After a great meal, what's better than something fantastically sweet and decadent? After several courses of salty and savory delights, my palate screams out for sugar, in whatever form I can find it. Of course, I have often been guilty of such gluttony during my meal that there is simply no possible way that I could cram a piece of cheesecake or chocolate torte or really anything solid into my mouth. Enter the solution to this dilemma: dessert wine. If you can't eat dessert, why not drink it?
Dessert wines are most often made with, but not limited to, such grapes as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Many times these wines are called "Late Harvest," which means that the grapes were picked at the end of the harvest, when they are very, very ripe. The riper the grapes, the higher the level of sugar in the grapes. Also, the longer the grapes stay on the vine, the more likely they are to develop botrytis mold, also known as "noble rot." I know, it sounds scary and gross, but it's one kind of mold you want to see. It causes the grapes to shrivel up a bit and therefore concentrate the level of sugar. These wines are truly magnificent and special. Some of the most memorable wines I've ever tasted are dessert wines. Let me share some of my favorites with you:
Elderton Botrytis Semillon (about $14/375 ml bottle) from Australia is unbelievable! The Aussies call dessert wines "stickies," and for good reason. (Just get a little bit on your hand, and you'll know why.) This wine is a beautiful golden color with flavors of honey and melons. It begs for crème brulee, if you've got room.
Another great "sticky" from down under is Pennyfield Late-picked Viognier (about $17/375 ml bottle). Viogniers are special to begin with, but when you put it in this form, it really stands out. This wine is chock full of apricot fruit and spicy ginger notes, and it isn't overly sweet. Do yourself a favor and try this one. If you can muster the strength, try it alongside a fresh fruit tart.
Check out Adelsheim Deglace (about $15 / 375 ml bottle) from Oregon, a Pinot Noir dessert wine inspired by the great Eisweins of Germany. Eiswein is made from grapes that were harvested while frozen on the vine. Obviously this would be a hard task to pull off in North America, so the grapes for this wine were frozen after harvest, then pressed while frozen. It's just incredible—a really cool take on Pinot Noir.
If you're looking for something that's over-the-top decadent, try Bonny Doon Framboise (about $12/375 ml bottle). This is a raspberry-infused dessert wine with the consistency of syrup. This can be intensely sweet and rich on its own, or try it drizzled over a dark chocolate torte. Wow.
And last, but farthest from least, the Lord of the Dessert Wines is Setubal de Fonseca (about $80/500 ml bottle … and good luck finding it!). I've never tasted such a sinfully delicious treat. This Muscat from Portugal is really toasty and nutty, just perfect for holiday time.
Just to give you an idea of how well this wine stands the test of time, during a visit to his office, my friend Bartholomew Broadbent (whose company imports this wine) gave my husband and me sips of both the 1890 and 1900 Setubal. It was so thick that it had to be tasted by dipping my finger in it. There has been nothing else in the wine world to blow my mind like Setubal. It's worth the money.