Ullo’s Guide to Boozy Holiday Dessert Wine
There’s not much love given to dessert wines these days. Wine drinkers have generally moved toward drier wines over the last decade, leaving dessert wines in the dustbin, long forgotten and misunderstood. But here at Üllo, we believe some of the greatest, complex, and fascinating wines in the world are of the sweet variety. And what better time of the year than the holidays to reintroduce yourself to these tasty after dinner treats? We’ve compiled a short list of our favorite types with a few specific recommendations in between. Don’t be afraid to pair these wines with good ole’ American holiday desserts, from apple pie and vanilla ice cream to snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate ginger cake, and beyond. Enjoy!
Ice Wine – Frozen Grape Delight
What better way to celebrate the holidays than chomping on frozen grapes? Well, not exactly, but close! Traditional ice wine is produced in several wine regions around the world but Germany is the most famous producer of this nectar of the gods. Grapes are left on the vine after normal harvest dates and are picked off the vine when they are still frozen in November or December. The sugars and dissolved solids do not freeze and transform into a ridiculously complex and syrupy treat that is unrivaled in its rarity, and unfortunately, price. German ice wines exhibit a variety of flavors, from stone fruits (peach and pear) to honey, citrus, apple, and even exotic fruits (pineapple, lychee). If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, this is the ultimate wine for you.
Sauterne – The Benevolent Fungus
Missing some funk in your life? Have we got a dessert wine for you. It turns out a “benevolent fungus” is responsible for one of the most famous dessert wines in the world. Sauterne comes from the French wine region of Bordeaux, and while dry white wines are produced here, they pale in popularity compared to the area’s sweet wines. Sauterne is made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle grapes that are infected by botrytis cinerea, or ‘Noble Rot’, which causes the grapes to raisin partially and develop particular concentrated and unique flavors. Think apricot, honey, stone fruit, and honeysuckle. Sauterne wines tend to be incredibly well-balanced and complex, with high acidity and a freshness that balances out the sweetness. These wines are delicious to drink on their own, but pair surprisingly well with a variety of dishes, from decadent foie gras, fresh goat cheese, or anything fried… think latkes or fried chicken. Get some!
We know what you are thinking. Aren’t old British guys the only people who drink port? That may have been the case 40 years ago but port producers have recently undergone a transformation in an effort to relate to younger consumers. Port is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the valleys of northern Portugal. Port is one of the most accessible after-dinner drinks, as its sweetness is tempered by robust and concentrated flavors of red wine. Much like Sauternes, Port is able to age for decades and the older bottles are surprisingly affordable. High quality, young bottles of port can be found for $15, though it’s worth a splurge to purchase a 20- or 30-year-old bottle. You will be rewarded with a slow sipping wine of complexity. Go ahead, grab a cigar and a bottle of port and sit by the fireplace. Who could imagine a better evening?
Amaro – Italian Delight
Including amaro on this list is a little unfair to its more “pure” wine-based companions, as it’s technically an herbal liqueur and digestif, not a dessert wine, but we’re such big fans we couldn’t leave it out. Amaro hails from Italy and is one of the world’s most popular digestifs. Hundreds of different versions are produced throughout the country but most amari are red in color, bitter and sweet, 15-30% alcohol, and infused with a variety of herbs, roots, and bark. While some are exceedingly bitter, most brands available in the US are well-balanced and a delicious way to finish a meal. Many of the herbs used to infuse amari—saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, licorice, citrus peels, ginger, fennel, lemon verba—are a great match with holiday cooking. Amaro generally pairs well with chocolate and I think a lighter bottle, such as Montenegro, would pair nicely well with apple pie. But don’t be afraid to sip a glass of amaro by itself though!
A few of our favorite brands include Montenegro, Lucano, Rammazotti, Nonino, Nardini, Averna, and CioCiaro. Don’t miss some of the domestic producers of excellent amaro as well: http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/recipes/sc-food-1128-drink-amaro-20141125-story.html.
If you are in Chicago and want to taste some incredible 50 year-old amaro for a very reasonable price, check out Billy Sunday in the Logan Square neighborhood. It’s a temple to amaro and has hundreds of rare and old bottles that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
If you’d like to learn more about dessert wines, hop on over to our friends at Wine Folly (link Wine Folly with this: http://winefolly.com/review/types-dessert-wine/)
Cheers and Happy Holidays!
The Ullo Team