Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Dessert wines, as a category, have an appealingly paint-by-numbers purpose: they go with dessert, and occasionally, they are dessert.
But desserts are all over the place when it comes to both levels of sweetness and range of flavors. One person’s idea of dessert might be a ripe pear, where another person might argue that any dessert not involving chocolate is an utter waste of time. Ditto dessert wines, which can range from a lightly alcoholic, lightly effervescent, delicately sweet moscato d’Asti to a PX sherry with the viscosity of motor oil and a go-see-the-dentist-now sugar content.
So, a couple of things to point out. Food almost always has more effect on the flavor of wine than vice versa, and so sweet desserts make wines seem less sweet. Generally speaking, go for a wine that’s slightly sweeter than the dessert you’re serving. If the dessert is ultra-super-sweet, think coffee, or, for the brave, grappa.
But enough of that. Here are some recommendations for dessert wines based on the general category of dessert. Also, note that dessert wines tend to be a bit more expensive than table wines, but since the typical serving is about half as much, it all kind of works out in the end.
The tangy-sweet Blandy’s 5 Year Old Alvada ($20), a blend of those two grape varieties, is an ideal choice. So are the Rare Wine Company’s New York Malmsey Special Reserve and its Boston Bual Special Reserve (both about $45).
Moscato d’Asti, the lightly sparkling tangerine-and-honeysuckle sweet wine of Italy’s Piedmont region, goes fantastically well with fresh fruit. Two to look for are Saracco ($18 or so) and Michele Chiarlo’s Nivole (about $14 for a half bottle).
Custard and Vanilla
Try a dessert wine made from white grapes—anything from the classic Sauternes or Barsac (the 2008 Chateau Coutet is gorgeous, and about $40 for a half bottle) to something like the nectarine-scented 2007 Les Vol des Anges from California’s Bonny Doon Winery (about $30).
Caramel and Nuts
More from Food & Wine:
© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
Next entry »Coffee klatsch