Despite – or, perhaps, because of – our parents’ generation’s love affair with sweetness, dessert wines attract depressingly little interest these days. Far from being passé and unsophisticated, however, they are brilliant partners to a sumptuous dessert or, as a contrast, to foie gras. Indeed, many restaurants now provide 125ml glasses of pudding wine to help round off the meal. Here, then, are a few excellent examples for those willing to be open-minded about the genre.
Starting with the most lightly-textured versions, 2010 Muscat Beaumes de Venise Reserve Vidal Fleury (£13.99 for a half bottle at www.henningswine.co.uk) is a pale – almost delicate – colour with a floral yet slightly spicy nose. On the palate, that spiciness takes on an orange charged acidity before relaxing into a complex medley of clove balls, maple syrup, caramel and walnut – and a surprisingly sturdy 15% alcohol.
Moving some 400 miles north-east, we reach Alsace and the glorious vendagne tardive wines it produces from the region’s classic grape varieties. Consider, for example, Alsace Gewurztraminer Hugel Vendange Tardive (£33 at The Wine Society for the 2005 vintage). It underpins all those familiar lychee flavours with touches of dates, coconut and cinder toffee to provide a beautifully long and smooth sweetie without cloying the palate in any way.
Back to muscat, and down to Spain for Torres Floralis Moscatel Oro (£7.99 at Morrisons and online at Morrisons Cellar). Although this is much darker in colour – and denser in texture – than the Muscat Beaumes de Venise, it is made in a similar style. It is kept light and fresh by classic muscat floral influences that sit beneath its smooth raisin and treacle components. As it develops though, the wine takes on citrus hints to produce a finish somewhere between orange sponge dessert and Dundee’s own Keiller marmalade.
Then to Italy and to classic chianti country. 2005 Castello de Brolio Vin Santo Barone Ricasoli (£28.99 for a half bottle at www.vintagemarque.com) majors on the malvasia grape but with a touch, inevitably, of sangiovese. It is the densest so far, with the nuts and figs influences you might expect from one of the main Madeira grapes. For all the resultant roundedness, this is a light and well-balanced wine with apricot and all-spice elements that provide character and a smoothness to give it a polished class and style.
Some of the most enjoyable – but least fashionable – sweet wines are the German ones. Not only do they offer degrees of sweetness from “half dry” to “auslese” (and better) but they often use that most versatile of grape varieties – riesling. For example, 2011 Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett, Max Ferd Richter (£13.99 at Laithwaites) – despite a gentle 10% alcohol – has a complex flavour range that combines ripe pineapple, red apple and honey. Appealingly, there is also a savoury edge reminiscent, perhaps, of the vaguely slate influences that are so typical of the Mosel.
Arguably one of the world’s most-famous sweet wines is Tokaji from Hungary and the 2008 Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszu (£19.99 for 500ml as part of mixed case of six at Majestic) is excellent fare. It infuses the classic apricot, honey and marmalade flavours with floral and jasmine notes but, call me picky if you will, I would have a welcomed a tad more acidity.
So, gentle reader, charge your glasses with one of these opulent wines and drink a toast to a sustained rehabilitation for dessert wines.
2012 Deakin Estate Viognier: Victoria, Australia: 13.5 per cent: A nicely balanced Viognier with aromatic peach and fresh pineapple flavours and a cooked apple backdrop embellished by a slightly sweetish edge on the finish. (£8.99 at the eight Margiotta shops around Edinburgh or on a multi-buy at Exel in Perth but quote DEAKIN10 for a 10% discount during March on their website ).
2012 Negroamaro: Puglia, Italy: 13.5 per cent. Because no oak is used for this wine, there is a pleasing brightness and freshness about it that provides an extra dimension to its substantial bramble fruit. More traditionally, it also delivers attractive spices and some well developed tannins on the finish. (£6.99 at M&S)
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