Sweet wines conjure up images of bottles resembling German towers, candy-corn white Zinfandels, and pineapple wines, but dessert wines have come a long way since these cloying times. So just in time for Valentine’s Day I feel I must shout it from the rooftops: “Sweet wines are delicious!” (ahem, when made well, that is). Yes, for those of us who only enjoy Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, these wines with their residual sugar can be a bit of a jolt. Most are meant to be enjoyed in small quantities as they tire out the palate quite quickly, but good winemakers balance the sweetness with acidity that gives the wines lift and keeps them refreshing. So with Valentine’s Day in mind, let’s do a virtual sampling of some of my favorite sweeties you may want to pop for your sweetie.
Riesling – As they come in all sorts of flavors and styles, Riesling is perhaps the most complex of all grape varieties. They are often produced in a dry style where all the grape sugar has been fermented out, but Riesling is most known for its sweeter examples. From drier to sweeter, look for these names: kabinett, spatlese, auslese, beerenauslese, and trockenbeerenauslese. These last two are unctuous, rare and quite pricey; the first three are actually not considered dessert wines, but table wines meant to be paired with food. For the palate not used to a little sweetness, they can certainly be substituted for a sweeter wine as an after dinner nip. What makes these wines so unique is their balance of sugar and acidity, the latter of which sets the mouth alive and tingling. Without it, the wine would certainly be cloying and tiresome. Good bottles classically produce flavors and aromas of creamy lime, green apple, and even petrol (yes!), all bundled up that lovely acidity.
St. Urbans-Hof 2010 Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein, $19.99/750ml
Ersnt Loosen 2010 “Dr. L” Riesling Mosel, $13.99/750ml
Sauternes – Long considered the greatest dessert wine in the world, Sauternes comes from the town of the same name near Bordeaux, France. What makes these wines so special is a fungus (botrytis cinerea) that forms on the grape skins during perfect climactic conditions combining heat and humidity. This growth actually feeds off the water inside the grape, thereby shriveling the berry and concentrating its juices and flavors. When the grapes are ultimately pressed, what flows is a sweet and concentrated nectar. When ultimately fermented, the resulting wine oozes apricot and honey notes, is full-bodied, somewhat viscous, and the botrytis even gives the wine a distinctly musky, earthy aroma that is just divine.
Chateau Haut Mayne 2009 Sauternes, $19.99/375ml
Ice wine – Often sweeter and richer than Sauternes, ice wines are beauties produced by picking the grapes in winter when the berries are frozen. During crush, the frozen water stays behind and only sweet juice flows, which is then fermented into the wine. Full-bodied and richly textured, these wines literally coat the mouth with apricot and jammy fruits along with bright acidity.
Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine Niagara, $19.99/187ml
Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui – These last two are sparkling siblings originating from the Piemonte of northwest Italy. Moscato is the wonderfully fresh and spirited white frizzante offering that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Musky and sweet on the nose, these wines show off notes of green apple, pear and spice. Brachetto is Moscato’s sparkling red relative. Pair this frizzante with chocolate mousse; being a red/rose, it boasts notes of sweet strawberries, raspberries and rose petals.
Saracco 2010 Moscato d’Asti Piemonte, $18.99/750ml
Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui, $21.99/750ml
For the wine lover, these are wines that are not to be ignored. They’re not only delicious, they’re festive treats AND very romantic! Enjoy!
Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager