A Sweet Glass
Because we are Canadian, the moment somebody speaks of sweet wine we automatically think of Icewine. But sweeties, or stickies as the Aussies call them, aren’t all based on freezing grapes on a vine in minus-10-degree weather (though some fake it by shoving grapes in the freezer). A good sweet wine has to go beyond Manischewitz Concord sweet sacramental — it has to hold the imagination. Sure, it has to offer up sweet flavours, but it also must provide some balancing acidity or you might as well drink maple syrup or chocolate sauce. Surprisingly, both of these products make an appearance in the tasting notes below, but it’s the acidity within the sweetie that helps keep it from being a cloying mess of goo. Many will tell you to pour sweet wine over ice cream or fruit at dessert time, but I say that a good sweet wine is good all on its own — or if you must pair it, a simple thing like biscotti will do the trick nicely.
For those with a penchant for the expensive sweeties, the Sauternes of Bordeaux come to mind — those Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blends with botrytis-infected grapes … but have you ever seen such a grape? Why men decided to pick and ferment them remains a mystery, but so many are glad they did. Dessert/sweet wines sometimes journey into more interesting and exotic realms, and I’m not just talking about Ports and Sherries either.
These sweeties are made in every corner of the world, because where there is fermentation, there is sugar. Some opt to ferment dry (as in the table wine you have with dinner), and then there are those who see beyond dinner, into the place where you find dessert and after dinner drinks. It is those who believe that leaving a little sugar behind isn’t a bad thing. And I think … I think they’re right.
The notes …
Gonzalez Byass Noe, Spain ($29.95/375 ml)
This is the ultimate sweet sherry, made with the Pedro Ximenez grape. This beauty shows off caramel and sweet coffee notes amongst pecan pie filling.
Bottega Gianduia Crema Fior di Latte e Grappa, Italy ($24.95)
Call me a sucker for white chocolate (and don’t give me no guff about it not being “real chocolate”) — this baby’s the real thing, like it or not. Creamy-smooth and full of rich chocolate taste, this is like a glass of feeling better. It’s grappa like you’ve never imagined it.
Bottega Gianduia Crema Cioccolato Gianduia e Grappa, Italy ($27)
I don’t usually confuse grappa with wine; it’s a spirit, after all. And I don’t usually think of it as sweet, either, but this chocolaty treat needs to fall into some category. With hazelnut, caramel and chocolate all making and appearance, where would you put it?
Muskoka Lakes Red Maple, Ontario ($23.85/375 ml)
A wine made from tart red cranberries and sweet, smooth maple syrup, blended together in a unique combination to make the aptly named Red Maple. It should come as no surprise that your first whiff is cranberries, but then you’ll pick up an undercurrent of cinnamon, nutmeg and finally, apple cider. The taste doesn’t stray far from the nose: cranberry apple juice with a drop of cinnamon maple syrup, without being syrupy-sweet. In fact, it tastes amazingly less sweet than what you’d expect. It starts off cranberry-tart, turns apple cider-sweet in the mid-palate and finishes with some cinnamon spiciness.
Moon Shadow Strawberry Shortcake, Ontario ($9.95/200 ml)
Tastes like strawberries with a hint of sweetness. Or better yet, remember the wonderful strawberry-flavoured milk that was the by-product of that children’s cereal, Frankenberry? Now it’s yours to have in the glass, with alcohol. Smooth and creamy in the mouth, but not as thick as a glass of strawberry milk. A delicious after-dinner drink … and frightfully good.
Moon Shadow Maple Sugar, Ontario ($10.95/200 ml)
The taste of maple sugar in liquid form. The wine passes through the mouth quickly with a short, yet luscious, finish. The smell might be a little off-putting to those who do not like Port or sherry, as it resemble their distinct qualities, but in the mouth, the wine is thick and rich, with a pure maple sugar finish.
Southbrook Framboise, Ontario ($15.95/375 ml)
Fruit wine gets absolutely no respect, but once you get a sip of this raspberry sweetie you’ll find yourself falling in love and wondering not only about drinking it, but how to incorporate it into your cooking and desserts.
Nalewka Babuni Cherry, Poland ($14.05)
This is something your parents might remember, but the way they’ll tell it, grandpa used to “make something similar” — it’s cherry through and through, and delicious at that. Look for the unique square bottle with the red knob on top.
Torres Floralis Moscato d’Oro, Spain ($16.95/500 ml)
An absolutely stunning dessert wine with flavours of spiced orange peel, cinnamon, and poached bosc pear, all balanced with great acidity. Just a lovely after-dinner sipper.
Kourtaki Mavrodaphne de Patras, Greece ($14.95)
This tawny wine has sweet prune, cherry, and raspberry notes on the nose, with dried red fruit character in the mouth — so Port-like if I poured it for you blind you’d swear it was the real thing.
Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2010, California ($13.95/375 ml)
Orange blossom, vanilla notes, and honeyed apricots all finishing with a lovely spice.
Osbourne Pedro Ximenez 1827 Sweet Sherry, Spain ($17.95)
For those who think of sherry in the super-dry grandma’s-night-tipple kinda way, think again. This is thick and sweet, like the innards of pecan or raisin pie.
Lenz Moser Prestige Trockenbeerenauslese 2008, Austria ($19.95/375 ml)
The perfect dessert wine to get your gums a flappin’. Apricot marmalade, honeyed pears and candied apple, all with an acidity that cleans the palate for the next sip. Stunningly delicious.
Sivipa Moscatel de Setubal 2008, Portugal ($15.95)
Exotic fruit, toffee and a hint of citrus wrapped in honey, with a kick of spice on the finish. Not to be passed up, especially for the price.
Grant Burge 10 Year Old Tawny, Australia ($30.95)
Proving that not all “Port” comes from Portugal … but then again, this can’t be called Port either. The Aussies have been making sweeties for a while, and it shows with this lovely hit of dried cherries and almonds.
Lilly Pilly Estates Noble Blend, Australia
The most memorable sweetie I’ve ever tried. It has been a while since this wine has been in the Canadian market, but this fake Sauternes is worth its weight in gold. Lilly Pilly does not make this wine every year, but when the weather cooperates it’s a real blessing (especially for the consumer). Exotic flavours and tropical aromas all baked and honey-like with the right balancing acidity, this is one to watch out for.