesling with liberal acidity from start to finish.  SRP:  $27

Huston Vineyards 2013 Riesling; Snake River Valley, Idaho:  A thread of minerality engages the nose and leads to spiced peach pie and canned apricot flavors copiously filling the mouth.  Silky on the palate with nice level of acidity offsetting the bountiful fruit.  SRP:  $19

Brengman Brothers 2013 Crain Hill Vineyards Estate Riesling; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Tightly wound, this is a sophisticated Riesling.  Layers of nectarine, peach and Meyer lemon interweave with minerality, a pleasing herbal component and bracing acidity.  This complex wine is just beginning to show its potential; expect it to further develop as it matures.  SRP: ~$25

Anthony Road Wine Company 2013 Dry Riesling; Finger Lakes, New York:  This inviting wine’s expressive aromas of white peach and hint of earthiness effortlessly charm the nose.   Sweet stone fruit, well defined minerality and a tinge of herbs flow across the palate with ease.  The fruit and acids are nicely balanced, and the finish is focused and uplifted.  SRP: $17

Gehringer Bothers Estate Winery 2013 Private Reserve Riesling; Okanagan Valley, British Columbia:  Tempting notes of wet stone and mango on the nose unfold fully in the mouth with lemon-lime, peach skin and guava flavors joining in mid palate.  This well balanced Riesling is sinewy and streamlined through the bright finish.  SRP:  $14.99

Chateau Grand Traverse 2013 Lot 49 Cuvee Molly Devine Riesling; Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan:  Mouthwatering aromas of fresh juicy peaches and nectarines wow the senses with this vivacious Riesling.  The stone fruit bursts forth on entry, and a trace of sweetness tiptoes onto the palate entwining with the juicy, citrus-infused fruit.  A deliciously mesmerizing wine from first sip to lingering aftertaste.  SRP: $21

Gems in My Glass . . . January 2015

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Tasting Notes No Comments

In this piece I am sharing gems enjoyed while sailing the first leg of Crystal Serenity’s 2015 World Cruise.  The night before sailing out of Miami, a fabulous Celebration Dinner was served.  The first course was a delicious stone and king crab appetizer, followed by butternut squash ravioli, a main course of either sea bass or filet mignon, and a decadent chocolate cake for dessert.   Here are my impressions of the wine pairings:

The 2011 Wedell Cellars Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley, California was presented with both the crab and the butternut squash ravioli courses.  This creamy textured Chardonnay displays ripe Golden Delicious apple and juicy Bartlett pear, a sprinkling of spice and a healthy dollop of oak that, for my palate, over powered the delicate crab dish. This wine paired better with the plush and flavorful ravioli, where the weight of the dish and the weight of the wine were well matched.

The red wine, a Duckhorn Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Merlot, naturally paired better for those who selected the filet mignon main course.  Here is a full bodied wine promising plenty.  Tightly wound in its youth, aeration brought out deep dark blackberry and blueberry fruit, fresh tobacco, cedar and underlying spiced oak notes coating the mouth.  Well-crafted with good density and balance, firmly structured tannins, and a persistent finish; this is a cellarworthy wine.

The last wine to be poured was a lovely Domaine Carneros NV Brut Rose.  A sparkling wine reminiscent of an elegant French Champagne, this gem is absolutely delicious on its own merits.  Inviting red berry and yeast scents captivate the nose and the entry is bright and vivacious.   Biscuity notes with delicious citrus-infused strawberry and raspberry fruit and quince paste cascade onto the palate.  It displays skillful balance and a dynamic bead that persists through the long, lifted finish.  The pairing with the very sweet chocolate cake drizzled with coffee syrup was far from ideal.  This elegant sparkling wine would have paired far better with the stone & king crab appetizer.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed imbibing this impressive sparkling wine, which on its own is a perfectly satisfying dessert.

Additional wines poured in January on board the Crystal Serenity:

Goblesburger 2013 Gruner Veltliner; Kamptal, Austria:  Aromas of tree fruit and spice rise from the glass. A melding of green apple, peach, celery and white pepper notes simply delight the senses.  The pretty fruit is joined by a subtle thread of minerality weaving through the palate to the fresh, clean finish.

Matsuhisa Private Selection 2013 Chardonnay; Russian River Valley, California.  A steely, minerally, resplendent wine with crisp pear and citrus flavors and razor sharp acidity; delectable.   Produced specifically for Nobu restaurants including the Crystal Serenity’s Silk Road Restaurant; sorry to say this remarkable, precisely balanced Chardonnay may not be available in the retail market.  Visit Nobu to give it a try; you can’t go wrong there, with Nobu’s exquisitely prepared cuisine.

Roederer Estate NV Brut crafted in Anderson Valley, California was featured in most cocktail lounges on board ship (and available upon request in all venues).   I find this engaging sparkling wine with its tiny bead and deft balance to be a perfectly delightful bubbly, year after year.  Floral and fresh toast aromas tickle the senses.  Crisp apple, creamy pear, orange peel and a touch of spice fill the mouth, and the lively acidity balances the juicy fruit through the lifted finish.

Vina Robles 2012 Huerhuero Vineyard Red4; Paso Robles, California: Here is a succulent blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  Juicy red and black berry fruit are showcased on the nose and entry.   Black cherries, raspberries and blackberries dominate the flavor profile with accents of spice, milk chocolate and vanilla bean chiming in as the wine continues to unfold through the palate.  The tannins are supple, the texture lush, and the finish is satisfying.

Dr. Loosen 2013 Satyricus Riesling:  From Germany’s Mosel region here is a vibrant, expressive and streamlined Riesling.  It is chock full of white peach and lemon lime flavors with highlights of herbs and spice.  Love the brightness here, with a good level of acidity and unpretentious wet stone notes lingering through the gleaming finish.

Gems in My Glass . . . December 2014

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Ohio, Tasting Notes No Comments

Grand River Valley AVA in Ohio producing first class wines?  Absolutely!

The Grand River Valley AVA in Northeastern Ohio is a sub-appellation of the Lake Erie AVA.   Similar to the Mosel, Bordeaux, and AVA’s in Northern California such as Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley, the Grand River Valley appellation benefits from the thermal effects of nearby water, in this case Lake Erie. If you imagine Ohio producing wines primarily from hybrid and Native American grapes, you’re in for a surprise.  Plenty of vinifera is planted throughout this appellation.  Todd Steiner (fellow wine judge, state Enologist to the Ohio commercial wine industry, and Enology Program Manager at Ohio State University) recently provided an enlightening tour around the Grand River Valley AVA.  I was impressed with the vineyards, winemakers, and wines they are crafting.

St. Joseph Vineyards is owned by Art and Doreen Pietrzyk.  Art is the winemaker, and confirms that this AVA typically enjoys a long growing season with warm days and cool nights; perfect for Pinot Noir and other vinifera grapes.    Art and Doreen have several acres planted to Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Shiraz.  Art, who hails from the world of engineering, has done an excellent job exploring and figuring out what grape varieties are best suited for the diverse microclimate of this region. Check out their website at for further info.  Among my favorite St. Joseph Vineyards wines tasted are:

2013 Sauvignon Blanc: Expressive floral aromas awaken the senses with this lively Sauvignon Blanc aged in new French oak.  It is full bodied and well balanced with bright citrus and a touch of herbs joining crisp apple and melon notes filling the palate deliciously.   The suggestion of oak remains subtle in the background, allowing the fruit to shine.  SRP:  $20

2012 Pinot Noir: Aromas of fresh berries and a hint of earth awaken the senses with this titillating Pinot Noir.  Flooding the palate are flavors of black raspberries, pomegranate and dried cherries with exotic tea spice highlights.  This pure, precisely balanced wine boasts refined tannins and finishes with elegance.  SRP:  $40

2012 Sangiovese: Here is a well structured, jazzy wine that offers up juicy red cherry fruit at the core.  Accents of cinnamon stick, a light touch of oak, and dried cranberries add further dimension.  The tannins are well honed and the level of racy acidity pulls the package together beautifully.  SRP:  $30

2012 Shiraz: Deep, dark fruit and a trace of gaminess on the nose are mirrored on the palate, along with layers of juicy blueberries, ripe wild berries, cured meat and black pepper deliciously coating the mouth.   There is a lushness to this wine giving it a superb mouthfeel, and the juicy fruit is framed by firm tannins leading to a smooth, lengthy finish.   SRP:  $30


Ferrante Vineyards and Ristorante:    Ferrante’s current production is around 60,000 cases of wine from their estate grapes.  A family run winery, when visiting Ferrante you may meet up with Winemaker Nick Ferrante, his brother Anthony who looks after the vineyards, and sisters Carmela and Mary Jo among other family members, each who exude a vibe of both passion and joy for their business.  Nick also shared some of the challenges they have faced over the years, including a fire 20 years ago that leveled most of the vines (which they replanted), to the polar vortex that devastated the 2014 vintage.   Mother Nature can be harsh at times, but as Nick said we must put these challenges behind us and continue moving forward.  Based on the outstanding tank and barrel samples I tasted, they appear to have done so quite nicely, with their talents and creativity employed.  Their released wines were also compelling, my favorites of Ferrante wines tasted include those noted below.  Visit their website at

2012 Reserve Chardonnay:  Mouthwatering apple pie aromas waft from the glass and are echoed on the palate with accompanying notes of butterscotch, poached pear and nutmeg spice.  The creamy mouth feel is rich and velvety, offset by vibrant acidity that holds through the lingering finish.  Similar impressions on the equally lovely 2013 vintage Chard.  SRP:  $24

2013 Gruner Veltliner:  True to its variety, this Gruner packs a spirited punch with a melding of passion fruit, citrus notes, garden fresh lettuces, a dash of white pepper and a pleasant touch of herbs.  Clean and refreshing from the tasty start to the upbeat finish.  SRP  $14

2013 Signature Series Golden Bunches Dry Riesling:  A bowlful of fresh sliced white peaches greets the nose and has you begging for summertime; delectable!  River rock minerality is showcased through a palate full of juicy stone fruit, vividly accented by lime zest and splendid acidity.  The tinge of sweetness is well placed, too.  SRP:  $15

2013 Gewurztraminer:  Gorgeous floral and spicy aromas vie for your attention as you hover over the glass before the first sip.  Passion fruit and clementine flavors mingle with the lovely spice notes that dance on the palate.  This Gewurz is well balanced, snappy and pure throughout.  SRP:  $15

2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine:  Wow, intense scents of honeysuckle and pineapple get the juices flowing.  On the palate a lovely glycerol texture carries bright flavors of tangerine, sugar-dusted pineapple and honey drizzled roasted nuts, mouthwateringly delicious.  SRP:  $30


Debonne Vineyards:  winemaker Edward Trebets shares that the winery was originally founded by Anton Debevc, who purchased a fruit farm in Madison, Ohio in 1916.  In the 1960’s Anton’s son Tony Sr. expanded the vineyards.  In 1971, Tony Sr. and his son Tony began their journey as commercial winemakers.  Debonne Vineyards was launched as a winery in 1972 with the construction of a winemaking facility and enchanting Chalet.  With ~175 acres of Vinifera, French American Hybrid and Native American grapevines planted, their current production is around 80,000 cases. Visit their Website at to learn more.  Among my favorites tasted at Debonne are:

2012 Chairman’s White:  This bright white wine crafted from Niagara is a tribute to Tony Debevc Sr.  This wine showcases the Niagara grape brilliantly with fresh peach and floral aromas joining candied grape flavors and a hint of citrus through the palate.  Well balanced and easy to quaff.   SRP:  $8.49

NV Moscato-Riesling:  If your palate leans to sweeter wines, try this tasty elixir.  Fruity, floral Moscato is blended with vibrant, apricot and peach scented Riesling with orange candy undertones.  The result is a richly flavored, smoothly textured sweet table wine.   SRP:  $9.99

2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine: This luscious ice wine showcases juicy stone fruit at the core, with notes of clover honey, apricot preserves and candied mango accents.  Rich and pure with a gorgeous texture and a pretty touch of peach schnapps that lingers on the lip smacking finish.  SRP:  $29.99


South River Vineyard:  To many visitors, South River Vineyard is known as the church winery, as it is housed in a century old church building.  Owner Gene Siegal was intrigued by an abandoned church he observed during a drive to Kent, and after inquiring about it, he eventually moved it piece by piece to his current site in Geneva.  It has been in operating as a winery since 2002.  Gene welcomed us to a terrific tasting of his Karma and Cab Franc wines.  Learn more about South River Vineyard at the winery’s website;  You may also want to visit Gene’s Red Eagle Distillery, another fascinating property.

My favorite South River Vineyard wines tasted include:

2013 Semillon:  A beguiling herbal aroma sets the scene for a silky entry.  The fresh palate abounds with tropical fruit, fresh apricots, lemon curd and highlights of crushed herbs.  This is a gracefully structured Semillon with racy acidity and good length.  SRP:  $17

Karma 2010:  This plush blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Cab Franc and 8% Syrah is rich and smoothly textured.  Unveiled on the palate are layers of tasty blackberries, blueberries and boysenberries accentuated by savory spice.  Pure and nicely balanced through the pleasing finish.  SRP:  $17

South River Vineyard’s second rendition of Karma 2010 is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Syrah.  Here, cherry and blueberry fruit take center stage, with exotic spices and hints of cola weaving throughout.  The acidity is lively and remains elevated from the first sip to the last drop.  SRP:  $17

2010 Cabernet Franc:  This generously fruited Cab Franc flaunts dense black cherries, wild berries and roasted green pepper notes from the expressive aromas through the bright, berry packed palate.  It is richly textured and well balanced with a finish that reveals a subtle accent of toasty oak.  SRP:  $17


NV Cask 1014:  The cask project in the Grand River Valley appellation began in 2010 with five participating vintners, using a solera type blending method to create a red blend from estate grapes.  Each year one third of the wine is taken out of the barrel for bottling and replaced with the new vintage.  I had the opportunity to taste three of the cask 1014 wines during my visit:

St. Joseph Vineyards Cask 1014:  This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc boasts juicy raspberries and blackberries with a hint of roasted green pepper and soft, silky tannins.  A precisely balanced and polished blend.

Ferrante Winery’s Cask 1014:  Crafted of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Shiraz, this blend is full bodied and intense with good depth of spice accented red and black fruit flavors and firm tannins; a fine expression of cool climate red wine.

Debonne Vineyard’s Cask 1014, composed of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, here is a wine that delivers juicy wild berries and a touch of spice; it is smoothly textured and nicely balanced, very easy to quaff.

I hope to taste the other two Cask 1014 wines, crafted by Laurello Vineyards and Grand River Cellars Winery, very soon.


The January 2014 polar vortex (frigid air) that descended upon Ohio with subzero temperatures decimated the 2014 vintage in wine regions including the Grand River Valley AVA.  I encourage you to get out there and show support for the state of Ohio’s wine industry.  The vintners will fully appreciate it, and you’ll enjoy tasting for yourself some of the well-crafted wines coming from talented producers there!

Gems in My Glass . . . November 2014

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Northwest, Tasting Notes No Comments

The recent 2014 The Great Northwest Wine Invitational Wine Competition unveiled numerous Gold and Double Gold Medal winning gems.  High points of judging blind include uncovering beautifully crafted wines that may have previously been outside of one’s radar, and also discovering some great values.  Here are a few favorites that my panel of judges scored G or GG at this year’s competition:

Chateau St. Michelle NV Brut Rose; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Enticing fruity aromatics with hints of freshly baked bread are fully engaging.  Flavors of fresh strawberries, cherries, a touch of earth and citrus accents swirl on the palate.  Beautiful acidity and a lively bead persist through the finish.  SRP:  $13

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Cold Creek Merlot; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Lovely floral scents make way for delectable dark berry, cherry and tobacco spice building intensely on the palate and finishing long.  This dense, pure and marvelously structured Merlot shows both elegance and impressive depth.  SRP:  $30

Seven Falls Cellars 2012 Chardonnay; Wahluke Slope, Washington:  Aged in American and French oak barrels, buttered toast and oak notes fill the nose with this plush Chardonnay.  Flavors of creamy pears and spiced apple pie notes entwine with the toasty oak saturating the palate.   Finishes clean with a nice lift.  SRP:  $15

Ambassador Vineyard 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Red Mountain, Washington:  The captivating aromas are wildly expressive, luring you into the glass. This Cab is complex and richly flavored with cassis, dark berry, tobacco spice and hints of cedar interlacing deliciously on the palate and persisting on the lengthy finish.  SRP:  $35

Northwest Cellars 2011 Madrigal; Columbia Valley, Washington:  This blend of 62% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, and 14% Syrah showcases fresh black and red raspberries on the nose. The berries persist through the delicious palate, joining flavors of cranberry chutney and freshly cracked black pepper spice.  The texture is silky smooth and the acids are energetic, nicely offsetting the juicy fruit.  SRP:  $24

Funnel Family Cellar 2008 Lia; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Aromas of fragrant violets lift from the glass with this blend of 42% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache 18% Counoise, and 8% Syrah.  The entry is resplendent with bright fruit and dynamic acidity.   Flavors of olallieberries, blackberries and spice-accented wild berries continue to unfold deliciously in the mouth.  The tannins are refined and the finish is long-lasting.  SRP:  $36

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Dry Riesling; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Aromas of a fresh bouquet of white flowers fill the nose with this vivacious Dry Riesling.  Pure and refreshing from entry through the bright finish with flavors of peaches and nectarines taking center stage, laced with minerally highlights and a trace of fresh cut herbs.  SRP ~$10

Walter Dacon Wines 2009 C’est Syrah Beaux; Columbia Valley, Washington:  Aromas of ripe berries and a hint of bacon fat open the door to a dense, fruit packed Syrah with powerful tannins.  Rich and intensely built with black cherries, blackberries and savory spice broadening fully on the palate through the bold finish.  SRP:  $38

Abacela Vineyards and Winery 2010 Estate Syrah; Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon:  This elegant Syrah showcases aromas and flavors of sizzling bacon, ripe red cherries, raspberries and plums entwined with meaty notes and fresh ground multi-colored peppercorns.  It is perfectly balanced with exceptional purity and a finish lasting well beyond the last sip.  SRP:  $32

Colene Clemens Vineyards 2012 Margo Pinot Noir; Chehalem Mountains, Oregon:  Forest floor and dried cranberry aromas are reminiscent of a fine red Burgundy.  Ethereal and irresistible on the palate with layers of red raspberry, cherry, licorice and coriander spice filling the mouth.  This elegant quaff is well-defined and the finish is striking. SRP:  $36

Colene Clemens Vineyards 2011 Margo Pinot Noir; Chehalem Mountains, Oregon:  Here’s woodsy, dramatic Pinot Noir showcasing red cherry, strawberry and cranberry chutney elements highlighted with hints of smoke, allspice and subtle underlying oak.  A fine vein of acidity streams across the palate through pleasing aftertaste.  SRP:  $27.20

Abacela 2012 Garnacha; Umpqua Valley, Southern Oregon:  Gorgeous floral aromas draw you in, and the juicy red spice-accented raspberries, blueberries and huckleberries bursting out on the palate will keep you fully enchanted.  The texture is velvety smooth, the balance is steadfast, and the tannins are refined.  SRP:  $29

Two Vintners 2012 Stone Tree Vineyards Zinfandel; Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington:   This high-toned Zinfandel screams out jammy fruit on the nose.   Juicy purple plums and ripe blackberries are lush and pure on the palate, melding with a generous dusting of black pepper spice, and the lively acidity keeps the wine vivacious.  SRP:  $28

To view all the results of this well executed competition, visit  To further engage with this highly acclaimed wine region, plan a fall or winter adventure, and experience the scents and tastes of the Great Northwest for yourself; there is plenty to discover here!


Gems in My Glass . . . October 2014

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Michigan, Tasting Notes No Comments

Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula, Part 2

Part 2 focuses on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, which holds an abundance of charm and talent throughout the AVA.  The following are among the gems that I was impressed with during my recent visit:

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery;

2012 Pinot Gris Reserve; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Welcoming ripe tropical fruits and leesy notes will fully awaken your senses with this intensely fragrant Pinot Gris.  Layers of delicious tropical guava, sun drenched pineapple and vibrant citrus wrapped around a solid backbone of acidity unfold on the palate.  A skillfully crafted Pinot Gris that is impeccably balanced and finishes long.  SRP:  $22

2012 Pinot Grigio; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Sur lie aging gives this tasty wine depth and sophistication, and the marvelous aromatics show off vivid florality.  It is bright and balanced on the palate, where flavors of fresh kiwi, green apple notes and a flaky crusted mandarin orange tart entwine.  This Pinot Grigio impresses with significant complexity through the extended finish.  SRP:  $17

2012 Auxerrois; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  This dry white wine (crafted from a grape widely grown in France, and planted by Bel Lago in Michigan back in the 1980’s) is lively and focused, from the citrusy aromas to the juicy fruit at the core.  Melon, pineapple and apple drench the palate with lemon zest and flecks of herbs and spice chiming in, and the mouth feel is exquisite.  SRP:  $19

2010/2011 Gewürztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Here’s a sexy, spicy Gewürztraminer for you.  Rising from the glass are gorgeous aromatics of rose petals, spice and honeysuckle.  Coating the mouth are sweet grapefruit, lychee nut, and ginger spice with colorful orange and lemon accents.  The hint of sweetness is well placed, and the vibrant acidity flows smartly through the juicy fruit.  SRP:  $18

2011 Chardonnay; Lake Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  You’ll swoon at first whiff of this intensely structured Chardonnay, aged in 100% French oak.  The enticing butterscotch aroma leads to flavors of baked apples, honeydew melon, pie spice and vanilla bean highlights that richly coat the palate.  The oak presentation is subtle and well integrated, and you’ll find a striking counterpoint of acidity, remarkable depth, and purity from start to heavenly finish   SRP:  $22

2012 Moreno Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  I tasted this stunning gem from the barrel and was thoroughly engaged and inspired.   Enticing aromatics lead to a flavorful wine showcasing dark cherries, warm earth, raspberry, tobacco spice and a pretty touch of oak.  I expect this complex Pinot Noir to age well with its density of fruit, finely tuned acidity, and firmly structured tannins.  SRP:  ~$42

2010 Reserve Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Tempting scents of dried cherries and spice lift from the glass.  Building provocatively on the palate are mouthwatering layers of cherries, forest floor nuances, hints of anise and cranberry/raspberry compote with a squeeze of orange.   Complex and precisely balanced with nicely integrated tannins, this wine finishes with good length and verve.  SRP:  $35

2007 Bel Lago Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Expressive aromas of wild mushrooms and red berries wow the senses.  It is equally seductive on the palate with fresh strawberries, cranberries, cherry pie notes, sautéed mushrooms and sweet oak spices interlacing sublimely.  This Pinot Noir is deep and complex with a lovely texture and fine grained tannins.  It has aged magnificently thus far, and promises additional years ahead.   SRP:  ~$35

2005 Bel Lago Pinot Noir; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Love the woodsy aroma that captures your full attention with this exquisite wine, which has aged elegantly.  Ethereal on the palate with flavors of wild mushrooms, hints of tobacco, dried cherry and savory spices that mesh in fine synchronization.  Deftly integrated oak is displayed from first sip through the finish; one that is long lasting and memorable.  SRP:  ~$35

 Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery;

2013 “45″ White; Michigan:  This medium sweet blend of Vidal Blanc Cayuga White, La Crescent and Riesling delivers an appealing walk in the garden floral bouquet to the nose.  Coating the mouth are palate pleasing sun-kissed fruits.  Fresh pineapple, ripe melon and juicy peaches team up with a clear-cut level of acidity.  If you lean toward sweetness in your wine, this one will surely hit the spot.  SRP:  $16

2013 Unoaked Chardonnay; Michigan:  This bright Chardonnay captures the fruity essence of the Chardonnay grape.  Two lots were fermented separately and left on the lees for four months, adding good depth and complexity.  At the core are delicious citrus flecked apples and pears with hints of fresh herbs and spice peeking through. It is crisp and streamlined through the uplifted finish.  SRP:  $19

2012 Cabernet Franc; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Floral aromas captivate the nose with this lively, well-crafted wine.  It is deep and satisfying as it flows onto the tongue with sweet blackberries, tart wild berries and spiced blueberry compote flavors linking with violets and attractive oak notes.  A subtle suggestion of roasted green bell peppers shows through from mid to back palate, and the aftertaste lingers delightfully.   SRP:  $38

L. Mawby Winery;

L. Mawby Talismon NV Brut; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  The distinctively expressive nose will knock your socks off. This whole cluster pressed field blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Vignoles is alluring with its yeasty, leesy characteristics up front.  Dancing on the palate are flavors of freshly baked pie crust, sautéed apple slices, almond butter, lemon curd and a splash of lemon-lime.  Creamy in texture, complex and properly balanced, this buoyant bubbly finishes with a vibrant lift.  SRP:  $37

Sandpainting NV Extra Brut; Michigan:  Yeasty scents and floral notes waft enticingly from the glass.  Here is an inviting sparkling wine that displays a lively stream of tiny bubbles.  Crafted of 50% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay and 23% Vignoles, this wine made in the Methode Champenoise traditional method is aptly named.  It is beautiful with racy acidity balancing the rich layers of flaky croissants, dried apricots, tinges of roasted nuts and quince paste that weave artistically on the palate; charming and energetic.  SRP:  $29

L. Mawby 2005 Mille Brut; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  This enrapturing Methode Champenoise sparkling wine brags a beautiful tiny bead that lives on forever.  Fashioned from 100% Chardonnay fruit, this jewel, kept on the yeast for seven years, is deep and complex.  Intoxicating aromas of brioche and hints of honey wow the senses.  It is rich and creamy in the mouth with layers of freshly baked bread, warm apple crisp, spicy poached pears, a twist of lemon peel, and butterscotch notes that unravel amidst invigorating acidity; a triumphant bubbly.  SRP:  $50

Shady Lane Cellars;

2012 Gewürztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  This well composed Gewürz with just a touch of sweetness opens with an alluring floral nose.   The expressive, jazzy palate is brimming with varietally correct layers of guava, orange blossom, lychee and fresh tangerine with a generous thread of spice. Well balanced and lively with an aftertaste that lingers gracefully.  SRP:  $20.95

2011 Blue Franc; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Here is a juicy, spicy red wine that is nicely balanced and pure throughout.  Red and black cherry and berry fruits entice the nose and expand fully on the palate with cedar notes and alluring spicy elements remaining focused and persistent.  The aging in 100% French oak (25% new) is well integrated and adds a toasty note to the pleasing finish.  SRP:  $28.95

2011 Franc ‘n’ Franc; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Making quite a statement with its darkly fruited, intriguing aromas, this wine is a blend of 57% Blaufränkisch, 36% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot.  It has a serious side with its depth and solid structure, and shows off an elegant side with its balance and smooth texture.    Black currants, blueberries, tobacco spice and wild berries meld with a fine level of acidity and flow smoothly into the enduring finish.  SRP:  $19.95

Brengman Brothers Crain Hill Vineyards;

2012 Artist Series Unoaked Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Aged in the growing in popularity concrete egg-shaped tank, this beautifully textured Burgundian style Chardonnay opens with wildly expressive Chablis-like minerality on the nose.   Crisp apple, citrus fruit, pineapple and notes of herbs and minerals converge on the palate in harmony.   A complex, well-structured wine with zesty acidity and a finish that is long and memorable.  SRP:  $32.95

2012 Artist Series Barrel Aged Chardonnay; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Provocative aromas of roasted nuts and orchard fruit engage the senses with this compelling Chard, aged in French oak.  Interlacing flavors of butter-accented baked pears, spiced apple cobbler, Meyer lemon and hints of clover honey take center stage, merging with toasty oak elements and minerality that add further dimension.  Intense in structure with an exact balance, this wine is pretty in its youth, and should age handsomely for years.  SRP:  $39.95

2012 Dry Riesling Reserve; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Fragrances of wet stone, minerals and stone fruit (just what sings Riesling to me) jump out of the glass.  The flavor profile is vivid and intense with white peaches and hints of dried apricots joining stony minerality, lime zest and a touch of herbs flourishing on the palate.   Lean and crisp with bracing acidity, the wine finishes on a bright note with plenty of length.  SRP:  $21.95

2010 Med-Sweet Riesling Reserve; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Here’s an appealing sweet Riesling that perks up the senses with notes of cinnamon stick on the nose.  It is streamlined from start to finish with minerally, ripe stone fruit, hints of white flowers and a touch of herbs unfolding delectably in the mouth.  Well balanced and pure through the lively finish.   SRP:  $24.95

2013 Gary’s Reserve Gewürztraminer; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  This mouthwatering, highly aromatic Gewürz dances on the palate with spicy, mineral laded lychee and apricot flavors intermingling with pretty citrus notes.  The texture is silky and the wine remains snappy as racy acidity cuts through the sweet citrus-backed fruit.  A kick of gingerbread is highlighted on the lip-smacking finish.   SRP:    $24.95

Nathaniel Rose Wine  2010 Syrah/Viognier, Domaine Berrien, Abigail Vineyard; Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan:  Here is a full bodied Syrah co-fermented with Viognier in the classic Cote Rotie fashion. This is a well defined, complex wine.   Floral characteristics engage the nose and lead to a spicy mouthful of black fruit, hints of roasted meat, herbs and spice.  Deep, dark and delicious with full on tannins suggesting ageworthiness.  SRP:  $50

Nathaniel Rose Wine  2012 Left Bank; Domaine Berrien, Abigail Vineyard; Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan:  This extraordinary blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot and 3% Cab Franc proudly boasts an intense, black fruit, spicy aroma converging with flavors of plum, blackberry, fresh tobacco, cassis and espresso bean.  Tightly wound and complex, it was aged in neutral French oak; the subtle oak nuances are appreciated.  Powerful in its intensity and structure with a precise balance and firm tannins, this wine is impressive in its youth.  You’ll be handsomely rewarded by practicing patience, too; a cellarworthy wine.   SRP:  $250

2013 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Wooden Fish Vineyard; Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan:  Here is a delectable dessert wine with an outgoing personality.  Enticing aromatics lead to layers of dense, juicy raspberries, olallieberries, savory rhubarb pie components, a trace of roasted nuts and a drizzle of honey captivating the palate.   This gem is fully flavored and well balanced with hints of toast and caramel on the richly satisfying finish; a perfect nightcap.  SRP:  $75

Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula wine regions offer a wealth of beauty, charm, passionate personalities and noteworthy wines.  You too should take the time to explore these wineries, and additional producers who are also crafting beautiful wines in these regions (wineries that I did not have the opportunity to visit this time.  For example, Chateau Fontaine comes to mind).   I will continue following these AVA’s to keep my eye and my palate on future developments and vintages respectively, as they continue to raise the bar and further position themselves as significant players in the world of wine.


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