For holiday celebrations we can choose from a host of affordable, exceptionally well-made, dessert-friendly wines, says Wine Adviser Paul Gregutt.
A REMARKABLE number of dessert wines are made here in the Northwest, from virtually any grape you can imagine. Most are offered in half bottles, and some can command extraordinary prices. The Ste. Michelle/Dr. Loosen Single Berry Select tops $200 if you can find it, and has the class and authority to warrant such a cost.
But for holiday celebrations we can choose from a host of affordable, exceptionally well-made, dessert-friendly wines. A visit to almost any tasting room will turn up a couple of options, and it’s often rewarding to search winery websites for club selections and rare offerings.
Among the classic dessert wines of France, the grapes most often employed are white wine grapes: chenin blanc, gewurztraminer, muscat, riesling, sauvignon blanc, sémillon and viognier. You can also find some very good, locally made dessert wines from these grapes. A few recent releases with their suggested retail prices and featured grape:
Airfield Estates 2009 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer ($28)
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Forgeron Cellars 2010 Late Harvest Riesling ($19)
Gordon Brothers 2010 Gewurztraminer Ice Wine ($35)
Gorman 2010 Cry Baby Late Harvest Chenin Blanc ($25)
Kiona 2009 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine ($29)
Sineann 2011 Ice Dance Pinot Noir ($24)
Sineann 2011 Sweet Sydney ($24)
Thurston Wolfe 2010 Sweet Rebecca Orange Muscat ($13)
Washington Hills 2011 Late Harvest Moscato ($10)
Ice wines are a special category, both rare and often expensive. But a process called cryo-extraction allows vintners to artificially create an ice wine by freezing the grapes in subzero storage before pressing. Pacific Rim’s 2011 Vin de Glacière Riesling ($14) is a fine example, made even more special because it is certified organic, from grapes grown at the Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.
In Oregon, dessert-style pinot noirs are also being made. Adelsheim 2011 Déglacé Pinot Noir ($35) is one of the best; it, too, relies on freezing the grapes post-harvest.
Fortified, Port-style wines are also quite common, but very few use authentic Portuguese grape varieties. When they do, the results can be spectacular.
Winemaker Wade Wolfe made his first Zinfandel Port in 1988, and became so enamored of the style that he sought out Touriga Nacional vine cuttings and had them planted at the Lonesome Spring vineyard. His Thurston Wolfe 2009 Touriga Nacional Port ($16) is the gorgeous result. The 2010 will be out shortly.
Brian Carter’s 2009 Opulento Dessert Wine ($19) is also done entirely with authentic Portuguese varieties. Both of these wines are exceptional.