Üllo has compiled a short list of favorite sweet wines and a few recommendations for pairing these wines. Don’t be afraid to drink 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
You won’t be chomping on icy grapes—but close! Traditional ice wine is produced in several wine regions around the world, with Germany being the most famous producer of this nectar of the gods. Grapes are left on the vine after normal harvest dates and are picked when they are still frozen in November or December. The sugars and dissolved solids do not freeze, but rather transform into a ridiculously complex and syrupy treat that is unrivaled in its rarity.
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? Then Sauterne is the 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.’ Noble Rot causes the grapes to raisin partially and develop 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 also pair surprisingly well with a variety of dishes, from decadent foie gras, fresh goat cheese or anything fried like latkes or fried chicken.
Port – Gray-Haired Old Men’s Domain No More
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. Its sweetness is tempered by robust and concentrated flavors of red wine. Much like Sauternes, Port can age for decades and the older bottles are surprisingly affordable. High quality, young bottles of port can be found for $15, but it’s often worth the splurge to purchase a 20 or 30-year-old bottle. Go ahead, grab a cigar and a bottle of port and sit by the fireplace. Who could imagine a better evening?
Including amaro on this list is a little unfair to its more “pure” wine-based companions. It’s technically an herbal liqueur and digestif, not a dessert wine, but it’s too tasty to be left off this list.
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 are 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. Lighter bottles like Montenegro would pair nicely well with apple pie. If you don’t have anything to pair it with, don’t be afraid to sip a glass of amaro by itself!
A few favorite brands include Montenegro, Lucano, Rammazotti, Nonino, Nardini, Averna and CioCiaro. Don’t miss some of the domestic producers of excellent amaro as well.
Head on over to a local wine bar or any wine retailer to try out these wines. Bring a bottle to your next holiday party—your family and friends will love trying something new!
Cheers and Happy Holidays!