Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA20190220_211053.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Style: Sweet/semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Pale gold

Nose: Canned pear, gravel.

Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet but not cloying. Pineapple-mango-orange juice, mineral water.

Finish: Drying, peach.

Parting words: Bel Lago needs no introduction for long time readers of this blog. It’s one of my favorite Michigan wineries.

Like most of Michigan’s best, Bel Lago has a fine line of Riesling wines at varying levels of sweetness. Select Harvest is a style of late harvest wine roughly equivalent to German Auslese in terms of ripeness. As such, they are more age-worthy than dry Rieslings, which is why I waited so long to open this bottle. This wine is not especially complex (perhaps due to the brutal 2014 vintage) but it hits all the right notes for ripe Riesling: sweetness, citrus, and minerals. I have a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar and I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next 3 or 4 years. 2014 Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling is recommended.

 

Tempesta, 2012

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA.20170926_160931

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, others.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

Style: Red blend.

Note: Spent 32 months in French and American oak.

ABV: 13.2%

Price: $44 (Michigan By the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Wild blackberries, toasted oak, sautéed mushrooms.

Palate: Medium bodied and well-balanced. Blackberry jam, raspberry juice, light oak, seared steak.

Finish: Fruity and tart, then chewy and oaky.

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Parting words: Bel Lago is located on the shores of Lake Leelanau, in the Leelanau peninsula. The view certainly lives up to the name! Owners Charlie Edson and Amy Iezzoni are known for their cherry wine (Amy practically invented the stuff), field blends and their committment to ripeness. That committment is clearest in the Bel Lago’s rich, rounded Pinot Noir and Auxerrois (Blanc) wines.

Tempesta is not estate grown and not a field blend, obviously, but it does have that trademark ripeness. Oak is present, but not used to cover up anything, just to enhance the savory quailities of Cabernet Franc. Fruit and earthy flavors are in the lead, yoked together by Tempesta’s mid-palate tartness.

$44 is a lot for a non-AVA Michigan red. One could find similar wines from California at a lower price. I still think Tempesta is worth the price in a good vintage like 2012 when cellared for at least four years. 2012s may be nearly impossible to find now, but 2016 was a stellar vintage and 2017 is looking like it may be as well. Bel Lago’s 2012 Tempesta is recommended.

Bel Lago Moreno Reserve Pinot Noir, 2012

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USA20170710_192817

Grape: Pinot Noir (Dijon clones)

Place of origin: Moreno Vineyard, Bel Lago Eastate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA.

Notes: 30 months in oak.

ABV: 14.6%

Purchased for $45 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)

Appearance: Translucent ruby.

Nose: Cherry wine, clove, pepper melange, oak, pinch of wet earth.

Palate: Juicy on entry. Medium bodied. Cherry, red currant, blueberry, pink peppercorn, strawberry.

Finish: Juicy with growing oak.

Parting words: Bel Lago winery lives up to its name, Italian for “beautiful lake”, with one of the most beautiful views on the Leelanau Peninsula. It overlooks Lake Leelanau, which is named after the peninsula & county which was itself named by Indian agent and ethnographer Henry Schoolcraft in honor of his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft who wrote under the name Leelinau, a neologism created by her or Henry. Henry used the name for Native American women in some of the stories he wrote. Henry created several other pseudo-indigenous place names in Michigan, including Lenawee, Alpena, Kalkaska and Oscoda, combining native words with Latin or Arabic elements.

Pinot Noir was one of the varieties hardest hit during the disasterous 2014 and 2015 Polar Vortex vintages. I recently spoke to a Northern Michigan winemaker who told me that he was burnt out on the grape. This winemaker said that Pinot Noir is not worth growing in Michigan because it’s a pain in the ass to grow and it’s rarely any good (my paraphrase).

Bel Lago’s Moreno Vineyard Pinot Noir is a brilliant counterpoint to that view. Oak and spice provide the right amount of contrast to highlight the fruit that drives this wine. This wine is an excellent example of how good Pinot can be in Northern Michigan, at least in a long, hot year like 2012. $45 puts it at the top end of Michigan reds, but I think it’s worth the money. It’s as good as Pinto gets in Michigan. Bel Lago Moreno Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 is highly recommended.

 

Bel Lago Auxerrois, 2013

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USAwp-1468093271317.jpg

Place of origin: Bel Lago estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.9%

Price: $19 (website price for 2012 vintage)

Nose: Cut golden apple, peach, pear, leather.

Palate: Full bodied, dry. Subtle pear, cantaloupe, a drop of brown butter.

Finish: A little tangy and a little sweet, then a touch of smoke as it fades.

Parting words: Auxerrois is not a grape that finds its way onto labels very much. It’s a member of the Pinot family grapes. According to geneticists, Auxerrois shares the same parentage as Chardonnay, making it something of a fraternal twin. It’s primarily grown in Alsace in eastern France, where it is one of the most commonly grown varieties (in 2008, it was grown on twice the acreage of Pinot Blanc). Alsace is between Burgundy and Germany geographically and wino-graphically. It is best known for its white wines which include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. Where does that leave Auxerrois? There’s a strange quirk in French wine laws that allows Alsatian wines labeled Pinot Blanc to contain any white wine from the Pinot family. Auxerrois is one of the most popular choices for Pinot Blanc, whether blended with Blanc and Gris or even all by itself(!). It brings Chard-like mouthfeel and fruit to the blend as a counterpoint Pinot Blanc’s crispness.

Bel Lago became the first winery to plant Auxerrois in Michigan in 1987. They’ve treated it with care and made a great wine out of it, year after year. Pinot Blanc has been raised as a possible signature grape for Michigan but maybe its old pal Auxerrois is a better choice. Bel Lago Auxerrois is highly recommended.

Bel Lago Pinot Noir

Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Michigan, USAwp-1466635963046.jpg

Place of Origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: Non-vintage (2016 release of 2011 & 2013 vintages)

ABV: 13.2%

Purchased for $25 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Translucent ruby.

Nose: Lightly fruity. Red currant, blueberry, white pepper, grape jelly, oak.

Palate: Light. Blackberry, strawberry, oak, clove.

Finish: Fruity tang then sliding into oak.

Parting words: Non-vintage (NV) wine has suddenly become much more popular in Michigan because of the two apocalyptic vintages in a row, 2014 & 2015. For reds this was especially the case, but even for Chardonnay and Riesling the polar vortex vintages were disastrous. So wine makers blended reserves of previous better vintages together so that they would have decent wine to bottle in 2016.

Bel Lago is one of the best wineries in Northern Michigan. They’re known for cherry wine, rosé

and whites (like their excellent Auxerrois) but ain’t shabby with reds either. I didn’t expect this non-vintage Pinot Noir to be good, but my expectations were exceeded. It’s not as well integrated and balanced as vintage editions, but it goes well with food and there are no obvious flaws. Chilling brings out an inky taste and aroma, so drink at room temperature if possible. $25 is about $5 too much, but I feel sorry for our wineries having to struggle through those two winters so I don’t mind paying it. Bel Lago NV Pinot Noir is recommended.