Paired with chocolate or cheese, or sipped solo, these finely crafted Northern Michigan dessert wines are perfect to share with your lover or to satisfy a deep winter sweet tooth.
Black Star Farms: Sirius Raspberry
A pure, bright and briary explosion of raspberry sweetness kept lithe with the fruit’s natural acidity.
Brengman Brothers: Cab Franc Ice Wine 2013
Crafted from frozen cabernet franc grapes, this is a rich and viscous encapsulation of raspberry and rose petal notes.
Bowers Harbor: Appletage
Four varieties of frozen apples are pressed, fortified and barrel-aged to craft this caramelly orchard elixir.
Chateau Chantal: Cerise Cherry Port
With a dark cherry essence, warm brandy soul and subtle spice notes, Cerise is a no-brainer for chocolate pairings.
Lee Lutes, the winemaker at Black Star Farms, gives us insight on dessert wines …
Lee leads the Black Star Farms winemaking team in crafting complex varietal wines from Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula vineyards and also harnesses the essence of local orchard fruit to craft award-winning fortified dessert wines.
Give us the winemaker’s perspective on dessert wines: art form or necessary evil?
Art form for sure. I think it’s easy for some people to dismiss or look down on dessert wines, believing they are solely sweet and lack dimension. The truth is that when made well, they’re as complex and compelling as anything.
So what separates a sweet wine from a sweet masterpiece?
For grape-based dessert wines like ice wine or late harvest, the intense sweetness needs to be checked with a good acid backbone to keep the wine from being sticky. For fruit-based dessert wines, it’s all about purity of flavor. You want to taste the pure essence of the fruit. Fortifying with fruit brandy lifts the aromatic profile and barrel-aging can add spice notes and mellow out the alcohols.
The base of your Sirius sweet wine program at Black Star is mostly fruit-based. What’s different about these wines?
As distillers, fruit-based dessert wines are a natural extension of what we do. We start with high quality fruit from our estate and a network of local growers. For instance this year we brought in 10,000 pounds of raspberries. Ten percent is distilled into brandy and then gets blended back in with pressed juice to stop fermentation, raise alcohol and lock in the flavor of the fruit.
Should we age dessert wines or drink them now?
With fortified wines, part of the beauty is the patina that develops over time. These bottles can be kept open for years on end, and the nuances of flavor will gradually change. With late harvest rieslings and ice wines it’s a matter of preference. Younger wines will have brighter fruit expression and develop nut, caramel and butterscotch notes with time. For me the sweet spot is 5 to 10 years of bottle age.
Wine and chocolate. Give us your thoughts on compatibility?
To me it’s one of the purest, simplest, most decadent combinations that exists. The fruit notes and complex flavors of dark chocolate are almost a perfect pairing with a raspberry or cherry-based dessert wine or a port. (Try this artisan dark chocolate sold locally!)
Traverse food and drinks editor Tim Tebeau writes from Petoskey.