Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling

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

Grape: Riesling

Ripeness: Late Harvest

Region: Old Mission Peninsula AVA

Vineyards: Capella & Montague Estate

Vintage: 2008

ABV: 8.5%

Appearance: Light straw

Nose: Peaches, apricots, Macintosh apples, tangerine

On the palate: Full-bodied. Lots of light, sweet fruit, with overripe peach, more Macintosh, tangerine and ruby-red grapefruit. A hint of coriander seed and green cardamom.

Finish: Long, strong finish of tart apples, more granny smith now than Macintosh.

Parting words: This is a classic Michigan Riesling from a winery that does it better than just about anybody else. The voluptuous body and sweetness calls to mind a traditional German spätlese but the Old Mission terroir puts its own delightful, unmistakable stamp on things. Complex, sensual, fruity and sweet but never cloying or flabby. Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling is all a Northern Michigan Riesling should be. This would probably still be as tasty as it is now in a year, but I had waited long enough on this one. Highly Recommended.

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.

Bubbly Nouveau

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Muscat, Cayuga

Region: Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style: Carbonated White Wine

Vintage: 2011 (different vintage pictured)

ABV: 7%

Appearance: Very pale, practically clear, with nice, spritely persistent bubbles.

On the palate: Sweet and foxy. The Muscat and Cayuga make their presence plainly known but are restrained (barely). Table grapes, Granny Smith apples with a hint of perfume and persimmon.

Finish: Tart and tingly but mellows within 20 seconds or so.

Parting Words: Bubbly Nouveau is a fleeting annual release from BSF. As one might expect from the name, it is recommended that this one be consumed promptly. I can’t imagine it getting much tarter than this and being enjoyable. Not everybody enjoys foxy native grape wines or Muscat but I do. This is a fun, rustic American wine that doesn’t require a lot of attention and is best drunk fast and early. Recommended.

NOTE: The original version of this review stated that Riesling was also used to make the 2011 vintage of Bubbly Nouveau. That is not correct. Thanks for the correction, @bstar2009!

Black Star Farms 10 year old Apple Brandy

Age: 10 y/o

ABV: 42.7%

Appearance: Copper with thick clingy legs

Nose: alcohol, mulled cider, apple pie, cardamom, lemon juice, apple sauce with sweet cinnamon, brown butter

On the palate: full-bodied. Sweet brown sugar, a good amount of burn, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and tart apples.

Finish: warm, dry, that sweet cinnamon again, reminding me of my grandmother’s homemade apple sauce.

Parting Words: This a fantastic spirit. The standard Black Star Farms Apple Brandy is a pleasant sipper that performs nicely in cocktails and in mulled cider. But this 10 y/o apple brandy reaches sublime hights. Black Star Farms’ 10 y/o apple brandy was aged in a new toasted oak barrel, like those used for wine. This results in a spirit that, even at 10 y/o, still has a lot of crisp apple character. It is on par with a fine cognac or Armagnac and is best sipped neat or with a little water in a snifter or Glencairn glass.

There are few micro-distilling outfits that have been in business long enough to offer a 10 y/o product that they made themselves. Even some that are approaching that number have not been putting any back for longer aging. Black Star Farms had the foresight to let this brandy lay. It’s not cheap, I paid $75 at the tasting room for my bottle, but unlike most $75 whiskeys, this stuff is worth every penny. Highly Recommended.

A Visit to Black Star Farms

I’m feeling like crap  today but I’m going to get this written up, dammit.

On Saturday, Jun 19, 2011 Frind of the Blog Amy and I and our spouses and my baby visited Black Star Farms Old Mission tasting room in Traverse City, Michigan. Black Star Farms is one of the best (if not the best) wineries in Michigan. They are well known for their exceptional late-harvest Rieslings, sur lie Chards and many other excellent wines and even cider. Their website is Look for a review of the 2008 Late Harvest Riesling in the near future!

Anyway we had been there before but, what we were most interested in this time was their spirits program. They produce a number of them.

Red Grape Grappa
White Grape Grappa (I had this and it was excellent)

Spirit of…(eaux de vie)
Plum (also very good)
Pear (also a version with the pear inside the bottle)

Apple Brandies
Spirit of Apple (NAS but about 12 mos. old)
10 y/o Apple Brandy (spectacular)

For the sake of full discosure, I had been communicating with their Twitterer Coryn and she waived the tasting fees for my party and me, a $25 value.

She also showed Amy and I around behind the scenes. Here are some photos Amy took:

Their press

Their Still

According to Coryn:

The still is run 3-4 times a week

–          The clear fruit eau de vie brandies come off the still at approx. 75-80% (150-160 proof). They rest in the glass carboys and are then blended in the stainless steel tanks where they sit for approx. a month. They cut the brandy to be 40% (80 proof) and then bottle it.
–          The apple brandy comes off the still at 75% (150 proof) and goes into the barrel at 65% (130 proof) where it ages for approx 12 months. When it is bottled it is cut down to 40% (80 proof).

The carboys

Their Barrels with aging Apple Brandy

Again, from Coryn:

The barrels are a combination of French and American Oak. They were new when we purchased them and they are used for one rotation of aging for the apple brandy and then they get used to age the Sirius Maple Dessert wine. They are relatively low toasted oak barrels – this style was chosen b/c the idea is to accentuate the fruit of the apple.

Finally, their bottler:

The apple brandy is a very different beast from Laird’s which has so many fans among my fellow bourbon-fanciers. It is a much more delicate spirit than that or even Tom’s Foolery. Spirit of Apple was reviewed few months ago on this blog. When I first opened it I got a weird celery aroma in the nose, but that has calmed down now.

The 10 y/o is just great, great stuff. So complex and elegant, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. You all know what a cheap bastard I am, but I have not regreted paying $75 for it yet. A review of that will be forthcoming, hopefully a video review.

Anyway, it’s definately worth the trip if you ever make it “Up North” to Traverse City!