It’s Valentine’s Day. You have the chocolate, the flowers and the menu all ready to go. You need just one last detail to make your evening complete — dessert wine. This sweet tipple has been much maligned over the past few decades, more often than not associated with poor quality wine and an unsophisticated palate. Fast-forward to today, and many people now realize what a great treat a little hit of sweetness really is.
A quick stop at your local liquor store will reveal the variety of dessert wines available. Here are some examples to help you choose one that’s right for you.
These wines are made from grapes that were left on the vine longer than normal. More time on the vine means more sugar concentrating in the grapes making this wine taste sweeter than the average table wine. Also, grapes left to hang late on the vine sometimes develop botrytis (also called “noble rot”), a type of fungus that sucks out moisture, concentrating the sweetness even more. Muscat and late harvest Riesling are a couple of examples you might want to try.
Originating from the Tokaji region of Hungary, this classic dessert wine is made from hand-harvested, botrytis affected grapes. The sweetness level of Tokaji is measured in puttonyos (typically ranging from 3 to 6, though Aszú-Eszencia can be even sweeter). Crowned the “Wine of Kings and King of Wines” by Louis XIV, Tokaji Aszú has been enjoyed by French kings, German emperors and Russian czars through the centuries. Now it’s your turn.
Port comes from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and is a sweet red wine that has been fortified with brandy. You’ll notice a number of different styles lining the shelves of your liquor store. These are white, ruby, tawny, late bottled vintage (LBV), Port of indicated age, crusted and vintage. Working out the different styles can be difficult. Enjoying them, however, is easy. Rich, smooth and spicy, Port is a very nice accompaniment to salty cheese, with Port and Stilton being a classic match.
Made on the island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal, this fortified wine has a tangy taste developed through a unique “cooking” process combined with long ageing. Madeira’s hazelnut and floral aromas marry well with dried fruits, nuts and desserts like pecan pie.
When grapes are left to ripen on the vine until they freeze, the sugars will concentrate. Then the grapes are hand-harvested and crushed while frozen. In doing so, the water is removed leaving intensely sweetened juice. Ice wines can be very pricey because it takes a lot of grapes to get the required amount of juice. Serve these very sweet and syrupy wines well chilled as a decadent end to a meal.