An Exploration of Dessert Wines

From the   Sweets Issue

An Exploration of Dessert Wines

Sommeliers from around the world share their suggestions for dessert wines.

Illustrations by Cesar Diaz

DEC. 28, 2018

Editor’s Note: For New Year’s Eve, most liquor stores and restaurants are armed and ready with all manner of prosecco, champagne and sparkling drinks to sip on, but some of our sommelier friends behind celebrated wine programs around the world have suggestions if you’d like to branch out beyond the bubbly, and start the new year with something a little sweeter.

Sam Rethmeier
Wine Director; République, Los Angeles

Vin du Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille”

Sweet wine is such a strange thing for Americans; we’ve been programmed to drink heavy up front and then let the buzz carry us through the meal. And if, for some seemingly insane, booze-fueled reason we do actually consider a little something with our dessert, it’s the usual suspects: port or sauternes. While I thoroughly enjoy both of those options, I’m usually one who wants to end how I started: with bubbles. Welcome to the aptly named French appellation: Bugey-Cerdon. Located in the Savoie (southwest of Lake Geneva), this high altitude region makes some seriously delicious, whimsical, fruity rosé sparklers with just a kiss of sweetness. Patrick Bottex is my favorite producer and is imported by Kermit Lynch, making it one of the most accessible, affordable and irresistibly medium-sweet dessert wines available. If your local wine shop doesn’t have any in stock, they’ll definitely be able to source it.

Honey Spencer
Founder; Bastarda, London

Sébastien Riffault, Cuvée Saulétas

Growing up a vigneron’s son in the Loire Valley’s most famous village, Sébastien Riffault hasn’t carved himself the easiest path to success. During a stint of worldwide travel and self discovery, he was called back to Sancerre and told he either take over the domaine immediately or his father would sell it to a stranger. At only twenty-one, Riffault returned home and reluctantly claimed his inheritance. Happily, Riffault had seen enough of the outside world to be inspired to make drastic changes to his estate, halting the use of chemicals in his vineyards and adopting a hands-off approach in the winery, leaving the wines unfiltered and allowing them to age in barrel until ready for bottling. One year during a busy harvest, a vineyard slipped his mind and he ended up harvesting the grapes over a week later than usual, by which point the grapes had ripened past their usual point and had become honeyed and intensely mineral-rich. From then on Riffault decided to make all of his wines in this way, believing this expression of the grapes was the truest to the terroir of Sancerre. His wines are now heralded as some of the most unique and sought-after in France. Cuvée Saulétas stirs my imagination above the rest with its burnt orange hues and layers of white flowers and honeycomb, held perfectly in place by Sancerre’s famed belt of acidity. It’s perfect for those who enjoy a little sweetness, but not too much. Pair with sweet citrus desserts or a good piece of chèvre.

Imported by Zev Rovine Imports.

Andy Wedge
Beverage Manager; Momofuku Nishi, New York City

Marco de Bartoli, Marsala Superiore Oro La Miccia 5 Year

I knew I wanted to choose a marsala from the moment dessert wine was mentioned. I’d had this wine before, but I assumed it would be easy to find some young gun doing something cool and new. But it turns out de Bartoli is still pretty much the only game in town for quality marsala anymore.

Although marsala is mostly thought of as cooking wine these days, this is one producer who has made quality fortified wines from Sicily for decades. After a successful career as a race-car driver, Marco de Bartoli returned to his family roots in an attempt to rebuild the great name of Marsala. The Oro La Miccia is a semi-dry fortified wine featuring bright notes of lemon zest and orange oil. When combined with the nutty, honeyed, sweet spices and dried fig, the bright notes truly shine, making this a perfect pairing for white cakes (we serve a pistachio bundt at Nishi) and pretty much anything involving white chocolate.

Brenda Karamba
Member of BLACC and Sommelier; Majeka House, Stellenbosch, Cape Winelands, South Africa

2017 Mullineux Straw Wine

This wine has a special place in my heart. It’s the first wine I ever drank and liked, and it paved the way to where I am today. The winemaker, Andrea Mullineux, is a Californian whose love for her partner Chris, as well as South African wine, brought her to the Cape Winelands. In 2016, she was awarded the title of International Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.

For Mullineux Straw Wine, chenin blanc grapes from the Swartland region are harvested at optimum ripening, then dried outside until half raisined to create more concentrated flavors. The wine’s complex apricot and nutty aromas and honey flavors are beautiful with chocolate. Our chef pairs it with his Variations of Chocolate Dessert, which is five amazing chocolate desserts in one—chocolate brownies, biscuits, chocolate mousse, caramelized chocolate, and chocolate shavings. At home, it would be perfect with a chocolate trifle.

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