By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 2 November 2019
If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will enjoy this column. I have always felt that dessert wines got a raw deal in a world obsessed with calories. If you stick to just dry wines you are missing out on some of the most delectable wines in the world.
You don’t always have to match sweet wines with desserts, although they can enhance a menu, they are just as good sipped on their own at the end of a meal or by the fireside. If you are matching sweet wine with food, the only rule to stick to is to serve a wine that is sweeter than the pudding, so that the food does not overpower the wine.
I have chosen twelve delectable sweet wines highlighting how they were made. They are all unfortified (no fortifying brandy added) with alcohol less than 15.5% - and in some cases as low as 7.5% - with varying sweetness levels.
Sweet wines made from grapes left on vines after normal harvest time – when berries accumulate high sugar levels as they over-ripen.
Nelson, New Zealand: SWEET AGNES RIESLING 2018 Siefried (11.5%)
£16.29 hf bt Waitrose; £16.99 hf bt Laithwaites
Austrian-born Hermann Siefried specializes in Riesling. His gorgeous trophy-winning sweet Riesling has a blossomy sherbet bouquet, luscious concentration with mandarin, apricot and marmalade notes, vibrant fresh acidity and zesty juiciness. Match: Apricot tart or lemon meringue pie
South West France: MAGIE D’OR PACHERENC DU VIC BIHL 2013 Plaimont (12.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
£8.49 reduced from £9.99 for 50 cl bt Rude Wines
Elegant sweetie with a tongue-twisting name and bargain price. They have been making dessert wines in Pacherenc since C17, but today deserve to be better known. Don’t expect it to be as weighty, rich or sweet as Sauternes, this blend of late-picked Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Arrufiac is refreshingly elegant. Match: Berry cheesecake or apple crumble
Loire, France: COTEAUX DU LAYON MOULIN TOUCHAIS 1997 (14%)
£41 bt The Wine Society
For years labelled as plain Anjou as the Touchais family thought no one had heard of Coteaux du Layon. Their warm vineyard south of Loire benefits from drying Atlantic wines helping grape sugars concentrate. Chenin Blanc with no noble rot (or oak), just sugar accumulation through time on the vine. They pick 20% earlier to retain acid and blend with grapes harvested one month later. Twenty-two years old and showing little sign of fading; pure citrus flavours, delicious freshness, light in sugar at just 90 g/l; only made in the best years. Match: Pear or apple tart
Alsace, France: RIESLING DE RORSCHWIHR CUVEE YVES VENDANGES TARDIVE 2010 Rolly Gassmann (12.5%)
£38.75 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
I had an epic tasting with Pierre Rolly Gassmann on my Alsace tour tasting 50 wines in a morning – joined by the local postman who dropped in for a tipple. Our final wines were Pierre’s delectable sweet wines from his 40 hectare vineyard in Rorschwihr. VT (Vendange Tardive) signifies late harvest; exotically fruity with sweetness but not cloying. Match: Roast duck with apricots or crème brulee
Late harvested grapes attacked by a special fungus called botrytis cinerea – otherwise known as noble rot. This fungus only develops in specific microclimates around the world (eg Bordeaux in France; Tokay in Hungary; Rheingau in Germany). It attacks the grape skins dehydrating the grape and concentrating sugar and flavour.
Bordeaux, France: COMTESSE DE BALMONT SAUTERNES 2017 (12.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
£7.49 hf bt Lidl
Gentle introduction to nobly rotted dessert wine at an attractive price. Luscious, honeyed with orange marmade notes and a hint of botrytis, this youthful vibrantly fresh sweet wine is made - like all Sauternes – mainly from 85% Semillon with 10% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle.
Suggested match: Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese or apple tart tatin.
Orvieto, Italy: ORVIETO CLASSICO SUPERIORE MUFFA NOBILE ‘CALCAIA’ 2015 Barberani (11%)
£25 for 50 cl bt The Wine Society
Landlocked Orvieto deserves to be better known, especially for this fabulous sweet blend of Trebbiano di Toscana and Grechetto. Muffa Nobile is the Italian name for nobly rotted grapes. The botrytis cinerea fungus develops due to the vineyards close proximity to the lake below. Match: Apple fritters or crumble
Tokay, Hungary: TOKAJI ‘1413’ ASZU 2015 Disznoko (12.5%)
£15.50 hf litre www.leaandsandeman.co.uk
Amazing value for Tokay Aszu from my favourite producer, Disznoko, who have the most stylish tractor shed in the wine world. This elegant dessert wine is my family’s favourite Christmas pudding wine. Rich intense marmalade notes, dried apricot, spicy, hints of cinnamon, long lingering finish and a whiff of mushroomy botrytis. Match: Christmas pudding, soft cheese or crème brulee
Pfalz, Germany: DEIDESHEMIER HOHENMORGAN RIESLING AUSLESE 2015 Basserman-Jordan (7.2%)
£31.29 hf bt www.thewinebarn.co.uk
Beautifully intense rich example of botrytis affected Auslese from incredibly low yielding vines; dried apricot, peach, toffee and hints of spice with a vibrant acid. Enjoy now or keep a decade. High level of sweetness at 176 g/l. Match: Foie gras or carmelised apple dessert
Grapes picked at normal ripeness, then bunches are laid out on straw mats to dry for weeks or months outside in the vineyard, in lofts or humidity controlled drying rooms – to dehydrate berries and concentrate sugars.
Veneto, Italy: PASSITO BIANCO 2004 Marion (11.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£22.99 hf bt Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh
From small family-run Marion near Verona made from bunches dried for months on staw in the local appassimento style. Caramel, toffee and liquorice aromas, deep intense rich with an elegant dry finish. Match: Panettone or Gorgonzola cheese
Swartland, South Africa: STRAW WINE 2017 Mullineux (9.5%)
£27.50 hf bt Berry Bros & Rudd
Exquisite and intensely sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine with rich apricot and barley sugar flavours and vibrant acidity keeping it fresh. Winemakers Chris and Andrea Mullineux picked grapes at normal ripeness, then dry them outside in the shade for three weeks, followed by slow fermentation in old French barrels. Extremely high residual sugar at 300 g/l. Match: Apple strudel or Roquefort
Veneto, Italy: LE COLOMBARE RECIOTO DI SOAVE 2015 Pieropan (12.5%)
£34 for 50 cl bt Valvona & Crolla
Soave is best known for dry wine, but its sweet wines are incredible – and the Pieropan family make the best (using some botrytis affected grapes) which are dried on mats in their lots for 5 months. Closely pruned and thinned Garganega vines keep yields low, ripe bunches are dried on mats in ventilated lofts with slow ferment in oak barriques. Match: Pandoro di Verona sweet bread
Grapes, left on the vine until December or January, are picked in the dead of night in freezing temperatures. Ontario in Canada produces regular ‘Icewine’ (and Liaoning in northeast China), but ‘Eiswein’ is becoming scarce in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia and Moldova.
Mosel, Germany: Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling Eiswein 2016 Selbach-Oster (8%)
£75 hf bt Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Appreciate German Eiswein while you can, as fewer winters are cold enough to enable winemakers to produce it. Indulgently sweet, citrus fruit, ginger notes, succulent fleshy ripeness and sweetness with a tightrope balancing act between piercing natural acid and gorgeous sweet fruits. Pricey – but an experience to savour. Match: Lemon cheesecake or mango sorbet
Join Rose’s Burgundy v Jura wine tasting with French charcuterie at Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh Wed 11 Dec £60 (only 5 places remaining) www.rosemurraybrown.com