Bel Lago Cherry Wine

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA20160329_112358-1.jpg

Cherries: Balaton, Montmorency.

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, USA

ABV: 9.5%

Price: $15 (winery)

Appearance: Dark crimson.

Nose: Grape jelly, tart cherry pie filling, cassia, brown sugar, whiff of oak.

Palate: Full-bodied and velvety. Overdone cherry pie, allspice, mace.

Finish: Chewy, sweet and a little tart.

Parting words: Bel Lago has the reputation of being the best cherry wine produced in Michigan. That’s probably because they invented it. Michigan State’s Dr. Amy Iezzoni, wife of Bel Lago founder Charlie Edson, is responsible for bringing the Balaton cherry variety to the US after discovering it in Hungary. The variety’s original name was Ujfehértói Fürtös but Dr. Iezzoni thought Balaton (after Lake Balaton) rolled off the tongue a little better. Her goal was to help break up the Montmorency monoculture in the US. She has succeeded. Balaton produces wine and juice that has more depth and complexity than Montmorency and has the ability to reach wine-like sugar levels of 24 °Bx or so.


The wine is lush, complex and velvety in a way that few fruit wines are. There’s no doubt that this is cherry wine, but it transcends the category at a decent price. Bel Lago Cherry Wine is highly recommended.

Good Harbor Cherry Wine

Maker: Good Harbor, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-01-21-20.33.42.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, USA

Cherries: Montmorency, Balaton.

ABV: 10%

Purchased for $12

Notes: Estate grown.

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Spiced cherry pie,

Palate: Medium bodied. Tart cherries, nectarine, white pepper.

Finish: Black cherries slowly morphing into a lingering tartness.

Parting words: I don’t recall ever drinking, let alone seeing, an estate grown Michigan cherry wine before this one. Lots of credit to Good Harbor for taking cherry wine seriously and most of all, making a very good one. This is an elegant dessert wine that’s worth every penny. Good Harbor Cherry Wine is highly recommended.

Cheerio Cherry Wine

Maker: Gill’s Pier, Traverse City/Northport, Michigan, USAIMG_20130920_145824

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

ABV: 10%

Purchased for: $15

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Black cherries, blackberry, hint of leather and clove.

On the palate: Medium bodied and slightly tart. Black cherry, black raspberry, allspice.

Finish: More tart and long-lasting. Tart cherries, touch of mace.

Parting words: I’ve reviewed cherry wines before but it’s been a while. I have never reviewed anything from Gill’s Pier though, so when I saw this in my local grocery store I bought it and gave it a spin.

I’ve never been to Gill’s Pier and don’t know much about it other than what is on their website. It was founded in 2002, is located on the Leelanau peninsula and is owned by Ryan and Kris Sterkenburg. Judging by the wines on their website, their emphasis is on white blends with a couple reds as well. The winery was named after a nearby former Czech settlement, which included St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, now a parish Sutton’s Bay, Michigan.

The wine drinks very nicely. It is well balanced and fairly complex for a cherry wine.  It’s not quite sweet enough for a a dessert wine, but it’s too sweet and dry to drink with a meal. It probably works best as an after dinner chitchat wine or with a cheese course. It’s not cheap, but it’s one of the better cherry wines I’ve had. Cheerio is recommended.

Chateau de Leelanau Cherry Wine

Maker: Chateau de Leenenau, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Region: Michigan, USA

ABV: 9.5%

Appearance: Translucent brick red. Like a ruby or unscooped raspberry or cherry jelly in a glass jar.

Nose: Slightly tart cherries, sweetness.

On the palate: Light-bodied and sweet. Sweet cherries, a touch of tartness. Not much else going on.

Finish: Sweet and light. Slightly tart.

Parting words: After tasting what Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal and St. Julian do with their cherry wines, Chateau de Leenlenau is a disappointment. It’s not unpleasant. It could hit the spot on a hot afternoon or evening if properly chilled. But Michigan cherry wine can be so much more interesting than this. Sadly this wine was the best one at the tasting room, too. The folks at CDL are nice people, but I can’t bring myself to recommend this wine. There are better options for your cherry wine dollar.

Black Star Farms Cherry Wine

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

ABV: 10%

Appearance: dark burgundy with broad, slow legs.

Nose: tart cherry, wild blackberry, walnut.

On the palate: Full-bodied, with a sumptuous mouthfeel. Mildly sweet and mildly tart. Bold, robust cherry flavors with a little clove and allspice.

Finish: slightly sweet, tart and tingly.

Parting words: Cherry wine and other fruit wines are looked down upon by many connoisseurs as pop wine or a representative of the bad old days of American wine. There are plenty of bad, sickly and cloying fruit wines on the market, granted. In the right hands, though, fruit wines and especially cherry wine (a northern Michigan staple) can be fine dessert wine. A cherry wine will probably never reach the heights of complexity of a decades old vintage Port, but a good one like this can give a ruby a run for its money. Black Star Farms takes what could be little more than a sop to the fudgies and transforms it into something worth drinking. Recommended.

Now Drinking

Black Star Farms Carbonated Apple Hard Cider

Maker: Black Star Farms Winery (Traverse City, Michigan)

ABV: 7%

Is there anything Black Star Farms doesn’t do well?  One may well ask.  At the most recent Michigan Wine & Spirits competition they did fairly well: Best of Class Dry White: Black Star Farms – 2009 Arcturos Pinot Gris, Best of Class Semi-Dry White: Black Star Farms – 2009 Arcturos Riesling, Best of Class Sparkling Wine: Black Star Farms – 2008 Sparkling Wine, Double Gold: 2007 A Capella Pinot Noir.  Not too shabby.  They also have an aged apple brandy and numerous eaux de vie.  Rumor has it that a 10 year old apple brandy will be hitting the shelves of their Traverse City tasting room soon.  I’ve put my best dusty-hunting friends on the case.

Anyway, this apple cider, presumably the younger cousin to their brandies, is not exception.  It is in the dry-ish British style (of the mass-produced ones we get here, anyway) but doesn’t go off the edge like the one I reviewed from Motor City.

The nose is light, almost like a Riesling, sweet apple blossoms and a bit of citrus.  In the mouth, it’s all crisp, early season golden skinned “eating” apples, like Golden Delicious or Ginger Gold.  The sweetness then comes in, but fades away quickly.  The finish is light and sweet.  This is one of the best ciders I’ve had since I’ve started this blog.

Now Drinking

Round Barn Apple Demi Sec

Region: Lake Michigan Shore AVA

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, MI

ABV: 12%

Round Barn is a jack-of-all-trades winery.  Located in the heart of the SW Michigan Lake Michigan Shore AVA (American Viticultural Area), they cut their teeth on the white wines and fruit wines that are the lifeblood of the Michigan wine industry.  They have branched out into brewing and distilling, producing (or at least bottling) a vodka made from their own grapes.

The concept of an apple wine still seems odd to me.  Why not drop the prentense and call it a cider?  But after a few drinks, I understand why they call it an apple wine.  First of all, as you may have noticed, the alcohol content is much closer to a wine than a typical cider, which frankly is a little dangerous, I can already tell you.  It is also more acidic than typical ciders and has a delicate dryness that is as close to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as it is to a glass of Woodpecker, for instance.

Still, the apples are leading the charge.  It is in the lighter, dry style of most British ciders.  The smell reminds me of working my way through grad school in the childcare industry and the hordes of apple juice guzzling children I shepherded through their single digits.  It lacks the robust body of my favorite ciders, but has a lightness that makes a good change of pace on a summer afternoon.