How Do You Want It?
The world of ‘vin liqoureux’ is a vast and under-appreciated part of wine world. This is due in part to the wallet factor, but I find many people are at a loss at to how to serve them. The classic match is with fois gras. However, this is hardly a staple in most kitchens and many consider it’s production inhumane, resulting in an ever deceasing supply.
This leaves cheese and dessert. A simple rule of thumb for desserts is that your wine must be sweeter than what’s on the plate. Chocolate is perfect for tawney ports and grenache-based muted wines from the Roussilon (banyuls, maury etc..). ‘Caramelly’ desserts tend to go well with more unctuous sweet wines like icewines, sauternes and perhaps even better with muted sweets like oloroso sherries whose oxidative notes bring a much welcomed freshness to the palette.
I have always believed that cheese is made for white wines. As whites will benefit most from being matched with salty foods, many will show their true colors when drunk with the right cheese. For the richer sweet wines, choose stronger, creamier cheeses while late harvest wines are a great choice for the mixed cheese platters which is more often the case after a dinner.
So here are a couple of faves recently tasted. Enjoy.
Vin de Constance 1999, Klein Constantia ($64...500ml…saq)
The preferred wine of napoleon and other well to do 19th century folk, this South African wine is the king of a naturally sweet late harvest. A rich unctuous texture is testament to the long hang time which results in an exceptional concentration of flavors and aromas. Perfect for the fois gras.
Vin de pays Côtes-de-Gascogne 2004, Premières Grives, Domaine du Tariquet ($18..saq)
I have reviewed this wine before and it is a staple in the Cave. Made with Gros and Petit Manseng and picked as the first thrushes arrive, it strikes the prefect balance between sugar and acidity; a great go to wine for aperitif, the mixed cheese platter, and a semi-sweet dessert.
Québec, Cabernet Franc Late Harvest, Château Taillefer Lafon ($32...375ml...at the winery)
When will the benfits of global warming ever stop? Just north of montréal, this winery is making a name with actual vitis vinifera grapes. While the dry whites and red show promise, I found this Cab Franc late harvest unique and tasty. With a better acidity than most vidal ‘lates,’ this is a suitable replacement for port when chocolate is on the way.
Botrysized, Dried, and Frozen
Niagara, Vidal 2001, Special Select Late Harvest, Konzellman ($20...375ml…saq)
While we are waiting for the 2002 vintage to arrive, this is one of the best deals on the shelves. Partially botrysized, this is a late harvest which combines exotic fruit, caramel and a touch of that earthy mushroom quality which is a result of grapes infected by Botrytis. It has a remarkable acidity for the Vidal grape which has a tendancy to ‘fatten out’ when used in sweet wines.
Passito-di-Pantelleria 2002 ,Ben Ryé, Donnafugata ($70...saq)
Sultry and sweet, and hailing from the volcanic island of Pantelleria, this Italian classic is made by drying late harvested Muscat grapes in the scorching sun and blistering wind that characterizes the island. A wine which combines a honeyed richeness, with hints of mandarine zest and apricots, I have served this with both fois gras and crème brulé.
Montilla Morilles, Oloroso, Alvéar ($20…saq)
From a region northwest of Xeres, this differs from sherry in that it is made with 100% Pedro Ximénez grapes. Wonderfully sweet and rich with notes of caramel, nutmeg and hazelnut, I love the freshness that the oxidative notes bring to the palette. Probably the most practical wine of the bunch and very easy on the wallet.