The Sweet Finish

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If you’re fond of finishing a perfectly balanced evening (or starting one!) with a little sweet aperitif, join the club! Sparkling wine is a traditionally romantic and easy way to add pop to any gathering.

In fact, half the sparkling wines Americans enjoy are produced in the United States. That’s for good reason! The sweetness of sparkling wines and champagnes range from dry to the sweeter doux styles and the domestic wine grapes that produce these lovely options grow very well in our local wine regions.

Dessert Wines
In addition to sparkling wines, we have an abundance of dessert wine offerings to choose from. Sweet still white wines such as gewürztraminer and rieslings as well as sweet red sparkling wines like Lambrusco, a light and zesty-sweet Italian wine, are available at some of your local wineries and at your neighborhood wine retailer. Keep these tasty sweet wines very chilled until ready to serve.

Port Wines
A festive way to begin or end your evening, port is traditionally a fortified wine product of distilled grape spirits unique to and originating from Portugal. In the U.S., we’re fortunate to have producers of blended dessert wines made of zinfandel, petite sirah, shiraz and other hearty varietals that include wine grapes harvested from vines over 125 years old! Often harvested late or last in the season, these wine grape varietals age on the vine, soaking up the sunshine until the very end. Labeled “late harvest,” these sweet offerings can be 20 percent alcohol by volume up to 24 percent or more. Tawny-style port wines have been carefully blended and aged at least six years for a smooth texture, whereas ruby-style port wines are designed to be fresh and not aged more than three years, making them ready to drink and enjoy!

Is dessert wine always red? Referred to by some as “white ports,” white wine grapes create some of my favorite dessert wines and aperitifs. Late-harvest rieslings were popular in my house, forming my young palate to recognize and appreciate the dense minerality and spicy-sweet taste of wines from the Alsace Lorraine region of France and Germany.

Blended and fortified like their Portuguese counterparts, madeira wines are crafted with super-ripe wine grapes such as malvasia and verdelho. The sweetest style is referred to as malmsey, which is rich and full bodied with a caramel and hazelnut profile, finishing with a zesty pinch of orange peel. These are deliciously refreshing served chilled at the beginning of a meal or presented in cognac glasses for dessert. It is rumored that the signing of the Declaration of Independence was toasted with Madeira in August 1776!

Originally from Bordeaux’s Sauternais region, Sauterne wines are typically a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc, two grapes that could not be more different from each other! The tart herbal quality of sauvignon blanc is tamed by the thick-skinned and honeyed character of semillon.

The town of Sancerre, France, is known primarily today as the spiritual birthplace of sauvignon blanc, and sancerre wines are typically known by the region rather than the specific wine grape varietals in the bottle. If you usually prefer less sweetness in your wine, this may be an alternative to traditional port. Sancerre pairs with seafood courses and funky cheeses, but this complex wine imparts a fruit tone with honey and melon on the tongue and just a hint of anise and virtually no tannic bite, making it a perfect option as a light sipper for dessert, as it will appear to sweeten as it warms up in your glass.

Dessert wines have multiple uses! They may be served as drizzled sauces over fruit desserts, or as a magical ingredient to relishes and chutneys served over baked brie, sautéed figs and savory dishes such as lamb, pork or chicken. Without the additional bite that comes from a more tannic wine, these softer, sweeter varietals can give your palate that added boost!

If you find a favorite, stock up on a few bottles. The New Year and Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it and it will be a nice treat having some set aside in your wine rack. Create a nice little champagne cocktail by pouring a half-ounce of port or dessert wine into your wine flute and top with your favorite bubbly; add a sprig of mint and arrange filled glasses on a beautiful silver tray for an eye-popping welcome for your guests.

If you need a last-minute dessert, look no further than your cordial glasses; available in matching sets, each glass serves two ounces. Pair with blue cheese, brie and fruit and you’ve got the makings of a divine dessert to complete your evening with friends and family. I hope you all enjoy a sweet finish to 2019! ■

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