It’s the time of year to focus on “Sweets for the Sweetheart for Valentine’s”. Sweet wine, sometimes called dessert wine, is a category that is not as popular as it used to be, which is unfortunate. It includes fortified wines like Ports, Sherries, Madeiras, and Marsalas as well as table wines like icewine, late harvest, and even some sparkling. All are wonderful when paired with the right foods and we’ve included one exceptional one in this month’s column for your vinous pleasure.
Certain pairings for sweet wines are fairly obvious like desserts. The only rule is the wine has to be at least as sweet as the dessert, and ideally sweeter, so that the wine doesn’t taste bitter. The sweetest after dinner treats, like Crème Brule with its decadent sugar crust or sticky toffee pudding, need icewine or Pedro Ximenez Sherry that have over 200 g/L of residual sugar. On the other hand, things like fruit based desserts pair well with late harvest wines and sweet sparkling that have less sugar. Think strawberries with a sweet Sparkling Rose and you’ll get the idea.
Other pairings for sweet wines may not come to mind as easily, but you can team them with spicy, savoury, salty, or very fruity fare. Here are some classic examples. Try sweet Gewürztraminer with Thai dishes, Late Bottle Vintage Port with Stilton, Late Harvest Riesling with Foie Gras, or Sauternes with Duck a L’Orange. You will be pleasantly surprised how magical these pairings can be.
Happy Valentine’s Day from Wine Journeys!
As usual, my ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Cave Spring Select Late Harvest Riesling 2017 ★★★★½ $24.95 (Vintages)
An excellent sweet late harvest wine sourced from their Lincoln Lakeshore Vineyard. The grapes are left on the vine to air dry and increase their sugar content; the wine term for this process is passerillage. Mouth filling apricots and honey with a balancing lemony acidity and just a suggestion of hay here. It would make an outstanding accompaniment for panna cotta with honeyed apricots, foie gras, or pate.
Errazuriz Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ★★★½ $14.95 (LCBO)
Chile’s cooler climate wine regions, like the Aconcagua that’s closer to the Pacific Ocean, are producing very good Sauvignon Blanc at reasonable price points like this one. It’s pleasantly fresh, dry, and herbaceous revealing white peach, pear, lemon, and grapefruit along with a stony minerality. That freshness makes it on point with seafood, especially sushi, or pasta with black olives and goat feta.
Robert Oatley Signature Series Margaret River Chardonnay ★★★½+ $19.95 (Vintages)
The Margaret River wine region is the antithesis of what we imagine Australia to be. It’s a cool climate region in Western Australia with a maritime influence, in contrast to more familiar warm regions like the Barossa in the South. That cool climate influence shows up with its juicy green apple, lemon, and pear flavours mingled with nutmeg and vanilla from new oak. If you like roast chicken or macaroni and cheese (with old cheddar), this makes a graceful pairing.
Featherstone Red Tail Merlot 2018 ★★★★ $19.95 (Vintages)
Ontario winters are tough on Merlot vines, but some Niagara wineries are doing marvellous things. The wine is filled with spiced blueberry jam, plum, and black & red cherry in addition to a suggestion of dark chocolate. Add to that just the right amount of new oak infusing baking spice, vanilla, and coconut. It’s an excellent, dry, flavourful rendition of a cool climate Merlot. Try it with cheese tortellini in a bacon, basil, and tomato sauce with a pinch of hot pepper flakes.
Marynissen Cabernet Franc 2019 ★★★½+ $17.95 (Vintages)
John Marynissen was one of the pioneers of vinifera grapes, which means this winery has some of the oldest Cabernet vines in Niagara. John has since passed and the winery is under new ownership, but his legacy is being carried on. They still produce good value entry level wines without sacrificing quality just like John did. This one is very good, medium bodied, and perfumed with raspberry and pomegranate with cedar, smoke, and herbs in the background. Winter stews would pair up well with this red. If your local Vintages is out of stock, it is still available to order from the winery.
Peter Lehmann Layers Shiraz/Tempranillo/Mourvèdre/Grenache 2020 ★★★½ $16.95 (Vintages)
An bold Australian red blend that will not win points for its complexity and finesse, but it has an astonishing intensity of dark fruit and remarkable textural characteristics. It’s actually full bodied and rich to the point of being Port like. This is a wine is big enough stand up to Mexican favourites such as Chicken Mole, which no easy feat.
Lagar de Robla Premium Mencia 2016 ★★★★ $15.95 (Vintages)
This dry, full bodied Spanish red is a great value for those who like a wine that has developed with aging. It’s nicely showing spice, vanilla, dried cherry, plum jam, leather, earth, cedar, and pine. It would be a versatile partner for many foods, but perfect for grilled meats, stews, pizza, or dishes with roasted mushrooms.
Chateau D’Aigueville Côtes du Rhône Villages 2017 ★★★½ $16.40 (LCBO)
This is another wine that is starting to show developing notes from bottle age. The Grenache in the blend contributes dried strawberry, red currant, and spicy sage/rosemary notes, while the Syrah and Carignan add mature prune fruit (it’s a good thing). Finish off with some smoky vanilla from the barrel to supplement the mix and you have a very nice Rhône red to serve with Italian sausage roasted with potato and mushroom.
Rioja Vega Crianza 2017 ★★★★ $16.95 (Vintages)
Rioja, unlike the rest of Europe, traditionally ages their wines in American oak. So, you can expect trademark cedary, smoky coconut and vanilla supporting grenadine, black and red cherry, and white pepper. The tannins are high, but not aggressive. It’s an excellent example of Rioja that matches with sautéed mushrooms and peppers with pork chops.