Friday, December 26, 2008

Gift Idea #3: Dessert Wines (yes, I know Christmas is over)


So Sweet

So my concept of posting daily gift ideas didn't actually happen. I got hung up on the dessert wine post and couldn't move on. Every time I would start to write I would get hung up on details like how the wines are made. I'd start to drop terms like "botrytis", "noble rot", "fortified", "late harvest" and found myself getting far too technical. And then I would fall asleep. (Because I would usually start writing around 11pm, after the shop closed, the kids were asleep, I'd sorted out order for the next day.)

So I'm determined to finish this post before the 12 days of Christmas come to a close. And in the interest of doing just that, I'm going to just do a list. And if I drop a fancy wine term, I'm going to resist the urge to explain it, or even just mention that it's a subject for another post. If you don't know what I'm on about, don't worry, just trust me - these wines are all yummy. Maybe just the thing to cap off a New Year's dinner (before you break out the bubbles.)

Now, onto the actual post...

Dessert wines get a bum rap, which is a sad thing because they can be extraordinarily good. And in this glum economic environment, they can offer a bit of decadence without forcing you to join the ranks of the foreclosed. Because they're generally quite rich, a little goes a long way - and you can serve a small room full of people from one bottle.

Here's my list:

1. Chateau d'Yquem: the grandaddy of all sweet wines. It's the tippy-top wine Sauternes, the sweet-wine-only sub-region of Bordeaux. In my former life at Moet Hennessy USA, I was able to enjoy more than my fair share of bottles - and it is fabulous! Lusciously sweet but balanced by serious acidity and an extra zip of minerality that makes it uniquely d'Yquem. In my opinion (and let's be honest, this blog is all about my opinion) this is one of those wines that lives up to the hype.

2. Other Sauternes (or Barsac, which is just a sub-region of Sauterns) - I'm especially fond of Doisy-Daene which has a certain lightness and elegance to it that can be rare in wines from this region. There are other chateaux that carry the name Doisy (Doisy-This, Doisy-That) and they're all nice enough that if you pick up the wrong one, you're still in for a treat.

3. German Rieslings - these remain one of the best bargains of the wine world. They can be confusing, so if you're confronted with a shelf full of them, ask for help. You're probably in a shop where the staff will be more than happy to talk to you about them, so don't be scared to ask.

4. Tokaji - A region in Hungary with possibly the oldest history of sweet-wine production. The lushest, most expensive sweet wines from the region will be classified by puttonyos (6 is the sweetest.) Lately, the US market has started to see "Late Harvest" Tokaji hit the market. While these wines may get the sniff from purists, they're good value and more versatile than the major sweeties from the region.

5. Wacky Stuff - sweet wines tend to bring out the craziness in winemakers. So if you're feeling experimental, consider a fortified wine from Uruguay, made from the tannat grape (Vinedo de los Vientos' Alcyone - like adult-only liquid chocolate). Or Malamado, a port wine from Argentina, made from the Malbec grape (the perfect match to anything with chocolate and raspberries). Or the Piandibugnano Nanerone, from somewhere in Italy (intensely aromatic, almost floral, yet rich, with cherry notes.)

6. Napoleon's Choice - unique, but not wacky, Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance is what Napoleon drank on his death bed, or so the story goes. It lively, yet lush, elegant, with a this almost crystalline purity of fruit at the core. I like it very much.

So there - hopefully some of these dessert wines (a.k.a. sweet wines) have your mouth watering. If not...too bad...more for me!

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