The best dessert wines
The definition of dessert wine is almost as complex
as the wines themselves. There are different interpretations of the style
depending on the source. Generally speaking, dessert wines are typically high
in sugar content as well as alcohol. The wines that fall into this category are
some of the most complex and luxurious styles of wine produced worldwide.
In our cold weather climate, the Icewine or Eiswein
is probably one of the best known styles. This wine is crafted by letting the
ripened grapes freeze on the grapevine. What happens next is Mother Nature at
her finest. As the grape freezes, the natural sugars within are concentrated
and intensified. The sugars and solids remain, but a large amount of water is
removed, resulting in a very sweet wine with balanced acidity. Because a large
quantity of juice is lost in the processing of the grapes, Icewines are
typically more expensive than a traditional wine. Icewine will have notes of
ripe peaches, apricots, pineapple and citrus fruits. They pair extremely well
with fruit tarts, crème brûlée or even plain shortbread cookies. These wines are
best when served chilled.
When most people think of French wines, full
bodied, highly structured, dry reds come to mind. While true, one of the most
expensive, opulent, sophisticated styles of dessert wines comes from the
Bordeaux region of France. The region has two unique small regions within
itself, Sauternes and Barsac.
Dessert wines from this region are a by-product of
a natural fungus called “botrytis” or “the noble rot.” What may have started
out in a vineyard as a failure of catastrophic proportions, instead led to a
discovery that has endured since the mid-1600s.
Here is the condensed version of how this process
takes place. As the botrytis fungus attacks the ripening grapes, it is looking
for a water source to consume. When this happens, what remains is a more
concentrated juice with a higher sugar content and smooth acidity. The downside
of this process is that it is very unpredictable and requires a vigilant and
often sleepless vineyard manager to oversee its progress.
When a Sauternes or Barsac is produced, it is
barreled for a period of two to three years. When the wine is young, its sweet,
honeyed, apricot profile is almost too much to resist. They are delicious! If,
however, you can be patient, after a period of five years or so, you will be
rewarded with a wine that is much less sweet on the initial taste and flavors
that are totally integrated. The most famous wine of this region is Chateau
d’Yquem (pronounced E-kem). It is a rich and wonderfully balanced dessert wine.
If you have an opportunity to taste one of these, I promise it will be a