When people reminisce of New Year's Eve past, the pop of a cork often comes to mind. With Champagne being the traditional celebratory drink for centuries, this comes as no surprise. But this year, while counting down the minutes, the seconds, and the moments, I urge you to try something new: dessert wines.
Dessert wines come in a range of varieties, but they all tend to be in much smaller bottles than traditional wine and usually much sweeter with more concentrated flavors. In the United States, dessert wine is, by law, any wine over 14% alcohol by volume. And due to the complex techniques used in the winemaking process, they can carry a hefty price tag. (But it’s New Year’s! So splurge a little!)
I have chosen three different wines; each was created using a different technique.
Due to the cool climates and the low temperatures needed for its production, ice wines are most commonly from Germany and Canada. This particular wine is from Canada.
With any ice wine, the grapes are left on the vine until they are frozen naturally by the elements. Unhealthy grapes are never used. After the grapes are harvested, which can be as late as January in the Northern Hemisphere, they are kept frozen at -10 degrees Celsius and pressed. This process reduces the water content and produces a more concentrated must (grape juice).
After pressing, fermentation begins, and the final product is a wine with enhanced sweetness and flavors.
Like most dessert wines, it is somewhat thick, but not as viscous as some. I felt as though it carried notes of honey and very strong fruit flavors—apricot and even citrus— yet it was balanced with a fine acidity.
This wine is best enjoyed chilled and would pair nicely with a selection of soft cheeses. It would be perfect for someone who tends to have a sweeter palate, but even those who lean toward dry reds could enjoy a glass of this ice wine.
Named for Myron and Alice Nightingale—the developers of the techniques used in its production—this Napa Valley wine is made from Botrytized grapes. Botrytis is a grey fungus that occurs on wine grapes with two possible effects: grey rot and noble rot.
When conditions are continuously wet, Botrytis can develop into a very undesirable grey rot infestation that will destroy the fruit.
However, the other effect is noble rot. Noble rot occurs when dry conditions follow wet. During the drier conditions, the fungus removes water from the grapes, leaving behind a higher percentage of solids, such as sugars, minerals, and fruit acids. The result is a higher concentration of flavors in the wine.
Unfortunately, this process can potentially be very risky and dramatically limit yields. However, rather than letting it occur naturally, Beringer chose a safer route by applying the noble rot in a controlled environment.
They harvest the grapes when they are fully ripe, spread them out on trays, and then spray them with Botrytis cinerea spores. After the Botryrtis becomes embedded in the fruit, humidity is lowered. Fourteen days later, the fruit is pressed.
To emphasize the butterscotch and caramel notes, they age the wine in small, French oak barrels.
I like to refer to noble rot wines as “liquid honey,” and the Beringer Nightingale 2006 certainly follows suite. It is very syrupy and carries bold apricot flavors. Its aroma is lovely, the essence of French oak is clearly present, and the distinctive taste of figs and honey reminded me somewhat of a port. It has a bold finish characteristic of its higher alcohol content.
Like the ice wine, this wine would pair well with cheeses, but would also be suitable as a dessert on its own. I definitely rank this as the sweetest of the three wines I selected, but its uniqueness makes it a rare treat.
Tardio—meaning “tardy” or “late”—references the late season harvest for the grapes in this libation.
When described as “late harvest,” it’s usually a good indication that the wine will be a sweet one. Late harvest wine grapes are left on the vine much longer than convention. They naturally over-ripen, dehydrate, and look similar to raisins before they’re removed from the vine. Often, the grapes are handpicked gradually to ensure uniformity. The grapes are then pressed using a traditional method, allowed to ferment (for 20 days in this case) in French oak barrels, and then aged for 6 months (also in French oak barrels).
This wine definitely won over my heart. Although the Trivento’s process may seem the least complex, it is the least controlled. The Argentine winemaker’s approach in creating this wine—allowing nature to take its course—earns my respect.
But, most importantly, I enjoyed the flavor of this wine more than the other two. It is sweet, yet finely balanced, with a wonderful crisp and acidic finish. It has a lower viscosity and isn’t quite as syrupy as the Jackson-Triggs or the Beringer. The aroma was really quite lovely with notes of grapefruit and peach along with vanilla most definitely from aging oak. The flavors were that of honey and tropical fruits.
This wine would appeal to a broad variety of wine drinkers and make a great finish to an evening of celebration!
All three of these wines, and many other similar dessert wines, are the perfect choice for the upcoming holiday. As I previously commented, these wines will likely be a bit pricier than the wines I usually discuss. But, again, special occasions deserve a little splurge.
So put down the champagne and try something new! Dessert wines are just as unique and special as each New Year’s Eve itself. Have a safe and wonderful New Year’s Eve! Cheers!
Name: Vidal Ice Wine
Vintage (year): 2007
Type: Ice Wine / White Wine
Description: Dessert Wine
How much it will cost: $18.99
Vintage (year): 2006
Location: Napa Valley
Type: Noble Rot / 70% Semillon 30% Sauvignon Blanc
Description: Dessert Wine
How much it will cost: $37.99
Name: Brisa do Otono - Tardio
Vintage (year): 2008 Location: Argentina
Type: Late Harvest / Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier Blend
Description: Dessert Wine
How Much it will Cost: $13.99
Photo by Tony Frantz