7 Sweet Dessert Wines

End your meal on a sweet note


Dessert wines rarely seem to get their due. The idea of finishing one’s meal with something sweet is pretty common, so it is surprising how little dessert wine I see passed around tables, or even discussed for that matter. I think the facts that a little goes a long way (which means a bottle may rarely be finished), and most people seem pretty sated once the end of a meal rolls around accounts for these delicious nectars being overlooked.

Well, if any time is the right time for dessert wines it’s the holidays: a time when we look forward to lingering around the table, talking and sharing. Many people might recommend breaking out the dessert wines to accompany dessert. Seems like a natural, except for those who don’t really enjoy desserts! I prefer simple cookies for dessert, perfect to be paired with sweet dessert wines, but an even better pairing is a fine cheese plate!

Many people think about port wine when dessert wines get mentioned, but the truth is there are many more options besides port. What follows is a little rundown of some great options for when you choose to explore dessert wines.

2008 Torbreck the Bothie Barossa Valley Muscat Blanc 14%
Muscat grapes come in several varieties but they all share a wonderful floral tone. This Muscat Blanc from Australia adds wonderful citrus and caramel tones.

Citrusy and fragrant in a clean, bright way, with subtle supporting notes of powdery rose petals and herbal lime leaf and sage notes. Sweet on entry with enough acid to keep this fresh on the palate. It delivers an array of flavors that range from tropical to citrus fruits with caramel and custard tones and an almost banana crème pie underlay. A rich, if bright, wine that is sweet and lingers on the palate. 91pts
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2008 Harvest Moon Russian River Valley Gewurtztraminer 10.5%
Gewürztraminer is also famed for its floral character, though it tends to be spicier than Muscat grapes. This example also shows the refreshing, slightly bitter pithy note that many Gewurztraminers show in the finish.

Gorgeous nose with rich, syrupy lychee, rambutan, tangerine and lime tones gently topped with light floral notes. A medium-bodied dessert wine, nice and almost elegant with fine acids balancing the rich fruits that recall the nose accented with hints of green tea. Not a blockbuster, but rather easy and well balanced with a slight hint of grapefruit pith bitterness on the moderately long finish. 89pts
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2007 Fortress Vineyards Finale Red Hills Lake County Semillon 12.5%

Semillon, along with Sauvignon Blanc, forms the backbone of the greatest dessert wines of them all: the Sauternes and Barsacs of Bordeaux. In this example you’ll find the typical richness that Semillon contributes to those blended wines.

This is full of fresh nutmeats on the nose, raw almonds and cashews with lightly confiture tones of bitter orange, dried pear and apricot and a heavy pollen top note. This is rich and mouth-filling, if a bit flat. It spreads over the palate with attractive peach nectar, candied chestnut and an almost malty tone. It’s intense and rich, gaining a creamy vanilla custard tone on the backend that leads to a fairly long finish, which reveals nice nutty nuances that complement the rich fruit. If there was a bit more acid here I would be more enthusiastic, but this still is quite delicious.  89pts
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2005 Feudo Arancio Hekate Passito Sicily 13%
This blend of aromatic grapes (Moscato, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier) provides an explosive bouquet to this Sicilian dessert wine. The palate was a bit simple, making this ideal to pair with something complex, like aged cheese.

Nicely aromatic and complex with notes of herbs, flowers and spice assenting the dried apricot, orange and candied pink grapefruit tones. Moderately sweet in the mouth, with subtle herbal and bitter almond elements adding detail to the honied peach and apricot fruit. The finish is a bit short and a bit spicy with nice notes of bitter apricot pits. The palate does not match the appeal of the nose. 87pts
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2009 Patterson Cellars Late Harvest Roussanne Columbia Valley 11.5%
This is a wine that grows on you. The nose is admittedly off-putting early on, as much for its distinct aromas as for its intensity. But it is a wine that draws you in with its complexity and balance -- each sip sets the stage for you wanting another.

This is tremendously stinky on the nose, downright blue cheesy at first with intense aromas of white truffles and canned corn. With air, fruit tones emerge and this turns slightly nutty with the truffled corn fading into the background. Intensely rich on entry and sweet with a lot of canned corn right up front and noticeable truffle spiciness. There is good acidity here, and a touch of tannin, both helping to keep this massively rich wine from becoming too much. Lots of slightly exotic fruit on the palate, which is rich and weighty but still well defined. The finish is bright with a touch of citrus adding some freshness and a nice lingering spice tone and a finale of dried mango. This is a bit sweet for me, and disarming as well. It’s a wine that is somehow more than the sum of its parts. 91pts
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2006 Winter’s Hill Vineyard Golden Nectar 15%
I couldn’t find the details on this wine but it’s beautiful. A complex, drier wine that does have quite a bit of alcohol but in small quantities this was just delicious. A wine that can easily handle a first course, say something foie gras-ish.

This is almost angry-smelling with mineral and almond shell notes greeting the nose. With air, this turns almost weedy with wildflowers over bitter citrus zests topped with hints of sage and white pepper. Only modestly sweet with good balancing acidity, this offers up a lovely array of flavors that range from dried citrus zest to light honey, wood spice, candied nuts and a nice note of bitter apple on the finale. Well balanced and a wine that can easily be pared with savory dishes. Very fine and complex. 92pts
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1993 Chateau Pajzos Esszencia 4.5%
Tokaji Essenzia is one of the world’s truly exceptional wines. The fact that this is labeled as Esszencia calls into question what exactly it is, but no matter what this is, it is delicious. It marries huge acids with incredibly sweet intense fruit to produce a flavor explosion in your mouth. Yes, it’s expensive, but at least you don’t need much of it!

Warm and deep-smelling with molasses and hint framing the nutmeg and all-spice toned dried pear, apricot and peach fruit with a light nori top note.  Thick yet vibrant in the mouth with rich, honeyed flavors of pear, peach, kiwi and quince. There’s a nice toasty, malty note here as well.  This is super sweet, with huge acids lending the fruit a real freshness but the sugar wins out on the treacle- and caramel-laced finish. The finish goes on and on. A real treat to taste. 96pts
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To view the photos for this article, go to Dessert Wines for the Holidays.

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  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,082

    For this holiday I will be serving for a desert wine, a 1979 Chateau Filhot Comtesse Durieu de Lacarelle which is a Sauternes. Last week I E-mailed the Chateau and I got a response from Gabriel de Vaucelles saying that this wine will be very drinkable. This bottle has been in my cellar for 28 years.
    If anyone out there has tasted this recently, I would like your feedback.

    Dec 22, 2010 at 4:04 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    Listing the RS on these wines would be interesting. No mention of any TBAs. I have been drinking a relatively inexpensive TBA of the Ortega grape, made in Germany, that is stupendous.

    Apr 21, 2011 at 4:58 PM

  • Ever tried Dolce 2006 Late Harvest from Napa? Yummmmm

    Apr 21, 2011 at 8:50 PM

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