Dessert wines are making a comeback. Yes, that’s right, dessert wines, always a hard sell in America, are coming back on the scene—and it isn’t the old sweet wines that everyone remembers from their youth.
Mindy Brady of Spirit of 76 in Manasquan says she’s noticed a rise in the amount of sweeter wines of all kinds being sold.
Sweet white wine is made by leaving more of the grapes’ natural sugar in the wine or by adding a form of sugar to the wine during the wine-making process. Sweet white wines include Botrytised wine, ice wine, late harvest wine and fortified wines. Fortified wines are wines to which brandy is added before the fermentation process is complete, increasing the sugar content of the wine— the two most common fortified white wines are Madeira and Sherry.
Anything labeled ”late harvest” will be naturally sweet. Late harvest wines are made with grapes that have been harvested very late in the season. They have been left on the vine longer to fully ripen and allow sugar to build up and concentrate within the grapes. Late harvest wines can have anywhere from a dry sweetness to an extreme sweetness. An example of a late harvest white wine is Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington ($13) is a crisp yet moderately sweet wine. Zesty aromas of orange, lemon-lime, and peach are followed by trademark tangerine/apricot flavors. and a trace of mineral. It’s versatile anad can be paired with poached pears, cheesecake, or a cheese platter of Stilton, smoked Gouda, and fresh goat cheese.
Often a late harvest wine has also been affected by Botrytis cinerea or Noble Rot. This is a fungus that grows on the skin of the grapes and shrivels and dehydrates the grapes leaving super concentrated sugars and flavors within the dried grapes. The most popular wines made with Noble Rot are Sauternes, Alsatian Vendange Tardive or (VT), Selection de Grains Nobles or (SGN), Vouvray Moelleux, Hungarian Tokaji, German and Austrian Beerenauslese or (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese or (TBA).
These wines are not inexpensive. In fact, they can be some of the world’s most expensive wines. Some of the most famous late harvest dessert wines are French Sauternes such as Château Guiraud Sauternes 2003 ($70). Ms Brady says its a popular seller at Spirit of 76, but the undisputed king of Sauternes is Chateau d’Yquem. Spirit of 76 has the Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2002 ($169) in stock. Brady suggests serving this wine with fruit or, better yet, foie gras to balance the honey rich sweetness of the wine.
Harder to find dessert wines include Hungarian Tokai (or Tokaji) wines where the sweetness level of the wine is indicated by the Puttonyos level (usually labeled from 1-6 with 6 being the sweetest) on the label. Puttonyos is the name given to denote the level of sugar of Hungarian dessert wine traditionally measured by the number of hods of sweet botrytised or nobly rotted grapes (known as Aszú) added to a barrel of wine. A Puttonyos is the 25 kg basket or hod of Aszu grapes, and the more baskets added to the barrel of wine, the sweeter the eventual wine. If you can find these wines, they are a treat. Spirit of 76 has three in stock ranging from a late harvest Monarchia Demeter Tokaji Late Harvest Furmint 2004 ($20) , to a medium puttonyos Zoltan Demeter Tokaji Bor 2003 ($50) to a very sweet Zoltan Demeter Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2003 ($250)
Paul Jaboulet Aine Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($22) is regarded as an honorary dessert wine because it is fortified. Fortification is carried out when the desired residual sugar level is reached, that is alcohol is added in order to stop fermentation. This selection offers aromas of honeysuckle, peach jam, and lychee along with along with good acidity. When served chilled at 12° – 13° C it is perfect with sorbets, fruit salads and chocolate desserts. When served slightly warmer, at 15°-16°C it makes a perfect pairing for cheeses, most notably, blue cheeses.
No matter your selection for a dessert wine, Brady offers this rule of thumb, a dessert wine should always be sweeter than the dessert it accompanies and the staff is always happy to help with your selections. Spirit of 76 is located at 119 Taylor Avenue, Manasquan NJ 08736.
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