This is the second of two parts discussing dessert wines – ports, sherries, sauternes, ice wine and the rest. Part I, which looked at dessert wine in general, is here.
Can you pair dessert wines with food? Yes, but it’s generally not worth the trouble. They stand on their own. Also, don’t be discouraged by the prices, which are high. A dessert wine serving is half or less than that of a dinner wine, and one or two glasses is more than sufficient.
One other note: Dessert wine labels are confusing, not just because there are so many different kinds, but because we don’t deal with them very much. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sherries and ports, for example, are labeled according to quality and style, a complex process that is more than most of us need to know. It’s helpful to know that an LBV port is different and less expensive (and sometimes a better value) than a vintage port, but it’s not crucial.
Finally, these wines are only a tiny sample of what’s out there. As always, look, taste, and see try different things. And then pour yourself a glass, sit back, and enjoy. A fire place is optional, but it certainly doesn’t hurt:
• Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve Vidal Icewine ($20 for a 187-ml bottle): Ice wine is made by letting the grapes freeze on the vine, which concentrates the sugar. This is a Canadian wine, and Canada produces some of the world’s best ice wine. The vidal is more sweet than fruity, though there are some tropical flavors underneath the sweetness. The current vintage is 2007, but the 2006 and 2005 are also available.
• Ficklin Old Vine Tinta Port NV ($15): This is a fine value in a category where there aren’t many. Ficklin is a California producer who makes its wine using Portuguese methods. This may be a bit sweeter than a Portuguese port, but it’s still dark, plummy and balanced.
• Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 NV ($15): Another value and a good introduction to sherry, which does not necessarily taste like Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Osborne is one of the world’s finest sherry producers. Pedro Ximenez, or PX, is a grape, and Osborne makes a much more expensive, better quality sherry called Pedro Ximenez Viejo
• Le Vol des Anges 2006 ($30 for a 187-ml bottle): The legendary Randall Grahm says this may be the best wine he has ever made. It isn’t, but that’s no reason not to try it. It’s made in the style of a sauterne, letting botrytis loose on roussanne grapes. It’s not as rich as the ice wine, and it has a very intriguing herb-like flavor in the middle of the sweetness.
• Dow’s Porto 40 Year Old Tawny NV ($130): This is everything port should be -- raisins, vanilla, nuttiness, and sweetness. If I was being picky (and $130 allows the Wine Curmudgeon to be picky), I'd note that it isn’t especially subtle. But if you’re looking for a gift for someone who has tried everything, there’s a good chance that they haven’t tried this.