Think of Detroit and bottles of rare wines are probably not what come to mind. But that’s exactly what this major metropolitan city’s region (pop. 5.2 million) has in store for travelers—true, it’s an automobile-maker hub, but that storied business culture has laid the tracks for quality wine bars and restaurants with lengthy, impressive wine lists. Take a trip to one of America’s most underrated cities and you will be pleasantly surprised. Trust me: I was blown away; I did not find the crime-riddled atmosphere that the mainstream media will have you believe.
Here are five must-tries for wine lovers the next time you’re in Detroit.
For the most glam view in town (the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit’s skyline glittering at twilight), hop in the elevator at MotorCity Casino Hotel in Midtown and take it all the way to the 17th floor. Open for dinner only, the menu features inventive starter dishes like Hudson Valley foie gras tostada and kabocha bisque (for sweet-tooths, it’s got maple marshmallow, apple honey, and walnut butter). But let’s talk about the wine: its Wine Spectator award-winning list features 37 wines by the glass and 145 staggering by-the-bottle selections that fold in picks from Bordeaux, Shiraz, Santa Barbara, Napa’s Stag’s Leap District, Champagne, and more.
For a more scaled-back experience—think DJs spinning while you down a glass of wine in a living-room-style spot in dim light—head to MotorCity Wine, a second-story wine bar smack-dab in downtown Detroit. Open only since 2010, the focus is on lesser-known value wines, which are available by the glass (around 18 options rotating daily, recently including Charles Smith Pinot Grigio from Washington State and Bravo Blanc de Blanc from Michigan’s Travese City area, and you can try out five wines—small pours, of course—for $10). What’s also cool about this wine bar is that for a $5 corking fee (plus the retail price on a bottle), you can simply walk over to its shop area, pick out a bottle of wine and drink it right there. No need to eat before you get there: a food menu includes cheese plates, smoked-meat platters, and a perennial favorite: Michigan dried cherries.
Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro
You’d describe the dining space at two-year-old Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham as swank. A mostly white palette is paired with owner Mindy Lopus’ wine experience she accumulated while attending the Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley campus. No matter your budget, there is a wine for you: 30 wines, from Old World to New World, are poured by the glass ($8-$24), and the wine list features some 200 selections. To help coach you towards your choice, wines are categorized in accessible ways, like “sumptuous dark fruit” or “refreshingly crisp.”
Tallulah also holds the title of the only Michigan restaurant to carry Screaming Eagle, a cult wine out of Napa Valley. There are quite a few Michigan wines on this list, including L. Mawby Demi-Sec Jadore from the state’s Leelanau Peninsula. As for the food, it’s just as well curated: seasonal dinner menus draw from local farmland, including Lincoln Log goat cheese from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, foraged mushrooms, and Gass Centennial Farm lettuce. Appetizers are unique, with plates like pork belly snack, a trio of Great Lakes cheeses, or Tallulah’s meatballs.
What you’ll find at Vinotecca, along Main Street in Royal Oak, is a cozy, tavern-style vibe mixed with sophisticated food and wine. Open since 2007, it’s the kind of place you might host a business lunch or dinner (think black-leather booths and wood flooring) but it’s also a spot for wine lovers to drop by. Wines are poured by the glass, carafe, or bottle. If you’re able to, drop by for happy hour (either 4 pm-6 pm or after 9 pm) for 50% off wine by the glass and 20% off wine by the bottle, as well as half-off small plates. Seven descriptors for the wines aim to hone in on your palate’s delight (“earthy,” “luscious”). The four-page wine list is chock-full of selections that only a well-sipped palate could procure, like Frick Cinsault (Dry Creek Valley, California) or K Vintners “The Beautiful” Syrah (Washington State). Most of the wines by the bottle cost between $39 and $58 a bottle, not bad for such a diverse selection.
Michael Symon’s Roast
Detroit’s celebrity-chef haven is The Next Iron Chef (2008) winner Michael Symon’s Roast, open for dinner only inside the brilliantly restored 455-room Westin Book Cadillac Detroit in downtown. (Although Roast is at the street level, it’s a good idea to peek into the hotel and ogle the Italian Renaissance décor that wrapped up its extensive refurbishment in 2008.) Twenty-three wines are poured by the glass including Quivera Mourvedre (Dry Creek Valley, California) and Henriot Brut Champagne (France). Or try the sparkling-wine sibling, from Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula (M. Lawrence “Sex, Rose Brut”). The nine-page wine list of bottles spans the globe. Vegetarians should be aware that the menu is heavy on the meat (beef cheek pieroge and the “roast beast of the day,” however are a carnivore’s dream).