dessert wine

You are currently browsing the archive for the dessert wine category.

The Best Grape
There, I’ve said it. Riesling is just the best grape that exists. Maybe it’s my love for bone-crushing acidity. Maybe it’s that favorite jacket you have that pairs well with everything and manages to be classy without trying. Maybe it’s that thrill of walking to the airport to buy your ticket to somewhere you haven’t decided yet. Because it’s only Riesling that can bring you suck-your-teeth dry and rot-your teeth sweet. All grapes have a range in which they sing and you start to recognize their voices among the Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and that Cabernet Bass.

Opera Star
Riesling though is a category unto itself. It’s SATB performed by a love child of Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland. The wine soars in the right hands and has a range unmatched by any other wine. It can age for over a decade (crazy rare for a white), makes dessert wines equal to any of the greatest dessert wines in the world (Auslese) and CAN command prices into the thousands of dollars. Of course, Riesling can also command prices of $10 and it’s easy to find great bottles at $10 and really excellent bottles for $15.

Remember the Riesling!
Personally, Riesling has always been a food and friends wine. Eat one and devour the other – it’s a simple recipe but Remember the Riesling. It’s easy to find too since Germany and Austria no longer have a stranglehold on the grape. Australia, New Zealand and the US (especially Finger Lakes, NY!) all produce wines that melt in your mouth or stab you with lime – up to you to figure out which is which. South Africa too seems to be entering the fray, and South America has started late to the game but has started its experimenting. Rather than just carpeting the world too, Riesling producers have managed to produce wines that smack you across the face with their true gravel. If you enjoy S&M diversity in your wine, you just found your grape.

This wine is one of many styles that Chateau Ste Michelle makes (one of which is called Eroica – sweet and worth the search; it’s two of the world’s best producers teaming up on Riesling). This particular Riesling shown above is the regular “everyday” Riesling that Chateau Ste Michelle make and I think it cost about $10 (which is what it costs at Jericho Wines, who get the h/t for the photo). Here’s what my tongue dictated to my fingers: Kinda fizzy, tart like green apples but with peach taste. Light wine. Very green apples and something fizzy extra.

Detail Up!
Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2009

Random Googles
* Famed Riesling Maker Leo Buring (correctly) stated: “Winemaking isn’t a matter of life or death – it’s much more important than that!” The one wine I tried by him convinced me that my mid-life crisis will occur in Adelaide, Australia.
* Riesling regions to seek out: Clare, Eden and West Australia (Australia); Mosel, Alsace, and Wachau (Europe); Finger Lakes, Michigan and Washington (US); and Nelson (NZ)
* There’s a Red Riesling in Germany. Nobody’s quite sure if it’s the father or the son of Riesling Riesling.

Tags: , , ,

Hungry for Hungary
Eew – somehow the pun of Hungry and Hungary has managed to jump the couch, even for lovers of lousy puns like myself. Fortunately, the grapes behind this wine save the day. Furmint, the undisputed queen of Hungary is the famous partner in this duo, and Harslevelu is somehow forgotten, likely due to the unpronouncable nature of the grape. Hars-level-u. That’s how I’ll remember it.

Furmint though is the centerpiece of this wine, even though clocking in at only 50% of the grape content. Next to the Hungary Water Polo team, this could be the finest item to emerge EVER from Hungary. Tokaji isn’t this wine but you could be mistaken from the bottle since that Tokaj looks awfully like Tokaji.

Tokaji is rightly the pride of Hungary, so much so that it’s mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem. To quote: “On Tokaj’s vine stalks you have dripped nectar.” Rightly sung, Hungary. Rightly sung. This wine dates back to nearly the Hapsburgs and has produced exceptional wine ever since. Actually, ALMOST ever since since apparently there was a big Communist 40-year fling when all the grapes had to be blended together and the wine ended up mediocre. This being before my wine-drinking time, you’ll have to take the capitalists’ word for it.


Furmint gets talked about a lot with its dessert wines, and Harslevelu generally gets treated as the kid with the last name Zhang in elementary school. Last alphabetically and forgotten about by other (luckier) kids with more alphabetically-inclined names, Harslevelu is somewhat intriguing as being a crucial, if lesser known component, of the great Hungarian wines. Described by wikiwriters as “intense aroma of spice, pollen and elderflowers,” this wine pretty much hits all the big things that drew me to wine. Plus, it has a facebook page. 9 people even like it – that’s almost double digits. Still, if you ever see that there’s a 100% Harslevelu available, please mail it immediately. Post will be paid.

So, 50% Furmint, 50% Hars-level-u, from Hungary, from Tokaj. Smells and looks light but BIG peach with pear throughout and big sweetness that fills up the mouth. Long lasting sweet peach finish. Could be in Savannah with Ty Cobb sipping on sweet tea and spiked cleats.

Detail Up!
Hetszolo Tokaj Late Harvest 2007

Random Googles
* Only six grapes are approved for Tokaji: Furmint, Harslevelu, Yellow Muscat, Zeta, Koverszolo, and Kabar.
* Together, Furmint and Harslevelu constitute 90% of the wine in Aszu, fabled wine region of Hungary
* King Louix XIV incorrectly termed Tokaji the “Wine of Kings.” Catherine the Great led by example in sending soldiers to protect the vineyards. Hence, it’s the “Wine of Queens.”

Tags: , , , ,

“Ma ma ma MY Madeira”
Malmsey holds a special place in my liquor cabinet. Hint – it’s near the front. It’s crazy sweet but isn’t at all cloying, and is pretty much indestructible (my bottle is 2 years old and survived life in a 95 degree closet in Panama). It works for pre-dinner, during dinner and (especially) after-dinner, and holds up against even the stickiest, gooiest desserts.

Still, there’s more to my infatuation, and that’s thanks to a nerdy love of history. Malmsey is a grape (the sweetest grape!) used in Madeira, quite possibly the finest and most unique style of wine in existence. Just ask that fired NPR guy his opinion on the matter – he knows.

Baked Wine
Madeira is baked wine, discovered when a case of regular wine accidentally got forgotten in the bottom of a boat that sailed from Portugal across the Atlantic, made its tour of several stops in the Caribbean and headed home to Portugal. Once back to the first stop home – the island of Madeira 500 miles off the coast of Africa – the Portuguese discovered their wine that had been sloshing around in the hold in 90+ degree heat for the last half year. Turns out, it was delicious.

No longer does Madeira make its trip through the tropics (except my Panama-purchased bottle, apparently) though. Instead, they’ve developed a process called “estufagem” that simulates a long, hot sea voyage minus the mermaid mirages. Essentially, they bake the wine – probably the single most important thing to avoid when you’re handling normal wine.

Matt Damon does Madeira

Heat and wine are like Sarah Palin and Matt Damon. It just seems wrong and really, it is. But then, wine surprises you. Out of nowhere, it starts ripping into heat for believing that dinosaurs roamed the earth 4,000 years ago and becomes something even more beautiful. That’s Madeira – Matt Damon heated up about Sarah Palin.

Malmsey is that present you give to people who had such sweet tooths that they lost their teeth and now have sweet dentures. This particular one lives up to the sweet hype with lots of raisin and burnt caramel, a tiny drop of coffee, some orange zest smells wafting in, and a really long finish of lots more caramel.

Detail Up!
Blandy’s Madeira – Malmsey Reserve 5 years

Random Googles:
* George Washington loved Madeira best. Other wines wept.
* Malmsey > Bual > Verdelho > Sercial, the sweetness order of Madeira (“My Bottle Vesuviates Sweetness” is the mnemonic device).
* People call anything Malmsey these days. The Malmsey Madeira grape is aka “Malvasia Candida,” one of 12 different types of Malvasia in Portugal.

Tags: , , ,

Albilla is a mystery grape that remains a mystery to me despite my best attempts to internet it into transparency. Clearly, there is a grape Albilla and clearly it’s grown in sufficient quantities to produce pisco, even when it’s done in the much more laborious Mosto Verde way (see pic above for our first clue). The internet agrees, pointing out that Albilla is a light-skinned, slightly-sweeter grape “widely grown in Peru.” It’s listed among the “aromatic” grapes that go into Pisco (“aromatic” meaning they’re great to smell, in contrast to the “pure” grapes where you don’t smell much). Albilla piscos have been increasing in popularity the last two years. It used to be very rare to see a Pisco bottle labeled “Albilla” but now several wineries make straight-up “Albilla” piscos: Cuatro Gallos, Tacama and Viñas de Oro to name a few.

So, it’s a local grape grown just in Peru. It smells like flowers (violets), tastes like bananas and rose petals and then, in a weird twist, just when the wine seems like it’s gone, it stops for tea. Black, oolong, Lipton 99 cent tea? Not sure – will leave that to tea-lovers but I swear this Albilla has a crazy long finish of tea.

Back to the Mystery
However, half a world away, Spain happens to have a grape called “Albilla” that it grows in small, very localized quantities. It’s called “one of the best guarded secrets in Spain” and is practically impossible to discover outside of Spain. Taste-wise, it has a penetrating aroma and a yellow-golden color with a slightly sweet taste. Sound familiar?

Digging deeper into this rabbit hole, there’s an oblique reference in a Peruvian food journal that mentions the following:
“In 1553, Don Francisco de Caravantes brought to Peru the first wine grapes of the type Albilla, coming from the Canary Islands, which were planted in the outskirts of Lima with good results as well as in towns in the highlands, but the grapes took root much better in the valleys in the south, especially in Ica, Moquegua and Tacna.”

Canaries, War and Albilla

Now, I’m far from an expert on Pisco, but as an amateur Pisco lover, I do know that these are the regions in Peru where Pisco grows and the regions in Chile where it grows would never be mentioned in a Peruvian food journal due to a fantastic historical memory on both sides of the border of the the year 1879 A.D. And, when I look into the kinds of grapes that grow in the Canary Islands there’s this book that lists some general names (black, white, etc.) but specifically mentions Albilla.

Coincidence? CONNECTION! Although I’d love to be proven wrong if someone has a better story, until then, this is my story of a grape from Spain, routed through the Canary Islands, sailing into Peru and Chile and hiding out for 500 years among better known grapes. It’s my personal Mystery of Albilla.

Detail Up!
Cuatro Gallos Pisco Mosto Verde Albilla

Random Googles
* This page has the most complete information about Albilla on the web. As of today.
* Pisco Sour Day is an actual holiday in Peru. You can use Albilla in a sour but since it’s an aromatic, it’s better on its own.
* Albilla shows up in a new production of fizzy Peruvian wine by Viña Tacama. It’s geared at the “feminine market” (like me) and has lower alcohol.

Tags: , , , ,

Pride of Portugal
Touriga Nacional makes the Portuguese swell with pride, similar to helium in a balloon or the chest of a doctor’s grandmother when describing her granddoctor. Most famous as the lead singer in the Grapes o’ Port band, Touriga Nacional also shows up on its own in really dark, pretty heavy wines from the Douro (most famously) and Dão (better non-Port wine IMO). But really, if people know this grape it’s because they know Port. Should anyone’s eyes light up about Touriga Nacional, immediately become their friend and go port-tasting with them. They will know decades worth of useless trivia that only you, the imminent port connoisseur, will care about. Port though isn’t about impressing people. That was the 80s, with cigars, Gordon Gecko and other now-cliques. Now, port is about sharing a weird insider world with old men and lost knowledge. Expect to find it in a Paulo Coelho novel soon (pun not intended but reality trumps imagination this time).

Port, in a too-simple telling, is a fortified wine from Portugal, from Oporto Portugal to be specific. It’s up in the north, is absolutely gorgeous as a city and still has a whole port-producing neighborhood that deserves to be at the top of any European bound teenagers. These places have been around hundreds of years (this tasted wine is from Taylor’s – founded in the year of the Salem Witch Trials). Touriga Nacional is the bauble among the port-producing gems, and Catavino describes it really really well (as they do most things – go RSS them). It’s a vine that produces few grapes, really dark grapes and for the last few hundred years has been made into wine by the Portuguese with the help of the Brits. There’s likely a historical reason for this Portuguese-British history but that history book hasn’t made it into my field of vision. Kudos if you can recommend one.

This particular port was consumed in the Tokyo Airport, better spelled Tokyo Air Port (another example of reality winning the pun war), and is from one of the oldest and most famous Port Houses in the world. For whatever reason, this particular port only shows up in the Tokyo Air Port and several other Asian distributors. Taylor’s apparently has an Asian Port recipe they’re not sharing with the rest of the world.

Blueberry smell, violet and blueberry taste with a bit of cherry finish elbowing its way into the blue port world. Really smooth overall although that 20% alcohol does leave its business card on the finish.

Detail Up!

Taylor’s Fine Tawny Port (image from them too)

Random Googles
* Taylor’s Fine Tawny Port seems only to be sold in Asia and doesn’t show up on Taylor’s website. Light suspense ensues.
* Australians shorten the name to “Touriga” and make loads of quality Port-ish wines.
* More than 100 grapes can go into Port. Only 5 achieve stardom though: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Barroca.

Tags: , , , ,

« Older entries § Newer entries »