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.

 

Chateau Aeronautique Pinot Noir, 2011

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan20170311_163550.jpg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%?)

Vintage: 2011

ABV: Unknown, but seems high.

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle wine club)

Appearance: Translucent ruby. Thick, juicy legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, sweet cherry, blueberry.

Palate: Medium bodied and blandly fruity. Roasted plantain, blueberry.

Finish: Slightly tart, slightly tannic.

Parting words: “Ham fisted” is one of my favorite idioms in the English language. Its origins are uncertain but it may be connected to the use of the word “ham” to describe an awkwardly bad, over-the-top actor. It’s a phrase that perfectly describes the winemaking style at Chateau Aeronautique. ChA’s aggressive, alcohol-heavy style can work well with bold reds like Cab Franc and the wines of their Aviatrix series but is not well suited to wines like the last ChA wine I reviewed, the 2012 Riesling or this Pinot Noir.

The “Bull in a china shop” is the idiom that describes this specific wine the best. Pinot Noirs with power can be enjoyable but that power must be balanced with fruit and earth (or other aromas) or else the grape loses its distinctiveness. That is what happened here. All that said, I don’t think ChA’s 2011 Pinot Noir is awful (although my usually easy to please wife did). It’s just that, like the Riesling, it’s out of balance. All nuance is smashed to bits on the horns of its aggression. At $25 from a boutique producer I expect better. Chateau Aeronautique’s 2011 Pinot Noir is not recommended.

 

Hawthorne Pinot Noir Reserve, 2012

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse20170208_211507.jpg City, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Hawthorne estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (100%)

ABV: 12.3%

MSRP: $22

For more information, see tech sheet here.

Appearance: Bright ruby, almost transparent.

Nose: Blueberry, new oak, cherry juice, raspberry jam, allspice, pepperoni.

Palate: Light bodied and semi dry. Fruit cocktail but with beefy oak and tannins looming in the background like hired goons.

Finish: A little chewy and oaky, but still refreshing and fruity.

Parting words: I had this bottle in the wine rack in our dining room (the wine version of the on deck circle in our house) when I saw a local wine loving friend of mine raving about it on social media. So I had to make it the next one I opened. I’m glad I did. It’s very good.

Perfectly balanced between fruit, spice and meat, it’s easily one of the top Michigan Pinots I’ve had. Hawthorne is becoming one of my favorite Michigan wineries on the back of the wonderful wines they produced in the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Don’t let the shiny labels and modern condo-esque tasting room fool you, these are people who take growing grapes and making wine very seriously. These bottles can be found on the odd grovery store or wineshop shelf, but Michigan by the Bottle Auburn Hills is the place you can be sure to find some. Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Pinot Noir Reserve is highly recommended.

Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Pinot Noir

Maker: Rivers-Marie, Yountville, California, USAwp-1475111484518.png

Place of origin: Occidental Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma Coast AVA, California, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.8%

Price: $50 (winery)

We received a complimentary tasting and tour of the winery at the time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Dynamic. Red raspberry, crushed blueberry, wet oak, smoke.

Palate: Pomegranate, tart cherry juice, old oak, leather, morel mushrooms.

Finish: Mixed fruit jam, crimini mushrooms, custard, oak. Softly lingers f0r a moderate length of time.

Parting words: This wine is from our (Mrs. Sipology’s and mine) trip to NoCal a couple years ago. I wrote up the trip here. Rivers-Marie produces (or at least produced in 2012) two single vineyard Sunoma Pinots, Occidental Ridge and Summa ( the latter owned by one of the co-owners of R-M) as well as a general Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

Four years in the bottle have turned a good wine into a great one. Rivers-Marie makes some of the best Pinot in California. It’s fruity, earthy and bold without being too aggressive and killing the beautiful character of the grape. If you can find some, buy it. 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.

Arcturos Pinot Noir, 2012

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

Place of origin: Michigan (68% Leelanau Co., 32% Grand Traverse Co.)

ABV: 13%

Price: $25 (website)

Appearance: Light burgundy with long clingy legs.

Nose: Toasted oak, strawberry juice, grape jelly, blackberry jam, blueberries.

Palate: Raspberry juice, oak, portabella mushrooms, red currants.

Finish: Wild blackberries, black currants, leather, cranberry juice cocktail.

Parting words: I gave a big positive review to the 2011 vintage of this last year and I think this one is even better. The 2011 was a bright spot in an uneven year for Michigan reds. It’s better integrated than in 2011. The tannic, earthy and fruity flavors are in perfect balance. It was more fruity and earthy when I first opened it, but it has become oakier as it sat. Either way, it’s a delicious wine that does well with food or without and is worth the price. 2012 Arcturos Pinot Noir is recommended.

Pelee Island Pinot Noir

Maker: Pelee Island Winery, Kingsville, Ontario, Canadawpid-2015-06-30-15.51.05.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Pelee Island VQA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $13 (Northwood Market)

Appearance: Dark plum.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, dried tobacco, strawberry.

Palate: Blueberry, black raspberry, strawberry, leather.

Finish: Very mild then fades into a strong bitter flavor.

Parting words: I reviewed the 2007 vintage way back in 2011 and I liked it. It was a fine, table-grade Pinot. This is certainly table-grade but not fine. The soapy, bitter finish ruins a decent (though clunky) wine. It fares a little better chilled but not much. Pelee Island has been in the game for a long time. Surely they can pull of something better than this mess. I wish I had a better review for Canada Day, but this vintage of Pelee Island Pinot Noir is not recommended.

A Capella

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

Grape: Pinot Noir

Place of origin: Capella and Montaña Rusa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $25

Appearance: Deep burgundy with slow, medium width legs.

Nose: Walnut, cherry, touch of cedar.

Palate: Earthy. More so than any other Michigan Pinot I’ve had. Black cherries, wet loam, plum, white pepper, toasted oak.

Finish: A little tart, then more mild cherry followed by wood. Lingers for a long time, but faintly.

Parting words: Yes, it’s another Michigan Pinot. This one, unlike the previous two, is very much in the earthy camp. The oak is well integrated into the earth, but the fruity notes not as much. Nothing bad here though. It goes great with pasta and pork and excellent just on its own. Very much worth the price and would make a nice entry in a horizontal tasting of Michigan Pinots. 2011 A Capella Pinot Noir is recommended.

Isidor’s Choice Pinot Noir

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAIsidors Pinot 2011

Place of origin: Isidor’s Choice vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

Price: $22.50 (website)

Appearance: Ruby with medium width, evenly spaced legs. Throws a few crystals into the glass.

Nose: Blackberry pie, cedar, red raspberry, hint of wet earth.

Palate: Fruity but balanced. Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, coriander seed, hint of white pepper and sautéed mushrooms.

Finish: Slightly fruity but moves to a mildly bitter taste. Raspberry, oak, pepper, cedar.

Parting words: As you’ve already guessed, this is another single vineyard Pinot Noir from Black Star farms, done for the owners of Isadora’s Choice vineyard in Leelenau. This is the second bottle of this wine I’ve drank in the last six months, so it’s safe to say I like it.

The profile is classic, well balanced Pinot. It’s got plenty of fruit and oak and earthy notes and everything else you want in a Pinot pleasantly in its place. The best Michigan Pinots can easily stand toe to toe with most red Burgundies in the same price range, and even surpass some. This vintage of Isidor’s Choice can certainly do that. The bottle suggests that it could improve in the bottle for through 2021, although it’s drinking great now, so I would crack it open now or in the next two years.

All that and it’s food friendly too. We had it with BBQ ribs and it performed very well. Isidor’s Choice 2011 Pinot Noir is recommended.

Domaine Berrien Pinot Noir

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USADB 2010 Pinot

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (Estate bottled)

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12.8%

Price: $15.50 (Michigan by the Bottle tasting room)

Appearance: Quite dark for a pinot. Brick red with long thick legs.

Nose: Earth, red raspberry, cedar.

Palate: Mixed berry jam, toasted oak, wild blackberry, stewed rhubarb, pinch of clove, alcohol.

Finish: Chewy. Oak, alcohol, fruit of the forest, sautéed button mushrooms.

Parting words: Domaine Berrien was one of the first Michigan wineries to take the possibilities of Michigan reds seriously. Their care shows in impressive wines like this.

DB’s 2010 Pinot Noir is complex without being busy and gutsy without being belligerent. Its balance, intergration and complexity are head and shoulders above other Michigan Pinots, even the good ones. I’ve had Michigan Pinots from this vintage from Northern Michigan that had already fallen apart in early 2014, but this one is still going strong.

It did well a meal of pulled pork but it did clash a little with the tangy, mustardy BBQ sauce I used. Otherwise, it seems like it would go very well with turkey, pork, duck or flavorful chicken dishes.

At only $15.50, it punches well above its class. I’ll be seeking out the 2011 and 2012 vintages for sure. Domaine Berrien’s 2010 Pinot Noir is highly recommended.