There is something about the cold winter months that draws me to Dessert Wines more frequently than in warmer months. With Valentine’s Day right in the middle of winter, I think something sweet, and perhaps a bit sticky, could be the right way to go for your holiday libation. Over the last few weeks I tasted well over a dozen Dessert wines. I’ll present six of my favorites here today.
Two of the selections I picked are from Clos La Chance Winery. These are distinctly different wines. First up is Nectar. This 2006 Semillion is made in a true late harvest style with botrytized grapes. Fruit was sourced from Clos La Chance Estate Vineyards. This selection was aged in French oak for 12 months. The suggested retail price for this wine, available in 375 mil bottles is $19.
Nectar from Clos la Chance, is for me a classic California take on late harvest Semillon. The nose is filled with honey and tea notes. The palate has apricot, peach and light mango throughout. All of these characteristics ride above a base of more tea elements. Nectar coats the back of the throat and finishes with a bit of toast and a touch of vanilla. The finish is long and lingering.
The bottom line for me in liking and recommending this wine from Clos La Chance is that it’s a sweet, lovely and in a word balanced. Nectar is the sort of Late Harvest wine that for me IS dessert. Sure it can be paired with soft, stinky cheeses and work wonderfully, but there is no need this is a beautiful expression of Late harvest Semillion, and a bargain at $19. If you don’t believe that, check the prices on some of the better known offerings.
The second wine I’m recommending is from Cyprus. This area which makes the Commandaria Dessert Wines, is one I have come to have great appreciation for in the last year. The St. John Commandaria from Keo has a suggested retail price of $20.
The nose of this Commandaria has a ton of apricot and a light, subtle touch of balsamic vinegar. The palate features toffee, candies apricot and hazelnut notes. This thick, slightly syrupy wine coats the back of the throat and has an avalanche of honey on the finish. This will be a great match for a ricotta based cheesecake.
What I like best about this Commandaria is that it’s a steal. I’ve had selections from Cyprus that sold for less and quite a few that sold for a lot more. The St John provides tremendous bang for the buck. As these wines from Cyprus are a bit under the radar to the average person you’ll definitely make an impression if you pull this out on Valentine’s Day.
There are some tremendous dessert wines coming out of Italy. Most of them aren’t quite as famous as their French counterparts and thus Italy isn’t as often thought of for after dinner libations. And for my money that’s a shame. The wines of Italy are as good as those anywhere. The dessert wine from there I’m compelled to recommend is from La Tunella.
The 2005 La TunellaVerduzzo Friulano is 100% varietal. The wine was aged in 1-3 year old French barriques for 10 months. 2,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price, for a 500 ml bottle, is $22.99.
The nose of this wine is filled with both honey and chamomile tea notes. The palate features candies apricot, date and subtle almond notes. The oak on this selection, more than the average dessert wine is apparent. It provides a fascinating and unexpected touch of tartness on the finish. The end result is a firmer, more structured dessert wine than average. I found this wine to be an excellent match for Macadamia nuts that had a touch of sea salt on them.
What I like best about the selection from La Tunella is how unique it is. Yes, it’s sweet, but never over the top. As a result of that it’ll pair well with a very large array of dessert items.
Shifting back to California, the next selection is from Truett Hurst Winery in Dry Creek Valley. This is a region I feel so strongly about, I’ve launched an entire site dedicated to it.
The 2006 Dessert wine from Truett Hurst is for all intents and purposes a Port. Labelling laws however forbid them from calling it that. This wine was produced from the same grape varieties used in Portugal for Port. 450 375 ml bottle cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $35.99.
When I popped the cork and poured this wine into my glass I was hit with an avalanche of chocolate covered cherry notes. The palate is filled with more cherry, both red and black. Kirsch liqueur notes kick in around mid-palate and carry on through the finish which also features lots of black pepper and a touch of bramble.
The highlight of this wine for me, and the reason it’s on my recommendation list is that it finds the happy place that bridges Portuguese and California Dessert wines. Elements of both styles are readily evident and they work wonderfully. Pour your Valentine this wine, match it with some high quality dark chocolate, and she (or he) is bound to melt in your arms.
I started with a wine from Clos La Chance and I’m including a second one here as well. Stylistically and content wise they couldn’t be more different. This second selection from Clos La Chance is made from Zinfandel.
This Late Harvest Zinfandel is of the Non-Vintage variety. Grapes come from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages. This wine was fermented in stainless steel. 750 ml bottles have a suggested retail price of $25.
The nose of this Late Harvest Zin is filled with Maraschino Cherries. Red and black cherry notes are prominent throughout the palate along with sweet, dark chocolate. A touch of pencil lead also appears. The finish has both white and black pepper, along with nutmeg and a bit of dust. This wine has a firm but approachable tannic structure and is quite sweet, but not over the top.
Clos La Chance has become a favorite producer for me. This Non-Vintage, Late Harvest Zin is as good of an example of why that is as any of their other selections. There is a purity of fruit and a balance here, despite it being very sweet, that some Dessert wine simply don’t have. At $25 for a 750 ml bottle this is a steal.
The sixth and final dessert wine I’m recommending this Valentine’s Day is from Locatelli Winery in Paso Robles. This selection is a Late harvest Merlot. This isn’t the first varietal I think of when Late harvest wines come to mind and thus I was particularly curious about it.
The Locatelli Winery Late Harvest Merlot is 100% varietal. It was aged in American Oak for two years. A mere 70 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for $30.
I found the nose of this wine to be particularly expressive. Cherry, leather and apricot notes co-mingle to form an alluring aroma. Taking the first sip I found the wine to be a bit lighter on the palate than I had expected. It was full flavored with cherry pie and honey notes. Hints of apple seeped through as well. The finish brought out Cinnamon, nutmeg and white pepper as well as a touch of sour cherry. This wine will be an excellent match for sharp cheeses as well as dark chocolate.
What I like best about the Late Harvest Merlot from Locatelli is the fact that it showed me a side and style of Merlot I’ve rarely seen.Interestingly it features some of the elements of Late harvest Zin, but in a lighter stylistic package. A really enjoyable and interesting wine that’s well worth making the extra effort to obtain.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the wines above. Each of them is well crafted and delicious. So grab one or more of them, and sweeten things up this Valentine’s Day and beyond.
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