The Perfect Holiday Pairing: A Michigan-Wine Fueled Fantasy

An ode to some of 2016’s most memorable wines

I don’t cook, but I’m a pro at eating.

Seeing the ubiquitous holiday recipe suggestions on Facebook recently prompted me to muse — in a famished fantasy while at the library, sans snacks — what my perfect holiday meal would be (if I had the skills and the metabolism to make it a reality).

But each course would be paired with wine, obviously, featuring a lineup of some of the most memorable Michigan wines I’ve tasted this year.

It went a little something like this …



I’d start out with L. Mawby Grace, Verterra Winery 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir, and/or Brys Estate 2015 Signature Rosé Reserve with some of my favorite Michigan-made cheeses, Leelanau Cheese’s Mild Raclette and Zingerman Creamery’s Manchester among them.

Serving sparkling wine at the start of a meal is always a surefire way to inject instant festivity. Mawby’s traditional-method rosé sparkler — which I discovered at the Michigan Wines Showcase last spring and reconnected with during the Michigan Wine Competition’s Gold Medal Reception — is simultaneously fresh and fruity and complex and yeasty.

Verterra’s rosé was my go-to wine during the summer; it’s extremely versatile, food pairing-wise, and downright refreshing. I’ll fondly remember Brys Estate’s Signature Rosé — another dry, refreshing rosé — as my reward for completing the Bayshore Half-Marathon earlier this spring, sipped alongside one of the winery’s to-die-for cheese and charcuterie boards.

(Pro tip: Zingerman’s Manchester also is insanely delicious with pinot noir. I speak from experience. There are many great Michigan pinots, but lately, I can’t get enough of Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir — I’ve gone through six bottles over the last two weeks.)


Main Course

For the main entrée, lamb chops made by my husband, Shannon: simply grilled with olive oil and rosemary, topped with rosemary-tossed chickpeas. On the side: sweet potatoes and onions, peeled and cubed, roasted with more rosemary (I’m a fan) and olive oil. And I’m a sucker for Brussels sprouts roasted in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, too.

In my glass: St. Ambrose Cellars 2013 Crescendo, a dry, bold red blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and syrah. Shannon and I received this one as a trade sample a few weeks ago and I instantly, greedily, claimed the bottle as mine (and paid for it the next morning).

Other great options: French Valley Vineyards 2012 Cabernet Franc Merlot, which I tried for the first time at the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival, and instantly fell in love. Shannon practically had to peel me away from the French Valley booth. Or perhaps the Mari Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Franc, a standout from spring’s Michigan Wines Showcase in downtown Detroit for its rich, dark chocolate cherry flavors. Or maybe Chateau Grand Traverse 2012 Merlot Reserve or 2012 Cabernet Franc Reserve, both of which wowed us during our travels to Old Mission Peninsula last spring. (Bonus: The Merlot Reserve netted the Best in Class Red award in this year’s Michigan Wine Competition.)

The moral of this story? The vast majority of Michigan wines I discovered to be favorites in 2016 were bold, dry reds. So if you think Michigan can’t make reds, it’s time to seek out some of the wines I’ve just mentioned and prepare to be wowed.


Sweet Finish

For dessert in this fantasy world, there would be a spread, each with its own pairing — and entirely devoid of calories, of course. Chocolate ricotta cheesecake, chocolate chip croissant bread pudding, or French silk pie would pair perfectly with Sandhill Crane Vineyards 840 Reserve, a rich, port-style fortified wine bursting with flavors of fig and burnt sugar. Buttery shortbread or Dutch apple pie begs for Brengman Brothers 2015 Runaway Hen Late Harvest Vignoles, another find from the Michigan Wine Competition’s Gold Medal Reception that is bursting with tropical fruit flavors. (I believe I described this wine in a podcast as tasting as if every tropical fruit were smashed together with a mortar and pestle and served up fresh in a glass.) Or perhaps keep it simple — just vanilla ice cream with Chateau Aeronautique Passito Cabernet Sauvignon, a luscious dessert wine made from dried Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, poured over the top.

What would your fantasy holiday wine pairing meal be, and what were your favorite Michigan wine finds of 2016? Comment below!

Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of, 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, with locations in Shelby Township, Royal Oak, and Auburn Hills. Contact her at