So Sweet

Cookie Exchange Wines

“Dessert wines are the new Scotch,” Bloomberg News declared this summer. If that’s a trend you’ve not yet tapped into, what better time to get behind it than over the holidays, when there’s dessert aplenty. This line up has a few of our favorites: try them with cookie exchanges, afternoon tea or any other version of holiday where a cookie is appropriate. (And when is one not?)

Sauternes: A rich, viscous wine made in the Graves region of Bordeaux, France from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes afflicted by Boyrytis cinerea, also called Nobel Rot. Although it sounds rather dreadful, it brings out apricot and honey flavors in the wine, along with a famous golden color that turns coppery with age. The most famous (and dear!) Sauternes is Château d’Yquem, with a quality category all its own called Premier Cru Supérieur.  But there are terrific wines for $20-40 per 375ml bottle: if you can’t land a Sauternes you could easily replace with a similar wine from Monbazillac, Cérons, Loupiac or Cadillac. Pro tip: don’t mistake these wines for sauterne (no “s” at the end and no capitals), the generic version of sweet wine made in the US. (14% ABV, 100-220 g/l RS)

Port:  There may be no more perfect wine for Christmas holiday than Port, with its lovely notes of cinnamon spice, blackberry and stewed fruit flavors. Port is a fortified wine, which means the winemaker adds grape spirit brandy at the end of the winemaking to stop fermentation and maintain sweetness in the wine. There are 30 varieties of Port grapes, though the wine is most often a blend of Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela and Tinto Cão.  They yield diverse styles (including white and Rosé): we’ve chosen a few of our favorites. Pro tip:  Go with a major brand such as Taylor, Warre, Graham, Quinta Do Noval, Fonseca, Dow or Niepoort.  (20% ABV, 100 g/l RS)

·      Vintage Port (Ruby) is all from one particular vintage. Only made in good years (like vintage Champagne) they are often expensive and age worthy.

·      Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is also a Ruby Port. LBV is similar quality to a vintage Port, aged about 7 years but meant to drink early, when it is released to market.

·      Tawny Port is spicy and complex with roasted nuts and baking spices, lighter in color than Ruby Ports.  This wine is often sold in basic (2 years aging), 10-year, 20-year, 30-year and 40-year aged styles. Our pick: 20-year is where the value is.

Vin Santo:  The wild card of the tasting, Vin Santo is one of the dessert wines of Tuscany, Italy.  The grapes – usually Trebbiano and Malvasia if white and Sangiovese if red – are picked late and dried on racks for three-plus months after harvest to concentrate the flavors. Like many of the best things in Italy, each producer has a their own special way of making Vin Santo. Many are aged as many as 8-10 years, often in 180l chestnut barrels called Caratelli. Some are kept under wax to limit exposure to oxygen, while others purposely allow oxygen to touch the wine.  These wines range in style but are typically show nutty, caramel flavors and golden color.  (14-17% ABV, 50-250 g/l RS. $35-40 per 500ml bottle)

Tokaji:  A historic wine made in Hungary beginning in the 1600’s, Tokaji are very sweet and highly acidic and remain one of the world’s classic wines. The grapes used are six indigenous including Furmint, Hárslevelű, Kabar, Kövérszőlő, Zéta, and Muscat Blanc, which is known as Sárgamuskotály. These wines, like Sauternes, count on the grapes being struck by Nobel rot to concentrats the flavors in the grape and leave the wines tasting of ginger and honey. All Tokaji Aszú wines have a minimum of 120 g/l of RS, and those labeled 6 Puttonyos have 150+ g/l of RS.  Eszencia is a category all its own with a whopping 450 g/l of RS.  $50-60 per 500ml bottle.

Learn more about sweetness in wine from our guide to residual sugar. [note: we don’t have this]

 

TastingLydia Strohl