Tag Archives: Sweet and Luscious

What is a Dessert Wine?

This post was inspired by one of my avid readers (Thanks to Craig!).  My, off the cuff, answer to this question is a dessert wine is one which has enough sweetness to pair well with the final course of a meal, usually dessert, or be served as the dessert.  Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine also notes that in America this qualification is based on Alcohol content between 14-24 %.  Funny enough this would put a large number of dry red wines in to the dessert wine category as well.  However for the purposes of this post I’m going to stick with the stickies (wine geek term for sweet wines)!  I describe their personality as Sweet and Luscious.

For a little winemaking background, sweetness in a wine is known as Residual Sugar (or RS for short) and is usually quoted in grams per Liter (g/L) or % sugar.  The name for this sweetness is derived from the amount of sugar remaining after primary fermentation (the conversion of sugar by yeast to alcohol and CO2) has completed, hence the Residual part. However that is only one way that sugar can arrive in the finished wine.   Sugar can also be added in the form of grape juice, grape concentrate, or some other non-grape derived sweetening agents, depending on the laws of the country of production.

There are many famous types of dessert wines and I encourage anyone truly interested in wine to try them all to get an idea as to what is available.  Sweet wine does not automatically mean cheap wine or bad wine so throw the pre-conceptions out the door as we move in to the three main styles of dessert wines.

Fortified Sweet Wines

These wines are sweet because the primary fermentation was abruptly stopped by adding a high alcohol dose to the fermentation vessel.  Most yeast does not function well above 14.5% alcohol and this addition kills them instantly.  This leaves the remaining sugar in the fermentation as sweetness in the finished wine.  Port is likely the most well known of the Fortified Sweet Wines and with alcohols around 19% they are very distinctive.  True Port comes from the country of Portugal although there are many good producers of Port-style wines elsewhere in the world.  Other than dessert, Port and Port-style wines pair well with strong cheeses like Roquefort, figs and fig cakes, as well as almonds and Brazil nuts for Tawny styles of ports. Other fortified sweet wines include certain types of Sherries, Madeiras, Rutherglen Muscats, and Vin Doux Naturels.

Botrytized Wines

 

When grapes are attacked by a fungus called Botrytis (Pronounced Bo-try-tus) it can lead to one of two outcomes; a nasty rotten mess or beautiful sweet wines.  The fungus, when headed the more positive of the two ways, dehydrates the grapes while still on the vine leading to a concentration of sugars, acids, and flavors.  Botrytis also gives additional complexity to the wines through flavors such as orange marmalade, mushrooms, and honey.  My favorite Botrytized wines come from Sauternes, France where the three varieties; Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle turn into liquid gold with intense aromatics and crisp finishes.  These wines pair well with strong flavored foods such as asparagus, fois gras, truffles, strong cheeses, and dried fruits. Other notable Botrytized wines are Tokaj from Hungary (the oldest of the Botrytized wines), and the Ausleses, Beerenausleses and Trokenbeerenausleses from Germany, the Rheingau region specifically.

Ice Wines

 

These types of wines are produced when the grapes freeze on the vine and are then harvested and pressed while still frozen leaving much of the natural water content at ice in the skins and creating a very pure fruit flavored, almost syrup-like wine, typically bottled in small 375mL bottles.  While Germany pioneered this style, which is called Eiswein, my favorites come from the Niagara region of Canada.  Typically produced from Riesling or Vidal Blanc, these wines are very enjoyable in small amounts and can be easily paired with cheese and dried fruits as well as desserts.  In rare years a Cabernet Franc Ice Wine can be produced and is also worth the search if you’re interested.  Austria also produces Ice Wines from both Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, although the latter is harder to find. 

 

Dessert wines are a fun family of wines that are fairly easy to find and usually enjoyed by a wide variety of people even if they are not avid wine drinkers.  Also, there are some really great bargains to be found because dessert wines are not usually as sought after as their less sweet cousins.  However as with all high alcohol or intensely flavored foods or drinks, a little bit of dessert wine goes a long way so be sure and have a few friends to share in the discovery if you are going to open several bottles to compare.  It makes a fun wine tasting night to have some select foods and different sweet wines to discover your own favorite pairings.  To find dessert wines I’ve written tasting notes for, look for wines labeled Sweet and Luscious 

Christmas Wines at My House

Every year, I see a ton of people doing a “What to pair with your Holiday Meal” post.  Therefore my blog would not be complete without a similar post to finish off its first calendar year of existence.  However I’m just going to do a run down of what is being served at my house this Christmas and what I’m pairing with it. Perhaps you can glean some ideas from it. 

Appetizers:

Assorted cheese including Humbolt Fog, Manchego, and Brie.

Stone ground wheat crackers

Veuve Clicquot N/V Champagne

 Light and Bubbly: I really love this Champagne.  It’s consistently a good value and widely available.  It is also a perfect intro to Champagne for people who don’t drink it on a regular basis as it focuses on pure fruit with hints of lemon curd and toasted brioche with a fine mousse and nicely balanced dosage. 

First Course

Pumpkin Bisque with holiday spices garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds

Souverain 2008 Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay

Buttery Beauty: Now I helped blend this wine so just be aware that I have a personal interest in it however I really like pairing it with this soup because the wine has such great intense flavors and it complements the intensity and the thickness of the soup.  It has intense notes of tropical fruits, brown baking spices and is dry with a full body.  The wine finishes cleanly with spices and toasted walnuts lingering.

Main Course

Brown Sugar Glazed Baked Ham

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast

Sautéed Green Beans with Almonds and Caramelized White Onions

Roasted Garlic and Herb Mashed Potatoes

Stuffing with Onions, Herbs and Spices

Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

Robert Mondavi Winery 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Spicy and Smoky: I love the Mondavi Reserve Cabernets and have several vintages in my cellar.  The ’99 is drinking very nicely right now and I wanted to share it with my family.  The notes of black currants are highlighted by some lovely fig and date notes that are beginning to develop adding to the complexity of the wine.  The tannins are soft and plush and the spices on the palate it makes a nice complement to the holiday meal. 

Philippe Raimbault “Mosaique” Pouilly-Fume 2008

Fresh and Grassy: With that much herbs being thrown around in my kitchen I must have a Sauvignon Blanc somewhere.  We found this wine on our last trip to France and I really love how the flavors of dried herbs, limes, and chalk mix together to create an old world wine with hints of new world styles in it. 

Dessert

Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Homemade Whipped Cream

Seasonal Yellow Pears with Salted Caramel Sauce

Beringer Nightingale 2006 Napa Valley

Sweet and Luscious: Again, in the interest of disclosure I work for the company that makes this wine however I have nothing to do with the production directly and I wasn’t working for them during this vintage.  I just really like it as a well balanced late-harvest wine that conveniently comes in a 375mL as there will not be enough people at my house to finish off a 750mL bottle of dessert wine. The grapes are affected by botrytis which gives the wine beautiful honey and sweet yellow pear aromas to complement the full, sweet body and lingering finish. 

As you can see it will be a busy weekend in the kitchen for me but I hope it will be an enjoyable meal for my family as we celebrate the Christmas Season.  For more information about how to pair wines with food see my earlier Blog post The Pirate’s Code of Wine and Food Pairings  (http://www.novacadamatre.com/?p=72).

Finally, Merry Christmas to you, my readers, and a wonderful and happy New Year’s as well.  Please drink responsibly and enjoy what you drink because life is too short not to drink great wines!