The holidays are a time for celebration, for decadence, and theoretically, for snow and ice … all of which naturally call to mind ice wines.
It’s of little surprise that Michigan produces delightful ice wines, considering its reputation for bone-chilling winters. (Polar vortex, anyone?)
The majority of Michigan-made ice wines are crafted from riesling or vidal blanc, though there’s the occasional vignoles or rare cabernet franc ice wine to be found.
These wines are often pricey, but for good reason: They’re a labor of love. The grapes must hang much longer than usual, leaving them at risk for rot or becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet for wild animals. They must be harvested while frozen, after sustained frigid temperatures. And when pressed — while frozen — each grape yields a minute amount of juice, brimming with concentrated sugars.
They are pure indulgence — a dessert in their own right, but also perfect for pairing with other sweets.
“My favorite way to enjoy ice wine is by itself,” says Michael Schafer, a wine educator known as The Wine Counselor. “I find I enjoy most dessert wines without any food. However, my favorite foods to pair with ice wine are custard-style desserts like creme brulee, peach desserts, and triple cream cheeses. If the ice wine is a cabernet franc, then some red raspberries are a nice addition.”
Gerry Baker, a certified sommelier at MGM Grand Detroit, believes simplicity in pairing is key to letting ice wine shine.
“I prefer for dessert wines to be the star,” he says. “So for ice wine, I would do something simple, like a fruit tart or fresh berries with some powdered sugar.”
At Chateau Aeronautique in Jackson, winemaker/owner Lorenzo Lizarralde has used his vidal blanc ice wine to take dessert to a whole new level.
“The most fun event we did with ice wine is pouring it over vanilla bean ice cream,” he recalls. “One girl turned to her friend and exclaimed, ‘is stupid good!’ ”
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula served their award-winning “Dry Ice” riesling ice wine (alas, now sold out) with a slice of cheesecake.
“Creamy rich desserts such as cheesecake, creme brulee, custards, cream puffs, etc., all pair perfectly with ice wine, which is velvety and sweet and has a creamy mouthfeel,” says Operations Manager Patrick Brys.
Since Brys Estate’s ice wine is made from riesling, “we take it to another level and drizzle our cheesecake with a Peach Riesling glaze” to complement the peach and apricot notes in the wine, he says.
Lee Lutes, winemaker at Black Star Farms on the Leelanau Peninsula, and Brian Lesperance, winemaker at Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar in Fennville, both enjoy using ice wine for dipping with biscotti. Black Star Farms produces a riesling ice wine called A Cappella; Fenn Valley makes one from vidal blanc called 42 Ice Wine.
“The twice-baked nature of biscotti lends itself to dipping,” says Lesperance. “We often dip it in ice wine for a sort of adult version of milk and cookies.”
What’s your favorite way to enjoy ice wine? Comment below!
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township, Royal Oak and (coming in 2016) Auburn Hills. Contact her at email@example.com.