If there’s ever a time to loosen the belt and delve into some serious indulgence, it’s around the holidays. The wine is flowing, diets are long forgotten, and everyone’s immersed in revelry. We asked winemakers and representatives from a handful of Michigan wineries to discuss some of the new and best-selling dessert wines in their lineups, ideal for sweet pairings or all on their own.
Kate Lane, Bowers Harbor Vineyards
“Because it’s a fortified wine, we take a portion of our fermented apples and make it into apple spirits. We then add the spirits into our Ice Cider (which is) ice wine-style, made from Jonathan, Cortland, Rome, and Gala apples, all of which came from the Nicholas Farm on Old Mission Peninsula. (It has) aromas of fresh-baked apple pie. This wine tastes like applesauce in a glass! Yes it’s sweet because it’s a dessert wine, but the high alcohol balances out the viscosity of the ice cider, giving a full and complete mouth feel, finishing with caramel and apple notes, with a touch of heat from the spirits.”
Pair with: Apple cobbler topped with vanilla bean ice cream, pecan pie with crème fraîche, walnut crunch pumpkin pie, or just plain vanilla ice cream
Note: Bowers Harbor also has a dessert wine called Cherritage, made through a similar process, but with cherries.
Matt Frollo, St. Ambrose Cellars
“Royal Reserve is local star thistle honey, fermented and aged 18 months in bourbon barrels to give it a unique flavor profile that is not only of bourbon, but also of tropical fruits and, of course, honey. The wine is fortified toward the end of fermentation to halt fermentation, as well as to maintain higher sweetness levels. The wine is then allowed to age for a considerably longer amount of time than we age our non-fortified wines to add more complexity, to complement the boldness of the wine.”
Pair with: Best enjoyed at the end of a meal with a mild cigar, or just as a warm-up after snow-blowing your driveway.
Passito Cabernet Sauvignon
Lorenzo Lizarralde, Chateau Aeronautique
“(Our grower) placed 4 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grape clusters on racks under forced hot air for three weeks to raisin them; 4 tons of grapes dehydrated down to 2.81 tons … We usually get 180 gallons of juice per ton of grapes; the yield on the Passito was 94 gallons per ton. From day one, it smelled and tasted like cherry pie. The sugar was 38 percent, versus the typical 23-25 percent. I fermented it very slowly; when it hit 12 percent alcohol and 15 percent residual sugar, I stopped the fermentation.”
Pairings: Cherry pie, rich chocolate desserts
Cerise, Cerise Noir and Entice
Marie-Chantal Dalese, Chateau Chantal
“Our dessert wines are fortified wines. We utilize our own copper pot still to distill local northern Michigan cherries or our own grapes into a fruit brandy. That brandy is then added to either cherry wine (Cerise), red wine (Cerise Noir), or ice wine (Entice) to create a deliciously sweet and rich dessert wine. Cerise is opulent and packed with black and red cherry flavors. … Our limited release Cerise Noir begins with partially fermented Merlot and Pinot Meunier grapes and is then infused with cherry brandy for an exceptionally silky, rich taste sensation. Entice is luscious ice wine made from frozen grapes, (then) fortified with our own grape oak-aged brandy, gaining extra body and richness.”
Pair with: Chocolate (Cerise); fresh fruit, cheese, chocolate truffles (Cerise Noir); creamy cheeses (Entice)
Retail: $36 each
2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
Dustin Stabile, Mackinaw Trail Winery
“With ice wine, you let the grapes hang until they reach a certain temperature. By pressing the grapes at a temperature well below freezing, you get a concentrated grape juice that’s separate from the frozen water of the grape in the press. This reduces volume, but allows us to reach higher brix (sugar content) readings. The 2013 vintage started at 42 brix and we then stopped the ferment at 26 brix to leave the wine with natural sugars from the grape.”
Pair with: Mackinac Island fudge, New York cheesecake, and warm apple pie served with vanilla ice cream
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, joint offsite tasting rooms in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township and now Royal Oak. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.