Dessert wines
 
After weeks of writing about wines for the holidays I’ve realised that I haven’t even mentioned dessert wines. It might seem odd to finally do so here, while recommending the wines of Italy, but the truth of the matter is that Italy is packed with dessert wines from North to South. Some of the most famous grapes in Italy got their start as famous dessert wines, Sagrantino and the grapes used for Amarone, while many are made exclusively into dessert wines, Moscato Rosa and Zibibbo for example, and don’t even get me started on Vin Santo and Vino Santo! The bottom line is that Italy is a fantastic resource for amazing dessert wines, virtually all of which are not fortified, making them an easy and delicious way to cap of the perfect holiday meal. 
 
 
Moscato Rosa is a rare specialty from the Alto-Adige. Red muscat,  redolent of roses, red fruits and subtle baking spices is a wonderful dessert wine and seeing as it’s a rare find it also makes for a wonderful gift. Girlan is a great producer, also responsible for the greatest expression of Schiava from the Alto-Adige, the ancient vine bottling from the Gschlier vineyard which is seldom available at retail here in the States. The Pasithea Rosa is a passito style wine, modest in alcohol at about 12.5% but quite sweet, if well balanced with fine, juicy acidity. 
 
 
Coming from Pantelleria, an Island off the coast of Sicily that is closer to Tunisia than Sicily, it seems quite obvious that Ben Rye should be a sweet wine. Produced from the local Muscat of Alexandria, known as Zibibbo, the grapes for Ben Rye, Arabic for “son of the wind” , are in fact air dried for about a month after harvest, after which they are slowly fermented, with new dried grapes added to the must periodically, until the wine achieves about 14.5% alcohol. It is then briefly aged in stainless steel before bottling, capturing it’s unique bend of peach, dried fruit, orange rind spice, and wind swept herbal perfumes. 
 
Vin Santo is a totally misunderstood wine. There is plenty of inexpensive Vin Santo that is in fact best used for dipping biscotti in, but that hardly does justice to the genre. Felsina’s Vin Santo adheres to traditional guidelines, blending Trebbiano, Malvasia, and Sangiovese grapes that have been air dried on trellises, this Vin Santo undergoes a typical slow fermentation before the wine is aged in small 100 liter oak casks for seven years. The resulting wine is plenty sweet, with enough acid to balance the sweetness of course, and is full of honied pineapple, peach and dried citrus flavors layered with the subtle spice of its oak ageing. It’s a rare Vin Santo that really needs a few years in the cellar to reach perfect harmony but at the age of about 15 years it really starts singing. It is the perfect end to a holiday dinner, or a list of Holiday gift suggestions!