A Star is born
|By Michael Brenton|
Leelanau Peninsula's Black Star Farms dazzles with wine dinnerTraveling north from Traverse City on M-22 always promises to be an exciting vinous adventure. The Leelanau Peninsula wine scene continues to expand, with this year’s new wineries bringing the count up to 25 — one-quarter of Michigan’s total. M-22 closely follows Grand Traverse Bay in a winding and picturesque path. The beauty of the bay and the rolling hills and vineyards are expected, but the sudden vision of what appears to be a grand southern manor may come as a surprise for the uninitiated. Just before Suttons Bay looms the sprawling mansion that defines Black Star Farms. Peaked gables, multiple chimneys and towering white columns attract the eye and pique the curiosity. This is the Inn at Black Star Farms, adjacent to the tasting room, cellar, paddocks, stables and underground cellars. Black Star styles itself as “a unique agricultural destination,” and that it is. It is also becoming known for cuisine in the luxurious and palatial bed and breakfast, and the periodic wine dinners.
The recent Spring Wine Club Dinner provided an opportunity to sample new releases of popular Black Star Farms wines and to evaluate how it is doing on the cuisine side of the equation. Featured white wines were from the excellent 2011 vintage. Longtime winemaker Lee Lutes noted (and guests affirmed) that whites from this vintage are bright and fresh, and acidity is pronounced, as you’d expect from the region. Black Star attaches the Arcturos label to its premium table wines. A 2011 Arcturos barrel-aged Chardonnay ($18.50 at the winery) paired perfectly with the rich flavors of lake trout and morel mushroom risotto consommé with saffron. The wine world is filled with over-oaked wines, but this is definitely not one of them. Full-bodied, with a soft palate, it is well balanced with a touch of vanilla oak.
A course of prosciutto arugula salad with apple, fromage blanc, basil oil, verjus and bee pollen partnered beautifully with the 2011 Arcturos Dry Riesling ($16.50). Good Dry Riesling is fruity and acidic, creating a flavor explosion on the palate that begs another sip. Lutes has the perfect touch with Dry Riesling — year in and year out, his vintage is one of Michigan’s best. Created from Old Mission fruit, it displays effusive aromatics with distinct floral notes. With just 0.9 percent residual sugar acting as a counterpoint to the fine Riesling acids, it is a great backyard quaffer. If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, give this a shot. Furthermore, the fine acidity in this wine should make it a great ager, so don’t be shy about buying several bottles and trying them over time.
Michigan Pinot Noir has its own regional style, and the pursuit of Pinot perfection is Lutes’ Holy Grail. Don’t expect something like the big, dark, high alcohol, overblown California style, and don’t be confused that light color suggests light flavor. The 2011 Arcturos Pinot Noir ($22.50) was presented alongside a delectable duck breast, parsnip and vanilla bean puree, wild leeks and a demi glace. Light ruby in color, this Pinot is a delicate and nuanced wine showing hints of strawberry and cherry, complemented by a dollop of oak.
Bigger reds such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon typically require more barrel and bottle time before becoming approachable, so our tasting in this category was a 2010 Leorie Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet Franc ($48). This wine is from a single vineyard on Old Mission Peninsula. Grown in gravel soil, the Merlot/Cab Franc has deep garnet color, minerality, dark fruit, spice and a touch of cedar. The tannins are already well integrated, but this wine clearly has the stuffing to go the distance and was a perfect pairing for lamb-chetta with potato gnocchi with tomato and fennel. Executive Chef Jonathan Dayton seeks out locally grown food sources whenever possible, and the lamb exemplified the quality of the region.
Black Star Farms is serious about its array of dessert wines and liqueurs. The Sirius White Dessert Wine ($28.50) made from 100 percent Chardonnay, finished with 10 percent residual sugar and 17 percent alcohol. Rich, viscous, mouth-filling, and honeyed, the wine is fortified with brandy distilled from the same Chardonnay fruit, and barrel-aged up to 10 months. It is surprisingly delicate, but still has good viscosity and a kick from the brandy on the mid-palate. Paired with a ricotta and almond torta with lemon curd, it was a fitting end to a great meal. Lutes suggested that the Sirius White would be a perfect component of a classic Portuguese cocktail consisting of white port with tonic or soda and a squeeze of lime. Just substitute the Sirius for the port.
Not part of the dinner, but right for any occasion is an affordable sparkling wine, one of the most versatile of wine styles. Black Star’s 2011 “Be Dazzled” ($13.75), comprised of the traditional Champagne blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, with 1 percent residual sugar, fits the niche perfectly. Crisp, effervescent and palate cleansing, it can be enjoyed on its own or with a wide range of foods.
On deck at Black Star Farms is a Michigan gourmet delight: the Morels in May mushroom hunt and dinner. Beginning at 4 p.m. May 8, guests will venture into the woods with a seasoned guide in search of the elusive morel. That will segue into a mouthwatering five-course meal consisting of smoked rabbit and caramelized morels, morel and asparagus with pea tendrils, fresh mozzarella and pickled ramp, morel and Swiss chard stuffed chicken breast, leg of lamb with pancetta and crisp morels and candied morel mushroom ice cream with hazelnut crumble and white chocolate. Seriously, this is a gastronomic morel extravaganza.
For more information about the periodic wine dinners presented at the Inn at Black Star Farms, go to blackstarfarms.com.
In Vino Veritas
(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)