When the weather’s frightful, nothing warms the body and soul like a little fortified port-style dessert wine. Blustone Vineyards’ Connexion, St. Julian’s Catherman’s Port and Founder’s Pride, Flying Otter’s Starboard, and Verterra Winery’s Cherraz Port are just a few of the options available from Michigan wineries, all perfect for small sips near the crackling fireplace after dinner.
With its typically steep price tag, ice wine — produced from grapes allowed to freeze on the vine, resulting in concentrated sugars for a nectar-like finished product — is a great splurge for sweet wine lovers. Brys Estate’s “Dry Ice” Riesling Ice Wine (BrysEstate.com), for example, netted top honors in the Dessert Wine category at this year’s Michigan Wine Competition. While Michigan wineries often make ice wine from Riesling or Vidal Blanc, you can find the occasional off-the-beaten-path version, such as Domaine Berrien Cellars’ Cabernet Franc Ice Wine (DomaineBerrien.com).
Sparkling wine isn’t just for New Year’s; bubbly can make any day feel like a special occasion. At L. Mawby on Leelanau Peninsula — where’s it’s all sparklers, all the time — there’s a vast array at varied price points and sweetness levels, from the traditional method-produced Talismon (LMawby.com) and Blanc de Blancs ($23) to the fun, casual M. Lawrence Sex and Detroit ($15). And while Mawby has become synonymous with Michigan sparklers, several other wineries around the state have at least one bubbly on their list, including bigLITTLE Wines’ Tire Swing, Chateau Chantal’s Tonight and Celebrate, Bel Lago’s Brillante, and Black Star Farms’ Bubbly Nouveau, BeDazzled and Leelanau Sparkling Wine.
For a dramatic impression right out of the box, plenty of Michigan wineries offer products with visual flair. Sandhill Crane Vineyards sells its Rhapsody in Red — a sweet Chambourcin-based red wine with a splash of raspberry — in a special edition chocolate-covered bottle, dipped by Gilbert Chocolate in Jackson (SandhillCraneVineyards.com). St. Julian has an array of dessert wines in non-traditional packaging, including Infusion of the Blues blueberry dessert wine, which comes in a saxophone-shaped bottle (StJulian.com). And Chateau Chantal sells its Naughty and Nice red wines in a “Santa Pants” carrier for the holidays (ChateauChantal.com).
Wines with age
For the true aficionado, presenting a wine that’s been properly and successfully cellared for an extended period is a great way to acknowledge his or her passion for vino. Check with your favorite Michigan wineries to see if they have “library wines” available for purchase. It’s often not as cost-prohibitive as you might expect: For instance, Gill’s Pier Vineyard & Winery on Leelanau Peninsula has a limited supply of its semi-dry Rieslings from the early- to mid-2000s for $25 a bottle, and they’re showing beautifully, gaining a distinct honeyed character with age. Contrary to popular belief, not all wines improve over time, however, so best to consult with the winemaker and/or winery staff when seeking out an older bottle.
Wooden wine crates are a quick and easy way to elevate holiday packaging above the tried and true — and are guaranteed to generate excitement about what lies beneath the lid. Many wineries sell crates bearing their logos, and the elegant boxes can be easily stocked with wine (obviously), as well as other “goodies.” At Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, we fill our three-bottle crates with locally made snacks like Dave’s Sweet Tooth toffee, Mindo Chocolate Makers Grab ‘n’ Go bars, Detroit Chocolat truffles, and more — alongside the wine, of course! (MBTBTasting.com)
Michigan wine baskets are also great wine gift ideas – you can order them directly from your favorite Michigan wineries!
Wine club memberships
For the adventurous oenophile, wine club memberships are a great way to keep the cellar stocked and the excitement burning year-round. Many Michigan wineries offer programs that allow devout fans to purchase large quantities of wine at a discount at intervals throughout the year. Some local wine shops also offer clubs that hook members up with a few new and interesting bottles on a monthly basis.
Many Michigan wineries — even some of the tiniest — have T-shirts, hoodies, hats and more, adorned with their logos. Various vendors also produce apparel proclaiming a general love for Michigan wine, such as the rhinestone-embellished, embroidered and screen-printed gear from Michigan Wine Apparel, made by Sue Jernstadt of SMJ Designs out of Grand Rapids (MichiganWineApparel.com).
It can’t be all wine, all the time, when hitting the wine trails. (Boo, hiss.) For the obligatory rehydration between stops, the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association and Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula teamed up to create green metallic water bottles bearing both peninsulas’ logos. They’re available at several northern wineries, including Chateau Chantal ($14.99, ChateauChantal.com), and are a great way to tote your H2O while showing an affinity for Northern Michigan wine.
Michigan wine art
Grand Rapids artist Stephanie Schlatter was so inspired by the state’s vineyards that she created “On the Michigan Wine Trail,” an entire series featuring her vividly colored takes on the local landscapes. We carry it at Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, but it’s also ubiquitous at stops on the Northern Michigan wine trails (including Peninsula Cellars, Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Chateau de Leelanau, Silver Leaf, and Brys Estate) and available at the M22 store in Traverse City, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Stephanie’s website. In addition to paintings, Stephanie has mixed media pieces, painted-over photos, notecards, posters, prints, and myriad merchandise — like wine bags, totes, clutches, smartphone cases, and more —available for purchase (StephanieSchlatterArt.com).
Just a good ol’ bottle
Sounds obvious, but most wine fans love to receive wine, period! So it doesn’t have to necessarily be something exotic; a trusty bottle of red or white is just as likely to incite appreciation. If you know what style of wine your friend or loved one generally enjoys (dry or sweet? red or white? lighter-bodied or full-bodied?), enlist a staffer from your favorite Michigan winery to help you pick out a bottle (or two or 12) that’s likely to appeal to his or her tastes.
~ Cortney Casey is co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website/online community promoting the entire Michigan wine industry via articles, video features, podcasts, and more. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room in Shelby Township, a brick-and-mortar offshoot that serves as an off-site tasting room for six Michigan wineries. For more information, visit MichiganByTheBottle.com and MBTBTasting.com.