What do you think about when you hear the words "sweet wine"? Maybe thoughts of inexpensive bottles consumed in college; or maybe visions of foie gras paired with Sauternes at a decadent French dinner? Whether you have fond memories, promises of never drinking the sweet stuff again, or an opinion of indifference, I thought starting a dialog for sweet wine would give some recognition to a not-so-talked-about category of wine. Let’s be honest, there are so many delicious wines to discuss! The vast diversity of sweet wines alone makes them simply amazing, not to mention tasty! Some sweet wines are made with fungus, others are fortified, and some styles even involve being purposely cooked, all offering a cornucopia of flavors that need to be talked about!
Here’s a wine list to titillate your palate. Go ahead, grab a wine loving friend or two, crack open a bottle, and get the conversation going. Some of these styles are centuries old, they deserve some recognition! But also – they’re great food wines!!
Henriques & Henriques 5 year – $22.99
Madeira, named after the island on which it was made, has one of the most romantic stories of origin. During the 18th century the island of Madeira was THE port to purchase wine. During this time, a forgotten barrel made its way back to the island after embarking on its long delivery route across the ocean. On this unexpected boomerang voyage something magical happened to the wine. Not only did the wine not ruin, but it’s flavor changed for the better. This new style of wine enamored locals and customers alike and became the new go-to style! Today, this style is still being duplicated- in the winery instead of on a ship (thankfully). The Henriques & Henriques 5 year is a wine that instantly makes you smile upon first sip. Beautiful amber in color and notes of toffee and honey pair so well with chocolate, nuts and cheese. Want to get adventurous? This wine is great for creating a delicious sauce for your favorite pan seared protein! Just deglaze your pan while it's still hot and voila!
Fun fact: Madeira was the wine of choice during the signing of the Declaration of Independence!
Kopke 10 year Tawny Porto – $35.99
Made for centuries from grapes grown on the steep slopes of the Douro Valley in Portugal, Port wine production owes its popularity to England. During the late 17th century, England was in conflict with France and wanted to boycott French wines, while retaining the ability to drink. This led them to seeking wine elsewhere, and today we are all the better for this decision! What is Port? Port is a fortified wine that typically expresses itself as sweet and comes in a variety of styles. What separates Port from other red wines is the fortification process during fermentation. Ports are married with unaged brandy during fermentation, which ‘fortifies’ the wine, increases alcohol and retains sweetness. It also allows the wine to be more stable during transport. (The 17th century Brits were very thankful for this!) With a 10 year Tawny Port like this one from Kopke, the wine is then aged in large oak casks allowing for flavor development. Don’t let the age statement on the label indicate the time spent in barrel – ten years is actually a designation of the average compilation of various vintages used in blending. This blending of older vintage wines gives Tawny Port its signature rich amber color and depth of flavors. You can expect flavors of nuts, dried figs, prunes and vanilla. This wine is robust and mature, suave and refined (everything you want in dating after your 20's). Classically pairs with blue veined cheese, dried fruits and nuts and Arkansas pecan pie.
Fun fact: Port wine is traditionally made with grape stompers! Some old school wineries still use large teams of strong-legged people for hours at a time during fermentation. Today, most wineries have adopted more modern methods using machines with ‘feet’ that mimic stomping – which is much cheaper and faster!
Chateau Roumieu-Lacoste – $28.99 (375 ml)
Sauternes, aka the infamous sweet white wine from Bordeaux, utilizes fungus in the vineyard. While making wine with fungus sounds off putting, it's much more charming and labor intensive than it sounds. The name of the fungus is Botrytis, which can also be referred to as noble rot. Botrytis forms on grapes in the fall when conditions are perfect: cool, humid mornings followed by warm, dry afternoons. These conditions allow grapes extended time on the vine to become overripe and for noble rot to slowly grow. Botrytis then changes the characteristics of these overripe grapes by decreasing acidity levels and increasing sugar levels. The resulting reaction: shriveled, concentrated, raisin-like clusters. The secret to creating world renowned sweet wine once this has occurred is careful picking. Since Botrytis does not develop at even rates, picking can take several months to complete. This is such a lengthy process because pickers can’t pick whole clusters of grapes at a time, individual grapes are hand selected. Sauternes is a powerhouse in the dessert category because of its versatility. With flavor profiles ranging from almond to passion fruit and dried apricot, you have to treat yourself! Can this be enjoyed on its own as a dessert? Yes. Does this pair well with foie gras? In a an earth shattering way, yes. Does it go ridiculously well with creme brulée? So much so!
Fun Fact: The most famous Sauternes produced is Chateau d’Yquem, which we can all thank for helping to put the entire region of Bordeaux on the map beginning in the 1800s – yay!
Pedro Ximénez Sherry
Turkey Flat Pedro Ximénez – $42.99
Sherry is an amazing category of wine! Ranging from lemony sour to creamy and sweet and kept in a kitchen cabinet by everyone’s sweet-loving relatives. Yes, this can be made cheap and simply for cooking, but it can also be a sweet wine to rock your world! A great example, Pedro Ximénez Sherry (PX for short), is traditionally made by drying grapes on straw mats in the hot Spanish sun. This sun drying method allows the sugars in the grapes to concentrate. Once the grapes have raisined, they're squeezed to produce a very concentrated grape must which is then fermented and aged. The aging process involves a system of barrels called the solera process. A portion of sherry from the last barrel in the lineup is poured out to be topped off from the previous barrel. This process creates more intense flavors and complexity. The result is a very concentrated, golden, sweet wine. It’s no surprise that this wine reminds one of Sun Maid white grapes from childhood, but with some serious street cred. This is a decadent treat on its own, pairs so well with caramel desserts and is amazing as an ice-cream topping-seriously!
Fun Fact: Sherries are also all the rage in the cocktail scene right now! Try adding some PX to a vodka tonic or mint julep to impress your guests!
Moscato d’Asti DOCG
Michele Chiarlo Novole – $24.99; sale: $19.99
This is a wine I have to defend on a daily basis. Yes, it’s gotten a pretty bad rap for not being a “serious wine”, but it can also be an electrifying, provoking wine. It’s all about finding a Moscato from a producer that knows what they’re doing. Yes it’s sweet, but also tart, bursting with floral notes and an effervescence that dances across your tongue! Knowing where your Moscato is being produced along with a seal of approval is a good indication of quality when looking for the good stuff. This Michele Chiarlo Moscato for example, is from the hill sloping region of Asti in Northwest Italy. This region produces the epitome of delicious Moscato. Traditionally, winemakers in Asti care for Moscato very delicately. Some major TLC is taken during the fermentation process. By slowly lowering the temperature to the point of halting fermentation early, producers create wines of bright acidity, delicate sweetness, and carbonation (bubbles!). Look for a label that has Italy’s guarantee and seal of approval: “DOCG” stamped on the neck of the bottle. (much like the wine featured here), and you'll be on the right track. It’s all about place and seal of approval with Italian wines! Moscato is delicious on its own after a long day and is multifunctional: cooling your flaming mouth down from 5 alarm spicy food, and goes oh so well with a serving of Arkansas strawberry shortcake. Go ahead, give Moscato another chance!
Fun fact: Moscato is one of the world’s oldest known grapes. This grape originated in Greece and was spread by the Roman Empire, used as sustenance and wine along the way!
All sizes and vintages are in stock at the time of publication. In the event advertised vintages sell out, substitute vintages may be offered at the same price. Products and prices are subject to change.