At the Bel Lago Vineyard (www.bellago.com), wine is made from grapes grown in family-owned vineyards overlooking Lake Leelanau.
Black Star Farms (www.blackstarfarms.com) is an “agricultural destination” that features two winery production facilities with adjacent tasting rooms, a distillery, an inn and an equestrian facility. The main farm is also on the Leelanau Peninsula.
The tasting kicked off with a surprise from Bel Lago, a 1998 Brut sparkler comprised of a blend of traditional Champagne grape varieties, plus Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.
The wine spent eight years en tirage (before bottling, a small amount of wine, sugar and yeast is added — "liqueur de tirage" — to trigger a second fermentation in the bottle), garnered a score of 89 from Wine Spectator, and is a great expression of the aging ability of a well-made sparkling wine. The wine still has good mousse (the layer of small bubbles on the top of sparkling wine), broad, maturing, complex flavors and perhaps the slightest hint of oxidation, which can represent bottle variation.
Black Star Farm’s Brut Sparkling Wine from the 2004 vintage showed a brighter, more youthful nose and crisp, refreshing palate feel, with just the right amount of acidity. Both paired well with deviled quail egg.
A pairing of Bel Lago 2008 Auxerrois (a grape variety typically indigenous to the Alsace region of France) and Black Star Farm’s 2008 Arcturos Dry Riesling were the yin and yang of a pairing with Dungeness crab Georgia peach bisque. Bel Lago is one of the few wineries in the country to create wine from Auxerrois, and Edson does it well. It is dry, complex, floral and balanced.
Another perennial personal favorite is Black Star Farms’ Arcturos Dry Riesling, which somehow manages to present both a soft, viscous mouth feel but, at the same time, a crisp, lingering finish, when the citrus flavors kick in. Despite being “dry,” it is a bit sweeter than the Auxerrois.
Another point/counter point was presented by Bel Lago 2008 Pinot Grigio versus Black Star’s Arcturos 2008 Pinot Gris. They are made using the same grape, but labeling a wine as “Pinot Grigio” typically denotes a lighter, crisper Italian style of wine-making. Parenthetically, it may equate with greater marketability. Some wineries report that wine consumers respond to the name Pinot Grigio more readily than Pinot Gris, prompting many wineries to switch labels, while presenting an essentially similar product.
The Bel Lago was light and soft, presenting with fresh citrus and pear flavors, and finishing clean. The Black Star wine had a bit deeper color, a broader palate, and a sensation of a firmer acid backbone.
Next came the Chardonnay face-off. The 2007 Bel Lago Chardonnay really showed its French oak heritage in the creamy, vanilla-tinged nose. Half the enjoyment was just smelling it. It followed with soft, broad flavors and overtones of tropical fruit. Black Star’s Arcturos 2007 Barrel Aged Chardonnay also showed its oak heritage but had a crisper, less viscous mouth feel than the Bel Lago.
Both wineries are devoting substantial effort to their respective Pinot Noir programs that strutted their stuff with 2007 vintages, which paired beautifully with roast breast of pheasant. The Bel Lago wine presented with a deep, broad, dark fruit nose, creaminess associated with its French oak barrel aging, round mouth feel, a bit of earthiness and a lingering finish. The Black Star Arcturos Pinot Noir was still tight and youthful upon initial pouring, opened with airing, and showed bright, vibrant, strawberry and red berry fruit aromas, earthiness, peppery overtones and a palate-cleansing finish.
Late breaking news: Results from the prestigious Pacific Rim International Wine Competition were just released. Approximately 1,600 wines from around the globe were entered. Bel Lago received a Gold Medal for its 2008 Leelanau Primavera, a Silver Medal for 2008 Pinot Grigio and — ready for this? — Bel Lago 2007 Semi-Dry Riesling was selected as the Competition’s Best Pacific Rim White Wine. What a testament to the ever evolving quality of Leelanau Peninsula grape growing and wine making, and international recognition of that fact!
My tastes of this wine confirm the tropical fruit flavors, soft, viscous mouth feel, tangy acidity on the back palate, and long, lingering finish.
A great opportunity for readers to experience a total immersion tasting afternoon is just around the corner. The annual Leland Wine and Fruit Festival will be presented next to Fishtown, at the Leland Harbor on Saturday, June 12. It is one of the best wine festivals in the state and well worth the effort to attend.
In Vino Veritas
(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly.)