Monday, November 28, 2011

2005 Domaine Berrien Cellars Wolf's Prairie Red (Lake Michigan Shore AVA)

What an interesting find on my most recent visit to Michigan. This wine is a blend of Dechaunac and Chelois (proportions for this vintage undisclosed, though the 2009 notes indicate 80% Dechaunac and 20% Chelois), produced by Domaine Berrien Cellars in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA. ABV is not disclosed on the wine label - but again, notes for the 2009 release indicate 12.5% (which may be meaningless considering that we're dealing across four distinct vintages!).

The wine undergoes a year of complex oak aging: portions are aged in barrels of varying age, including neutral oak.

Purchased for $13.99 USD (it's cheaper at the winery). The solid, high-quality natural cork closure was nicely tinted as I pulled it out of the bottle.

The WPR pours with a beautiful, black-garnet colour and a very deep hue that is reminiscent of dried red roses, but with the saturation cranked way up. The nose, at first swish, is strongly medicinal and reminiscent of dried elderberries... However, given just 15 minutes in the open bottle, the bouquet opens up to reveal a very complex mix of roasted, toasty aromas (elderberries now in the background), black olives (reminiscent of many SW French reds), juicy black cherries, and plenty of earthiness. This is very similar to Norton/Cynthiana, both for the colour and the aromas. Tart yet gentle acidity, followed by an elegant, dry texture, with plenty of spicy / pencil-shavings-type oak on the fore-palate. Exceptional balance. Incredible spiciness and persistence all across the palate, with gentle warmth chiming in toward the aft-palate, and leading the finish along its entire trajectory. The spicy oak regimen works really well here: it's an elegant, wood-driven style of oak, rather than perfumey (i.e. no vanilla or coconut aromas). A whiff of torrefied coffee beans (dark roast) comes in on the finish.

Truly one of the best hybrid reds I've had in years; there's nothing like this that I've tried in Ontario for a long time. Most of what we have left here is Baco Noir, which is typically far more acidic, and without the aromatic Norton-like complexity that I find in this Lake Michigan Shore red.

Considering that the wine is now 6 years old, I would say that ageability is quite good. A decade should not be any problem at all.

A note about the grape varieties: Dechaunac used to be made into single varietal wines in Niagara up until about a decade ago. Now, it can be found at some wineries in the newer, younger, Prince Edward County wine region. Chelois, on the other hand, used to be present in Ontario, but many decades ago: if I recall correctly, Inniskillin grew it and made wine from it in the very early days (would have been in the 1970s). Chelois is said to have more tannin than many of the old-line red hybrid varieties, but the trade off is that it is less winter hardy than Baco or Foch (and probably even Dechaunac), and is somewhat more susceptible to the usual diseases affecting grapevines.

Personally, I'm extremely happy to see Domaine Berrien using these two historically significant hybrids in such a quality blend.

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