Are they sweet? You bet they are, and that is a big part of the attraction of all great dessert wines, but the best are balanced by enough acid to prevent them from being cloying, others add an intriguing nuttiness that deepens and enriches the flavors. A little bit is plenty of dessert wine with all of their inherent richness, to me they appeal more in the winter but also represent a year-round treat. They originate from most every wine growing region on the planet each with their own distinctive take. Here are some of our favorites.
While it is pure conjecture on my part it seems that the notion of dessert wine started in the Sauternes region of France, a sub-appellation of Bordeaux where the making of dessert wine is the art form of the category. The wines there are crafted from the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc varietals mainly, but specifically grapes that are harvested late and have become infected by the “noble rot” or botrytis a fungus that causes along with harvesting late, to concentrate the sugar in the grapes. Fermentation stops before all that sugar is consumed resulting in sweet wine. Again, the best are balanced by ample acid keeping the wines from being oversweet. The wines present with flavors of apricot and floral aromas and notes of candied fruit. The wines are great with all desserts, wonderful with cheeses especially salty ones, or seared foie gras. We like the Chateau Laribotte $30, wine club price $27/375ml.
There is a dessert tradition in Italy of having Vin Santo along with biscotti. You dunk the biscotti in the Vin Santo between sips for a delightful after dinner treat. Most of the really great Vin Santo comes from the Chianti region and carries the Classico designation. The wines are lightly fortified, which means neutral spirits are added to boost the alcohol level. The best wines show a distinctive nuttiness that is wonderful after dinner and range in color from golden to bronze in color. The grapes are typically dried prior to pressing to concentrate the flavors so the end product wines are spendy ranging from $40, to over $300 for a 375ml bottle, they are a special treat though. We like the Felsina Chianti Classico $60, Wine Club Price $54/375ml.
Ice Wine is made in many appellations across the world’s wine regions. They aren’t produced every vintage though as it takes the perfect climatic conditions to make them. The grapes are allowed to hang on the vine well into the late fall or start of winter. You need a solid cold snap prior to the grapes being harvested so they literally freeze on the vines, concentrating the flavors of the grapes. This doesn’t happen every year, limiting when you can find the wines. The yield from the frozen grapes is drastically reduced which is what makes the wine spendy. Like Sauternes the wines have ample acid to balance the sweetness and are known for showing stone fruit flavors like apricot and peaches. We like the Koenig Ice Wine crafted from Riesling, and made in Idaho. $35, Wine Club Price $31.50/375ml
Port is an after-dinner wine that deserves its own category, and its own column. Both Port and Madeira come from Portugal and in the case of Port are made from indigenous Portuguese varietals. There are many different categories and styles of Port, all are fortified and the ones we like the best are not overly sweet and show a nutty character on the palate. We like the Late Bottled Vintage Port from Menerrs. $30, Wine Club Price $27/750ml
An interesting dessert “wine” from the Northwest comes from Oregon and is produced by Eve’s Cidery. The wine is crafted from apples that are harvested late when they are full of sugar, they are then pressed and the juice is frozen to concentrate the flavors, the juice is then fermented developing fabulous sweet apple flavors. $40, Wine Club Price $36/375ml
Moscato d ’Asti comes from the region of Asti in Piedmont Northern Italy and is unique in the world of dessert wine. Moscato is slight effervescent and slightly sweet with good acid balance and typically is finished with low alcohol levels. This makes it a refreshing and lighter post dinner wine, especially after you have had a rich meal. We like the Strev which has a modest 5% alcohol and lovely citrus flavors, $20, Wine Club Price $18/750ml.
There are many more dessert wine choices than we can cover in our column, stop by the shop to see all the possibilities for these lovely after dinner sweet wines.