December’s luxe spread of long dinners and holiday pastries bids us dive into the dulce side of Northern Michigan vino and taste some indulgent dessert wines. While everyone is eager to profess their allegiance to the dry and savory half of the wine world, the most pedigreed pinot noirs don’t stand a chance against pumpkin crème brûleè or chocolate torte. Caramelized apple tarts, kirsch truffles and aged stilton by the fireside demand sweetness and fortitude found only in artfully crafted ice wines, fortified fruit wines and sweet bubbles. Our best Northern Michigan dessert wines are painstakingly crafted with miniscule yields and many hours of labor so don’t expect them to be cheap, but do expect blissful depths of flavor and nuance that will exacerbate any dessert and make for a great gift. Read on for a few of the finest sweet elixirs from Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, both near Traverse City in Northern Michigan.

Peninsula Cellars Riesling Ice Wine 2007Peninsula Cellars on Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City characterizes this banner vintage as showing intense tropical fruit with notes of honey. Sweetness and viscosity are beautifully balanced with acidity making this great with cheeses or fruit desserts.

Black Star Farms Sirius Pear NVThe sweet essence of Bartlett pears is fortified with Black Star’s barrel-aged pear brandy that adds notes of vanilla and spice to this decadent dessert wine made by this Leelanau Peninsula winery.

Chateau Chantal Cerise NV
Fermentation of fresh cherry juice is stopped by adding cherry eau de vie, producing an intensely aromatic fortified wine from this Old Mission Peninsula winery.
Chateau Grand Traverse Cherry Port NVMade from local cherries and aged for nine months in small oak barrels, Chateau Grand Traverse’s Cherry Port sports black cherry and cocoa flavors that complement blue cheeses and chocolate torte.

L. Mawby J’Adore Demi-Sec NVA blend of vignoles, pinot noir, pinot gris, and chardonnay grapes, the beautifully bubbly J’Adore shows bright sweet fruit and toasty barrel character. Enjoy this Leelanau Peninsula wine with apple tart or brie en croute.

Vino File: Ron Edwards, Master Sommelier

Charlevoix resident Ron Edwards is one of 105 Certified Master Sommeliers in the U.S. Between his duties as an international wine consultant and host of The National Cherry Festival’s Global Wine Pavilion in Traverse City we intercepted Ron to chat about dessert wines and holiday pairings.Can you speak to ice wines and how we can use them for holiday entertaining?Ice wines are made from grapes that are allowed to raisinate on the vine and then are harvested while frozen. They are very intensely sweet and should pair with strong cheeses, milk chocolate—not dark chocolate—and sweet fruit-based desserts. Personally, I love to pair them with poached fruit and honeycomb.  While these wines are relatively expensive, they are dependably delicious.

Any versatile go-to’s for the holiday dinner spread?
Pinot noir, riesling and blaufrankisch (blue franc) are all versatile choices for the traditional ham and turkey meal, particularly rieslings where a low amount of residual sugar is balanced with green apple tartness to complement some of the sweeter side dishes. Beef or lamb should pair with one of the local cabernet franc/merlot blends  

Tim Tebeau is the Traverse food and wine editor.