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

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Leelenau AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry sparkling rosè.

ABV: 12%

Price: $13.50 from the winery online

Appearance: Ruby red with lots of bubbles.

Nose: Pomegranate, cranberry, red raspberry.

On the palate: Effervescent and dry. Not nearly as tart as the nose suggests. More pomegranate, but fades into a grapey flavor with a hint of foxiness.

Finish: Still dry but fairly tart. The cranberries pop up again only to fade into sparkling mineral water.

Parting words: I was skeptical when I saw the word “dry” on the label of Blushed, but it dry it is. It’s color is more like a bleed than a blush, but the dark color is attractive.

Blushed would make a nice change of pace for a sober first round on New Year’s Eve or casual summertime sipping. It is very good in a champagne cocktail (sugar, bitters and sparkling wine). Adequate in a mimosa. The price is right and so is the wine. Blushed is recommended.

Edition Maximilian Rheingau Pinot Noir

Maker: Hans Lang, Eltville, Hesse, Germany.Ed Max Pinot 2009

Vintage: 2009

ABV: 11.5%

Purchased for: Around $7

Appearance: Light burgindy, like red raspberry juice.

Nose: Light and fruity. Strawberry, raspberry jam.

On the palate: Also light and fruity but with some complexity and not a lot of sweetness. Strawberry juice, underripe plum, cherry preserves, a dash of white pepper.

Finish: Pleasant but quick-fading. Some fruity sweetness followed by gentle oak.

Parting words: This is another favorite of mine from Trader Joe’s. The U.S. gets a very limited selection of fine German white wines. Good German reds are even harder to find. The German name for the grape is Spätburgunder but many German producers have been astutely using the more familiar French name on labels intended for sale in the U.S.

Rheingau is one of Germany’s historically great wine-producing regions. It lies on the north bank of the Rhine in the vicinity of Wiesbaden where the river takes a westward turn between where it is joined by the Main and where it turns back north. As one might expect Riesling is the mostly widely planted vine, but a significant proportion of Pinot Noir is also grown.

At any rate, I like this wine a lot for what it is. It lacks noticeable flaws, though it also lacks depth and complexity. It does very well with all types of cuisine and is very easy drinking. At $7 there’s nothing not to like. Edition Maximilian Rheingau 2009 Pinot Noir is recommended.

Chateau Chantal Pinot Noir

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USAChCh Pinot 2011

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

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $15

Note: Notes taken after having been open 24 hrs.

Appearance: Light burgundy.

Nose: Light and vaguely fruity. Blackberry jam, cedar, grape juice.

On the palate: Light and easy drinking. Fresh strawberries, a taste of wood, not much else.

Finish: More cedar and a bit of black pepper, but still lightly fruity.

Parting words: Pinot Noir is an up and coming grape for Northern Michigan. It has been grown there for some time, but there have been raised expectations as of late. There’s no reason why good Pinot couldn’t be produced in Michigan. Pinot Noir is widely grown in the same regions in Europe where Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are grown and all those do well in the Great Lakes State.

This is a wine without any obvious flaws (aside being a little lively upon first pour) but I was disappointed with how timid it was. It reminds me of inexpensive négociant-produced red Burgundy I’ve had. In the wine’s defense, the back label makes it pretty clear what to expect: an easy-going, food friendly wine. I would stay away from beef, lamb or ham, but pork, turkey or salmon would pair very nicely with this wine as would a cheese course or dark chocolate.

There is no shortage of decent red Michigan blends available for purchase just about anywhere in this state. Some of the best of those are from Chateau Chantal. When I buy a vintage varietal for a vintage varietal price, I expect more character than I got in this bottle. For that reason, Chateau Chantal Pinot Noir 2011 is only mildly recommended.

Arcturos Pinot Noir

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

Grape: Pinot Noir

Place of Origin: 53% Grand Traverse County, 47% Leelanau County, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 12%

Appearance: Reddish burgundy.

Nose: Cherry preserves, oak, clove, glazed ham. Gets drier as it breathes.

On the palate: Medium bodied. Subtle but fairly complex. Slightly tangy, with more cherry and oak. Black pepper, leather, hint of cedar.

Finish: Oak with stronger cedar notes. Fades to a slightly tannic fruity tang.

Parting words: This is a very well-executed Pinot. It’s well-balanced but interesting. The oak and spice balances out the fruitiness of the grape. It also avoids the cedar notes that can overwhelm some Michigan reds. The blend of Grand Traverse and Leelanau grapes strikes an excellent balance. According to the BSF website this wine would benefit from up to ten years in the cellar, but I couldn’t wait. Goes well with food, but the spice and oak may be lost in the shuffle. It is perfect for a contemplative autumn afternoon. Recommended.

Arcturos Pinot Noir Rosé

Maker: Black Star Farms, Old Mission, Traverse City, Michigan

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Montaña Rusa  & Capella, Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Appearance:  Pale, grayish pink.

Nose: Dry. Cedar, peach, thyme, heather.

On the palate: Dry and refreshing. Cedar chips, sweet woodruff, pluot plum, rosemary.

Finish: Clean and, surprise, dry. Slightly sweet and tangy, then fading quickly.

Parting words: Rosé still has a bad reputation among some casual wine drinkers. Sticky sweet white Zinfindel comes to mind. That attitude is starting to change, though, and “serious” rosé like this are leading the way.

What makes this wine serious? First of all, its dryness. This is not a pop wine, this is a mealtime wine. Grilled pork or turkey, not potato chips. Second, connected with its dryness, is its ABV. 12% is an alcohol level that demands attention. Third, and most important, is its character. It is full of varietal and terroir distinctiveness. The cedar/rosemary notes are, in my mind, the hallmarks of fine Northern Michigan red wine (and well-made pinks!). This wine is not the product of a single-vineyard but of two, Capella and Montaña Rusa, both on Old Mission Peninsula. The label touts this as a summertime red wine alternative. It is that, but it deserves to be considered on its own merits as a legitimate style of Pinot Noir.

Anyway, I could go on and on, but I won’t. Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir Rosé is highly recommended.

Vignette Wine Country Soda: Pinot Noir

Maker: Vignette Soda, Berkley, California, USA

Ingredients: Filtered carbonated water, Pinot Noir juice concentrate, citric acid, natural flavor. 50% Juice

ABV: 0%

Appearance: Light burgundy, fizzy.

Nose: Grapey, sweet and a little syrupy. Some Pinot character. More subdued than a typical grape soda.

On the palate: Fizzy and sweet. Dryer and less acidic than a typical grape soda, with even a bit of complexity. Black Current jam, allspice, black pepper, blueberry ice cream.

Finish: Clean with a bit of sweetness.

Parting Words: Soda isn’t normally the sort of thing I drink or review, but I thought I’d give this one a shot since it is a wine grape soda. Besides Pinot Noir, they also make a Chardonnay and a faux brut champagne  and rosé of undisclosed grape varieties. It’s a grape soda, but it’s one with a little style and would be very refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. It also might be a wine good substitute for tee totaling loved ones or older kids. Vignette Pinot Noir Soda gets a mild recommendation.

Pelee Island Pinot Noir

Maker: Pelee Island Winery, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Pelee Island VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 13%

Appearance: light Burgundy (of course) nice, thick legs

Nose: Black raspberry, black currant, black cherry

On the Palate: light body, raspberry, tart cherry, leather, firewood, blackberry, blueberry

Finish: leather, blackberry jam

Parting words: Two things make Pelee Island’s terroir unique in Canada.  First, Pelee Island, located in Lake Erie, is the southernmost point in Canada (ok, a small island south of Pelee actually is). Its latitude is approximately  42° N, which also passes through Spain, Corsica, Central Italy, and constitutes the border between California and Oregon, all wine country to varying degrees. Second the waters of the lake moderate the climate preventing late frosts in spring and early frosts in winter. Pelee Island’s climate is warm and temperate compared even to other areas of Southern Ontario. The island is also host to a wide variety of rare (for Canada) flora and fauna, many of which make appearances on Pelee Island Winery labels.

Southern Ontario, like its neighbors in upstate New York and Northern Michigan, is not known for its reds. Pinot Noir is grown in Ontario and adjacent areas but is up and down in terms of quality, and often gets chucked into table blends. This wine, however, is an up one.  It is an enjoyable and reasonably complex wine that can stand up to any middle-shelf Pinot on the planet. Recommended.