Jim Lester owns and makes the wines at Wyncroft. My wife and I first met him in 2004 when we stopped in at his small operation. Really the definition of 'garrigiste'. Earlier this year jim sent me an email inviting the CWM out to his winery for a visit and tasting. One thing led to another and this turned into not only a winery tour; but, also an outdoor dinner in his vineyard. About a half dozen members made the drive out for the day on Saturday and met up with Jim, Rae Lee and four of their friends. The weather was perfect (sunny and high 70's).
Jim Lester is committed to making fine wine in the Lake Michigan Shore Appellation of Southwest Michigan. He overseas everything from vineyard management to the bottling. He has identified a pair of excellent vineyard sites (primarily calcerous soil with a high mineral and stone content) to make his single vineyard bottlings. He holds yields down (to as small as 1 ton/acre) and uses Allier and Betrand oak barrels from France. If he is not satisfied with the quality of the grapes he declassifies the wine and sells it off in bulk like he did with his 2003 Riesling. He grows 100% vitis vinifera. His total production is about 1100 cases per year. Everything that touches the wines is first class. He recently switched cork supplies to use the highest quality corks available costing 65 cents each compared to 10 cents for a base cork.
After some tasting at the winery, we headed out to the vineyard where his Son set up some outdoor tents and got the grills going. Rae Lee is an excellent cook and made some skewers of marinated lamb, chicken and vegetables. The rest of us filled in with appetizers, sides and dessert. After it got dark, the bonfire was let and the stars came out. It was a breathtaking setting and Jim and Rae Lees hospitality went above and beyond anything we expected (not to mention Jims generousity in the Wyncroft wines that he opened for us).
- 2004 Weingut Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Middle Mosel
Allred brought this bottle. It was the first wine we drank when we got to the vineyard as we were walking around with Jim Lester looking at the vines. This is not the syle of Riesling Jim makes so we did not use it for comparison. This was a very nice kab though. Vibrant acidity with a strong mineral backbone. Lightly sweet and very refreshing. 89-90 points.
- 1999 Wyncroft Riesling Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Tried this at the winery prior to our tour. Jim pulled this older vintage out of his stash for us. This was a beautiful bottle and so typically Austrian in style. Jim has always referred to his wines as Alsatian and I think I am starting to convince him that they have more in common with Austria as he was comparing some of his Rieslings to wines from the Achlieten vineyard in Asutria on this trip. This was the richest of his Rieslings. Dry and with pear and a little white pepper. focused finish. Which I had tried this again latter in the evening since I think some air time would have allowed this to open up a little more and put this at the high end of my point range. 89-91 points.
- 2005 Wyncroft Riesling Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
This was a barrel sample Jim poured for us at the winery. It was the youngest wine poured and I found this fascinating because the nose was so different any of his other Rieslings. Much more tropical and Germanlike which Jim says fades with bottle aging. Based on the nose I would expect a sweeter wine but as with his other whites this was bone dry. Young and somwhat lean at the present time. I'm sure this will progress like his other vintages though. 86+ points.
- 1999 Wyncroft Riesling Madron Lake - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
This was a treat. This wine was never released for sale. Jim opened an unlabelled bottle of this for us before his winery tour. Not as rich as the 1999 Riesling Avonlea but a good example of the weight or fatness (in a good way) that his Rieslings can put on. One of the fuller noses with some camomile and fresh cut pear scents. Waxy texture with a minerally backbone. 87-88 points.
- 2002 Wyncroft Riesling Madron Lake - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Jim Lester opened a bottle of this to drink side by side with the 2002 FX Pichler Riesling Loibnerberg. This was about the 6th time I have tried this wine and I thought it was showing the best it ever has. It continues to add more complexity with age. I thought this wine was a dead ringer for an Austrian Riesling and a wonderful match with food. Some slight petrol notes are starting to show up among the pit fruit notes. A little more steely than the Pichler. This wine really held its own. 90 points
- 2002 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Berg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
I bought this for $27 marked down from $65. Drank this side by side with the 2002 Wyncroft Riesling Madron Lake Vineyard. Stiff competition for the Wyncroft. Pichler is one of the best Austrian producers. Parker called Pichler the "the Chateau Latour, Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Zind Humbrecht, Sandrone and Helen Turley of the Wachau". This wine was given a 93 by WS, 2 stars by Tannzer, 92 by Falstaff and a 97 by A La Carte (the latter 2 being German publications). This wine was still young but was extremely focused and laden with minerals. Dry with 13.5% alcohol. Notes of lime and white pepper with wonderful depth which is where this wine beat out the Wyncroft. 92-93 points.
- 2004 Wyncroft Riesling Madron Lake - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Poured at the winery. 2004 was a cool vintage in Southwest Michigan which saw a hot Fall. A little more oily than the other Rieslings Jim poured which may be its youth showing. Notes of tart apple and peaches. Full of youthful vibrancy. Should add some weight with some aging. 87+ points.
- 1997 Marcel Deiss Gewürztraminer Saint-Hippolyte - France, Alsace, Wintzenheim, Alsace AOC
I brought this to drink next to the Wyncroft Gewurz but they were so different in style that the comparison was of little use. Golden yellow color. This wine was heavy with apricot and pineapple notes. Sweet and bordering on dessertlike. Medium to full bodied. Drink it up if you have any. 85 points.
- 2003 Wyncroft Gewürztraminer Madron Lake - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
This was the 1st Gewurz I have had from Wyncroft. It is probably the driest Gewurz I have ever had. Jim gives this 6 hours of skin contact and vinifies it bone dry. I might say too dry for my palate as I like a hint of sweetness to interplay with the spiciness of the grape. Some tannins in this wine with green apple notes. 86-87 points.
- 2004 Wyncroft Chardonnay Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
We brought a 2001 Kistler Chardonnay to drink along side this and never got around to opening it since there was so much wine. I think everyone knows that I am not a Chardonnay lover and my score on these Chards will reflect that. However, I am confident that you could take this Chard and throw it in a blind tasting some of the finer Cal Chards and it would hold its own. A little heat and some petrol on the nose. Silky and rich with being flabby. Light to moderate oak in this wine. Spice asian pear, ginger and granny smith apple notes. Full bodied with a long finish. 87 points.
- 2005 Wyncroft Chardonnay Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Jim poured a 3 barrel samples of this for us at his winery. Walking through the vineyard later in the day I would say that the section of the vineyard that holds his Chard plantings probably has the best exposure and drainage combination. It faces South and has among the steepest grades from what I could tell. Not as rocky as the section that holds his Cab plantings though. He poured this wine for us in 3 parts based upon the age of the French Oak barrels the wines was in.
Neutral 3 year old barrels- The most fruity and creamy of the 3 samples.
1 year old barrels- The most acidic of the barrels.
New French betrang barrels- Here is where the oak kicks in and takes over.
Not sure how this will turn out since we did not blend all 3 together but the individual parts were all impressive (for Chard). No score.
- 2003 Wyncroft Pinot Noir Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
2nd time I have had this wine. The first being a barrel sample in 2004. We drank this side by side with the 2001 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Freedom Hill during dinner in the vineyard. About the same light orangish ruby color as before. Last time I called this a serious Pinot with some barnyard notes. Well gone are the barnyard notes and in my opinion this wine has lost some weight but has integrated very nicely and rounded out. In terms of body it was heavier than the 2005 but not a full bodied as the 2004. Carmellike nose with creamy red fruit on the palate. Well balanced with a wonderful delicate mouthfeel. Definitely Burgundian. Drinking well now. Not sure how well this will age though based upon how it has changed in 2 years. 89-90 points.
- 2001 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Freedom Hill - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
A friend brought this to the Wyncroft vineyard dinner to compare to Jims 2003 Pinot Noir. I thought it was a good comparison wine and were comparable in quality. The main difference was the more lively acidity in the Ken Wright. This wine had a nice round texture and was medium bodied. Very nice with the food. 89-90 points.
- 2004 Wyncroft Pinot Noir Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
This was the fullest and ripest of the 3 Pinots that Jim poured for us. Dark ruby crimson color with wonderful extraction. Every time I try one of Jims Pinots I am amazed at the concentration and richness of fruit he is able to achieve. Excellent depth with notes of clove, red berries and some nuttiness. Dry finsh with a good length. Impressive. Should improve. 90+ points.
- 2005 Wyncroft Pinot Noir Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Jim poured a barrel sample of this for us at his winery. We looked at the color of this wine inside and it showed as a medium red color. When Jim took us outside and held it up in the sunlight it showed as a rose orange color. Some cloudiness in this sample. Cropped at 1.5 tons per acre, Jim vinified this to 14% alcohol. What a young vibrant wine this was. Notes of cranberry and bright cherry. Light to medium bodied at this stage but it should put on some weight in barrel. Hard to gauge this wine but I would give it 87-89 at present.
- 2002 Wyncroft Shou Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
2nd time I have had this. The last time was a barrel sample in 2004. This has evolved very nicely over the last 2 years and I rated this a couple points higher this time. This is a Bordeaux blend made of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Medium to full bodies. A very warm vintage in Southwest Michigan. I know how Jim gets the ripeness in his grapes but I don't know why he is the only one in the area. Notes of cassis, currant, raw meat on the palate and some leather nuances on the nose. 90-91 points.
- 2003 Wyncroft Shou Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
2nd time I have had this as well. Last time from barrel and this time from bottle (and a nice job of packaging on the bottle at that). You will not find the word "Shou" on the label though- only the chinese symbol for the word. Unlike the 2002, this has much more Cab Franc than Merlot. 79% Cab Sauvignon, 17% Cab Franc and 4% Merlot. A little cooler vintage but good heat int he Fall to ripen the grapes. Showing some light smoky oak at present. Medium bodied and well balanced. Smooth moutheel. Rich red fruit in this Bordeaux lookalike. Exactly what I thought it would be after I tried it 2 years ago. Never, never, never would you guess where this is from in a blind tasting. 91 points.
- 1988 Château Duhart-Milon - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
Allred brought this to the Wyncroft vineyard dinner to open alongside the Wyncroft Bordeaux blends. It was a hard comparison to make because this wine was 14 years older than the oldest Wyncroft Cab we sampled. This was an elegant Bordeaux starting to enter its prime whereas the "Shou's" were full of youthful exuberance with lively primary fruit. I have know idea what the Wyncroft wines will be like 10 years from now. This wine was light to medium bodied (at least in comparison) with some leather and berry notes. 89+ points.
- 2005 Wyncroft Shou Avonlea Vineyard - USA, Michigan, Lake Michigan Shore
Jim poured a barrel sample of this for us at the winery. When we got the the vineyard he showed us the parcel where he grows his Cab and it was noticeably more rocky than the other parcels. In part, Jim attributes the ripeness of the Shou to the baseball sized stones in the soil and the heat they generate (much like the galets in the Southern Rhone). 14% alcohol in this young wine. A dark red color with notes of sweet red and black fruit. Rich texture with firm tannins at present. Young and in need of time. 89+ points.
- 1997 Giuseppe Nada Barbaresco Riserva Casot - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
A friend oof Jim Lesters brought this bottle to dinner. I have not had a bottle from this producer before. A medium red color. Notes of violets, cherry and spices in this earthy wine. Very nice. Tried it toward the end of the evening so it was hard to get a handle on it. Palate fatigue. 90+ points.
I know there were other wines that were poured but I did not take notes on them. One of Jims friends brought a very interesting Rose' that he made. Thanks again to Jim and Rae Lee. A simply outstanding time. I spoke to Jim about coming up for the next Chicago Steak Out and throwing his Shou into the lineup of 15 blind wines and I think he is up for it.