Wine Group Lesson 6 – Dessert Wines

Posted by on February 21, 2011
What to Drink with Dessert

The Everyday Guide to Wine says:

Grapes with noble rot

Image from The Blog Wine Cellar

Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, is a desirable fungus that infects fruit under very specific climate conditions. Noble rot is a way to add complexity, which is one of the parameters of quality. It also adds weight and richness by forming more glycerol, which creates a silky mouthfeel. Plus, it creates yeast-inhibiting glycol proteins that can stop the fermentation process before it is complete.

These wines were not easy to find. We drove all over Duluth and Superior looking in every liquor store, just to be disappointed. We only had to find four wines but we could not complete our task.

For this lesson we needed a Sauternes (made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea), a Tokaji (from the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary, a region noted for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot), a German Eiswein or Canadian Icewine (a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine) and a Vin Santo (a style of Italian dessert wine) or Vino Passito (Italian dessert wine made from partially dehydrated grapes).

We found the Sauternes (remember, that is Sauternes with an “s” on the end) at Cash Wise ($19.99 for 375 ml – we had to buy two bottles because they were so tiny). It was a 2008 Chateau Hallet. It smelled like grapefruit, tasted like honey, and had an extremely smooth finish. This wine really coated the mouth in a pleasant way. It also tasted great with blue cheese. We opened both bottles at the same time but let the 2nd one breathe for a while which really changed the taste. It was already so good but the 2nd bottle was even better.

We could not find the Tokai – this is the one we chased all over town. We did find another Hungarian wine at the Super-One Liquor store, a 2009 Donausonne ($10.99 for 750 ml) made from 100% Blaufrankisch grapes. We had no idea if it would be good in the “dessert” category but we went ahead and bought it anyway. And I’m glad we did. It was a very pretty clear cranberry color, the taste reminded us of sangria, it was light bodied with a tiny bit of dryness – a very nice sweet red.

Since these dessert wines are in tiny bottles (generally 375-500 ml) we decided to buy both the German Eiswein and the Canadian Icewine – except we bought a Minnesota Icewine instead of a Canadian one.

We tried a 2008 Schmitt Sohne Eiswein ($21.99 – 500 ml). This was the first time any of us could smell that hint of diesel that Ms. Simonetti-Bryan had talked about finding in fine wines. I also noticed a hint of grapefruit, the wine tasted sweet and tangy, very smooth body with a long, sweet, buttery finish.

The Minnesota Icewine was a 2007 Slippery Slope ($26.99 – 500 ml). It smelled of fermented honey, had a bit of a bite when drunk alone but improved when sipped after tasting some stinky cheese. The price was a bit higher than the other dessert wines but I am still glad we tried something from our home state.

Finally, we couldn’t find a Vin Santo or a Vino Passito so we bought a Campobello il Santo ($12.99 – 500 ml, produced by adding a small amount of brandy to fortify the wine.) This dessert wine was amber, did not have much of an aroma, and tasted best paired with biscotti. This was one of the less complex wines of the evening (good price though).

We all came away from this evening with a new appreciation for dessert wines. So expensive, and yet so delicious.


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