Something Sweet: Dessert & Fortified Wines

Some like it sweet — I certainly do.  So I couldn’t wait to explore the world of sweet and fortified wines during the “Sweet Dreams” seminar at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Hosted by Master Sommeliers Laura DePasquale, John Blazon, Eric Hemer and Doug Frost (also a Master of Wine), the seminar featured eight sweet and fortified wines.

We started in Italy with the 2006 I Capitelli, Garganega, Anselmi IGT ($35 for 375 ml) from Veneto.  Garganega is the grape used in this wine and it is harvested late in the season after “Noble Rot.”  The benevolent fungus Botrytis infects the grapes, partially drying them and giving them the appearance of raisins.  This process concentrates the sugar in the grapes, giving the wine its wonderfully sweet flavor (all five dessert wines went through Noble Rot).

Amber in color, the I Capitelli had aromas of apricot, cardamom and sandalwood, with flavors of butterscotch and clover honey.  Moderate to moderate plus acidity gave the wine lift so it never felt syrupy in the mouth (the acidity also made you salivate when you took a sniff).  As the seminar went on the wine developed flavors of milk chocolate and almond.

We then moved on to a pair of white wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington.  The 2006 Eroica Ice Wine ($65 for 375 ml) goes one step beyond a Late Harvest wine, made from grapes that froze on the vine.  My favorite of the two Washington State wines, the Eroica had really nice notes of apricot, grapefruit, white peach and golden apple that lingered on the tongue.

The 2006 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling ($40 for 375 ml) came from the same area as the Eroica but was harvested one day earlier.  It was not as sweet but still had delicate flavors of lychee, citrus and white flowers.

Next came my favorite of the sweet wines, the 2000 Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles ($210) from F.E. Trimbach in Alsace, France.  Putting my nose in the glass was like putting it in a bouquet of roses.  The wine was so fragrant, it was really incredible.  Once I was able to go beyond the intoxicating aroma of rose I discovered notes of mandarin orange and dried mango that continued to evolve on the palate.  The finish complemented the experience, lasting for a good minute.  This wine would be perfect with foie gras or crème brûlée.  Considering the uniqueness of the wine and its high price (only the most exceptional grapes are harvested by hand), you’d better believe I enjoyed every last drop.

Following the Gewurztraminer we returned to Italy for the 2007 Privilegio, Fiano Di Avellino ($50 for 500 ml) from Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania.  Made from the Fiano grape, the wine had delicate flavors of lemon, orange peel, candied orange and grapefruit, with a hint of oak.

We then moved to a trio of fortified wines.  These wines maintain their residual sugar by the addition of distilled alcohol (usually Brandy) during the fermentation process.  The alcohol kills the yeast cells, halting fermentation and maintaining the desired level of sweetness.  Fortified wines are higher in alcohol, usually between 17 and 20 percent.

The first fortified wine we tasted was the 2008 Muscat de Rivesaltes, Château de Jau ($25 for 500 ml) from Languedoc-Roussillon in southwest France.  My initial impression was that this pale straw-yellow wine appeared innocent and dainty at first, but finished big and warm, due to the higher alcohol content.  The taste is elegant, clean and fresh, with notes of white flowers, grapefruit and lychee.  It’s a wine I definitely plan to buy so I can enjoy it at home.

Next came the Quinta do Bom Retiro 20-Year Tawny ($70), a Port from Ramos Pinto.  As a big fan of Tawny Port, I really enjoyed sipping this.  It had warm and spicy flavors of cedar, almonds and orange peel.  If you smoke, this is the wine to enjoy with a cigar.  As a non smoker, I plan to enjoy it with a box of dark chocolates.

We ended with the Désirée Chocolate Dessert Wine ($20 for 375 ml) from Rosenblum Cellars in California.  I can’t say I was a big fan of this wine.  The blend of Zinfandel, Touriga Nacional and Syrah was made even sweeter by the addition of chocolate syrup.  I found the wine too thick and sweet, though some in the seminar enjoyed it.  Personally, I’d rather have my chocolate syrup in a dessert rather than in a wine.

These wines do come with a high price tag but keep in mind that you’re not likely to drink as much or as quickly as you would with a traditional white or red.  Because of the high sugar these wines will last longer too.  Just use a good stopper and stick the bottle in the fridge and you can enjoy the wine for a couple of weeks.

All of these wines are available for sale both locally and nationally so give in to your sweet tooth and try a glass!

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