Dessert wines

In the indispensable Grand Vins: The Finest Chateaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines (University of California Press, 1995), Clive Coates unravels the long and tangled familial, political and financial history of Sauternes’ three “Doisy” estates: the two most prominent, Doisy-Védrines and Doisy-Daëne, and the seldom-seen Doisy-Dubroca, which produces only about 500 cases annually. All three were awarded Second Growth ranking in the 1855 Classification of the wines of Sauternes and Barsac; arguments could be made for or against that status now, but certainly Védrines and Daene often make superb sweet wines, while Dubroca would be difficult to make a case for since it is so rarely encountered. Suffice to say that Doisy was once a single and ancient vineyard that was divided in the 1830s or ’40s. Our concern today is Chateau Doisy-Védrines, because I recently tried Doisy-Védrines 2005, two glasses of which, in an untypical fit of decadence, I consumed with a lunch of pan perdu, maple syrup and blackberries. The property has been owned by the Castéja family since 1840. The estate covers just over 66 acres; the vineyards are planted with 80 percent semillon grapes, 15 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. For 2005, the wine spent 18 months in oak, 70 percent new barrels.

Chateau Doisy-Védrines 2005, Sauternes, sports a radiant medium gold color that goes quite delicate and limpid around the rim. The first impression is of ripe, spiced, macerated and roasted peaches, apricots and pineapple infused with honey, vanilla and cloves and a burgeoning element of honeysuckle, camellia and bees’-wax; the sense is of filigrees upon filigrees of scents layered in ethereal jewel-like proximity. Some dessert wines feel as heavy as money in the mouth; this, while not attaining elegance, is more refined than weighty, more supple than o’ermastering. Upon entry, Doisy-Védrines 05 is powerfully sweet and honeyed, with the super-ripe, earthy, creamy character we expect from a vintage that was rich in flavor but a little low in acid; this lacks somewhat the essential tension and ultimate resolution between enveloping richness and piercing acidity — I first wrote “squinching” acidity; do you get it? — that mark the best products of Sauternes and Barsac. This is, still, as lovely as it gets, and the acid does plow a moderate swath on the palate and the (slightly rotten) luscious peach and apricot flavors are tempered by a hint of bright green apple and toasted hazelnuts, all of this panoply leading to a finish that’s dry and a little austere and permeated by limestone. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’18, well-stored. While my French toast may have been an extreme pairing — it really shivered my timbers — you could try this wine with simple fruit desserts, or just a plain shortbread cookie, or a piece of fine bleu cheese. Excellent. Prices on the Internet reveal a ludicrously wide range from about $30 to $60; look, realistically, for $45 to $50.

A sample for review. Image of Chateau Doisy-Védrines by Neal Martin at Wine Journal.

For the Thanksgiving dinner dessert, we had a luscious pumpkin chiffon pie, prepared by a local chef, and then I made an apple tart, using Julia Child’s recipe and procedure for puff pastry from our much stained and blotched copy of The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). Basically, the process is a fairly tedious one of amalgamating six and a half sticks of chilled butter with four cups of flour using only a bare splash or two of ice water to help; ten “passes” with chilling in the refrigerator after every two. Miss Child would probably have been appalled at the rustic appearance of my pastry and the tart overall — the brown splotches are caramelized apricot glaze — but boy it certainly tasted rich and scrumptious. I patted and rolled the crust out on a cutting board and slid it carefully onto the baking sheet sprinkled with a few drops of water. Once on that surface, I used lengths of the dough to fashion the raised edges. The apples were Granny Smith, good for baking because of their tartness and firm texture.

I have a selection of half-bottles of dessert wine in the white wine fridge, but I decided to go with the oldest, the Renaissance Winery Late Harvest Riesling 1992, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. “Oldest” does not mean the oldest released. Though made from grapes harvested in the autumn of 1992, the wine was not released until 2008, that’s right, at 16 years old. Renaissance, as a habit and philosophy, holds their wines longer than any other producer in California. Add two years, and that makes the wine 18 when we tasted it at our table.

The Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992 is the color of faintly tarnished gold, like the back of an old pocket watch. Though closed at first, a few minutes of swirling brought up traces of peaches, orange rind and cloves, with notes of apricot jam and orange marmalade, and hints of quince and crystallized ginger, this gorgeous yet unobtrusive panoply melded with utmost delicacy and finesse. In the mouth, a sweetly faded and gentle quality, a repose of talc, lemon verbena, rose hips, melon drops and pomander reminded me of a sachet in an old-fashioned lady’s vanity. Essential acidity is certainly present, and in fact the wine gains succulence and vibrancy after some moments, elements that lay the foundation for a finish wrapped in grapefruit and limestone. A lovely dessert wine, filled with authoritative detail and dimension yet mild and mannerly; it was tremendously agreeable with the apple tart. 11.8 percent alcohol. If you have this bottle in your cellar, it should be consumed by 2012. Production was 364 cases. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

This was a sample for review.

Well, I’m way behind on this one. Time is a river blah blah. The world is too much with us late and soon blah blah.

I instituted this series at the end of March to present reviews of a red wine and a white wine that I tasted within a three-month period that I didn’t get to write about but that are clearly superior in quality. So, this pair comes from July, August and September, and I should have posted this five or six weeks ago.

These wines were samples for review.

I don’t often drink or taste or sample the rich, sweet golden wines of Sauternes; who does, except for British wine writers? Understandably, when this bottle of Chateau Suduiraut 1999 arrived I was mightily pleased and filled with anticipation that was not proved errant. At 11 years old, the wine is splendid and has a long life of development and maturity ahead. For a complete (and well-written) history and assessment of the estate, see the account by The Wine Doctor; I could not better his research and experience. Suffice to say that Suduiraut is one of the oldest estates in Sauternes, going back to 1580; that its slightly fortified chateau, rebuilt in the late 17th Century, is a prime example of the architecture of the period; that the wine was granted Premier Cru status in the 1855 Classification, though writers with long memories or access to old books testify to many inconsistent vintages; that it underwent many changes of ownership in the 19th and 20th centuries until AXA Millésimes (the wine arm of the giant AXA insurance group) acquired the property in 1992 and wrought essential improvements; for example no wine was bottled in 1991, ’92 or ’93. The vineyard is planted with 80 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon blanc (though contrary Parker says it’s 90/10). The estate typically produces about 10,000 cases a year.

Like all great wines that issue from Sauternes, Chateau Suduiraut 1999 combines a directness of appeal with layers of complexity that feel almost unfathomable. The color is pure brilliant medium yellow-gold; there’s not a tinge of amber. The bouquet immediately announces the presence of botrytis cinerea — the “noble rot” — in its luscious, earthy scents of over-ripe, spiced and macerated peaches and apricots drenched in honey and butter and roasted until they dissolve in their own delirious juices; add notes of smoke, honeysuckle and jasmine and sun-warmed rocks, and you have an absolutely classic Sauternes nose. In the mouth, the wine is dense but silken; you might be sipping apple tart and creme brulee through which run threads of quince and crystallized ginger, orange rind and tangerine and just a touch of semillon’s tell-tale leafy quality. Suduiraut ’99 is quite sweet on entry, almost dangerously and decadently so, one’s instinct says, but the sweetness is tightly reined by assiduously deft acidity, so it is balanced, and then checked, and the wine finishes dry and stony and with a bare swipe at something toffee-like. It’s simultaneously exquisite and luxurious, like drinking the gold that Zeus rained upon Danaë. Now through 2019 to 2024 or ’25, properly cellared. Perhaps this lacks the grand paradox of transcendent refinement and incomparable tautness that the very best Sauternes display, i.e. Yquem, but it’s still pretty damned stunning. Exceptional. About $60.
The Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is one of the purest expressions of the syrah grape I have tasted from California. Dan Lee had made wines for Durney Vineyards and Jekel Vineyards but decided to concentrate on his own label in the early 1980s. While producing chardonay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from several appellations — Alexander Valley, Carneros, Monterey — he concentrated more as the years passed on a few vineyards in Monterey County. Double L, acquired in 1996, is Morgan’s home vineyard. Situated at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the 65-acre property slopes gently to the east; the vines are oriented north-south for maximum exposure. Forty-eight-and-a-half acres are planted: 28.5 for pinot noir, 18 for chardonnay and one each for syrah and riesling. Double L has been certified organic since 2002.

Both brooding and exuberant, the bouquet of the Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007 twines scents of smoked plums, smoked bacon, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries with old leather, a clean, earthy mossy element and the authentic touch of wet dog for a tinge of funkiness. (The color: “as through a glass darkly.”) A few minutes bring up pungent notes of lavender, sandalwood, white pepper. In the mouth, this syrah is ripe and intense and concentrated, almost ferociously spicy and fruity yet packed with dusty, fine-grained tannins that slowly emerge (or are slowly unleashed), an oak influence — 14 months in French barrels, 25 percent new — that feels deep and iron-bound, and, speaking of iron, a scintillating geological quality in the damp granite and slate range. The wine is dry, foresty, a little autumnal, like the smoke and ash from burning leaves, and ultimately austere enough to require another year or two in the bottle, though it’s awe-inspiring with a medium-rare steak. Altogether a wine of immense character, depth and dimension. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

Image of Double L Vineyard from

The top shelf of the white wine fridge, that is. I received so many wines after I returned from South America that I needed to clear out space for some of the in-coming stuff, so I lined up the bottles that were lying on the top shelf of the refrigerator devoted to white wine and tasted them all. So that’s the category today: Miscellaneous Whites. These reviews follow the order of tasting. All of these wines were review samples.

A blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Centine Rosé 2009, Toscana, offers an appealing pale onion skin color. A bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and dried red currants with a hint of dried herbs and limestone leads to a dry, crisp mouthful of wine permeated by delicate touches of strawberry and melon and a sort of woodsy berryish mossy note. The finish brings in more limestone and a trace of clove-like spice. The alcohol content is a highly quaffable 12.5 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Drink up. Very Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.

Well, the Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valleys, Victoria, is completely adorable. A blend of 83 percent riesling and 17 percent muscat gordo (an Australian synonym for muscat of Alexandria), the pale straw-gold colored wine is indeed a bit prickly and rather frisky, with its hint of spritz and star-etched crystalline acidity. The wine is moderately sweet going in, but by the time it flows past mid-palate, it’s classically dry and minerally in the crushed limestone/damp shale sense. Green apple, peach and pear, with a tinge of juicy mango; lilacs and camellias; a final delicate wash of river rocks, like a pale watercolor painting of water; these comprise a delightful wine that I found irresistible. Alcohol is 8.7 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.

The Lorentz family has been making wine in Alsace since 1836; the tradition, the heritage and the experience seem evident. The Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace, is a radiant medium gold color; the bouquet delivers a heady amalgam of roasted lemon, lemon balm and almond blossom over subtle tissues of pear, toasted almonds and clean earthiness. Moderately rich notes of lemon, lime skin and pear (with touches of quince and ginger) seethe with teeth-rattling dryness and aching limestone-like minerality; this is, obviously, a very dry, very crisp wine that for all its litheness, leanness and chalky austerity offers wonderful body and presence. I love this detail: according to the winery’s website, its Reserve wines age in wood, stainless steel and glass containers. Drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.


The color of the Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Riesling 2008, Alsace, is pale straw-gold; pungent aromas of pear, lychee and petrol (or rubber eraser) teem in the bouquet, along with hints of jasmine and damp rocks. This is a high-toned, elegant riesling, completely classic in every aspect, from its pinpoint balance between swingeing acidity and supple texture to its tremendous dose of limestone and shale that verges on pure minerality to its gorgeous peach, pear and roasted flavors. Mainly, however, this is about structure; you feel, beneath the fruit, the stones and bones of true authority and austerity, the chime of bright acidity extending into every bright molecule. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent, though I liked it a degree or two less than the Rèserve Pinot Gris mentioned above. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.


Pert and pleasant but at the same time fairly neutral, the Centine Bianco 2009, Toscana, a blend of 40 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent pinot grigio and 30 percent chardonnay, does little to bring glory, much less discernible varietal character to any of its constituents. The wine is dry; it is crisp; it is quite minerally, but not in the pristine form of pure scintillating minerality. Even dividing the wine for fermentation and four months’ aging in French barriques doesn’t result in a memorable personality. Let’s face it: Tuscany ain’t prime real estate for sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or chardonnay. 13 percent alcohol. Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.

It’s always interesting to read the technical sheets that accompany wines from Kendall-Jackson to my door because, for one reason, they confirm what a meticulous winemaker Randy Ullom is. The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 carries a Monterey County designation, though the wine includes wee portions of grapes from down south in San Luis Obispo County (3%) and farther north in Napa County (2%); don’t forget that there is a Napa County appellation as well as Napa Valley. The wine is fermented primarily in stainless steel tanks; 26 percent is barrel fermented. Pinot gris grapes account for 93 percent of the wine; blended are marsanne (2%), chenin blanc (2%), viognier (1.6%), roussanne (1%) and, rather incredibly, 0.4 percent chardonnay. I wonder how efficaciously the presence of less than half of a percent of chardonnay affects the wine, though my purpose is not to second-guess the winemaker, whose attention to detail I admire. (Actually that’s not true; I second-guess winemakers all the time. No sense being a hypocrite.)

Why, then, don’t I like this wine better? It’s certainly pleasant, clean, crisp and fresh, and it packs a terrific wallop of limestone-and-shale-like minerality, yet it leaves little impression of fruit or even the fruity/floral personality one would expect from the grape. I hate to be a snot, but I have to ask the question: Why was this wine made? Why was so much time and concentration devoted to it to end up just sort of decent and drinkable and forgettable. Well, there’s a place for such wines, but they don’t usually come with this sort of pedigree. Good+. About $15.

The Cadaretta SBS 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon; the grapes derive from hillside vineyards planted in 1992 and 1995, and the wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. The wine offers notes of roasted lemon and yellow plums, with the semillon contributing touches of leafy fig and white waxy flowers, say camellias. There’s nothing grassy about this Bordeaux-style wine, but it does deliver sheaves of dried thyme and tarragon with a broad spectrum of dried savory spices. Elements of limestone seep in around the circumference and within a few minutes the wine is permeated by shale-like minerality, while the finish brings in hints of lime, tangerine and slightly bitter grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 six-pack cases. Winemaker was Virginie Bourgue, who has since left Cadaretta to focus on her own label. Very Good+. About $23.

At the end of July, I reviewed the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, and wondered why the winery, which is owned by Kendall-Jackson, put the words “vinted and bottled by … ” on the back labels. Shortly thereafter I received an email message from winemaker Peter Fraser, who informed me that the estate’s winemaking facility was almost complete and that future vintages will be estate-bottled.

The Yangarra Roussanne 2009, McLaren Vale, sees no new oak, aging, instead, in 35 percent two-year-old French oak barrels and the rest in even older, neutral French oak; the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a subtle, supple wine with a lovely sleek texture that deftly balances crisp, apple-fresh acidity with the moderate lushness of ripe pears and roasted lemon. This roussanne is a pale straw-gold color; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon peel are infused with notes of bee’s-wax, jasmine and honeysuckle. The entire effect is of spareness and elegance endowed with confidence and varietal authority, and besides, it’s delicious. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Production was 1.045 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.

The Charles Krug Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, was pitched to me as the chardonnay that redraws the map for chardonnay, but it seemed to me to be just another weary Baedeker into the dead-end territory of manipulative excess. It took “three new yeasts” to get the job done here, including “Dave’s super secret yeast” — winemaker is Dave Galzignato — and while I admire the restrained use of oak (seven months in French oak, 35 percent new) and malolactic (only 23 percent), the wine came out smelling and tasting like a brown sugar/toffee/crème brûlée dessert bomb. This is too bad, because it opened nicely, with hints of pear and peach, lemon peel and orange zest, but it descended quickly to strident spice and cloying fruit. Tsk tsk. 14.5 percent alcohol. On the other hand, you will be surprised that I rate this wine Good+ rather than Avoid, because the next chardonnay is even worse, and a guy has to draw the line somewhere. About $20.

Erk! Gack! Bananas Foster goes psycho-killer! I found the Hanna Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, completely beyond the pale. Going through full barrel fermentation, malolactic “fermentation” — to remind you, ML is a natural process but not inevitable that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid — and aged in 75 percent new French oak, this bastion of butterscotch and brown sugar is strenuously toasty, muscularly spicy and aggressively oaky, with an unpleasantly dry, austere finish. At this point, some of my readers are saying gently, “Um, F.K., isn’t this a matter of taste and stylistic preference?” Well, no, it isn’t. Wines such as this one (and the preceding model) are travesties that have nothing to do with the chardonnay grape, just as over-oaked, over-ripe, sweet, cloying, high-alcohol zinfandels have nothing to do with the zinfandel grape. It’s a matter of respect; if you truly respect the chardonnay grape, you don’t make a wine that smells and tastes like a combination of the dessert trolley in a continental restaurant and a lumber yard. A wine writer whom I admire enormously wrote in a recent column that he would never tell a winemaker how to make wine. Oops, hey, I sure would! Look at it this way: I have reviewed books for 25 years — I was book page editor from 1988 to 2003 of the newspaper where I used to work — and I have produced a fair number of negative reviews. A negative review, even only partially, is a way of saying that an author was wrong about how he or she wrote the book, and the same principle holds true with wine and winemakers. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the winery goes out with every bottle of wine. Where was I? Oh, right. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not for me, O.K.? I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are wine drinkers (and reviewers at Wine Spectator) who like this “style” of chardonnay, but their palates are beyond my comprehension. About $22.

This is really interesting, a non-vintage dessert wine, and I don’t mean port or some other fortified type. The Höpler Beerenauslese nv, Burgenland, Austria, tasted from a 375-milliliter half-bottle, offers a radiant medium gold color and seductive aromas of roasted apricots and peaches, baked pears, quince jam, honeysuckle and touches of ginger and cloves. In the mouth, this sweetheart is honeyed and viscous; flavors of spiced and brandied peaches with a touch of honeydew melon and mandarin orange are balanced by resounding acidity and a strain of earthy, slightly funky minerality. The wine is definitely sweet on the entry, but halfway across the palate the sweetness melts away, so the finish is resolutely dry and a little stony. The wine is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent sämling 88 (a synonym in Burgenland for Germany’s scheurebe grape) and 10 percent grüner veltliner. This doesn’t project the weight or presence or ultimate finesse of a great dessert wine, but it’s very attractive and even irresistible. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About — this is a guess based on imperfect Google results — $24.

USA Wine Imports, New York.

Here’s a revealing comparison: the Höpler Beerenauslese nv mentioned above contains 136 grams per liter of residual sugar (the sugar level after fermentation has run its course); the Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese 2007, Burgenland, contains 214.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and you feel it in the wine’s massively ripe opulence and succulence, in its sense of softly dissolving grapes and skins, of macerating peaches and apricots liquifying in spiced brandy, of smoky pomanders and crème brûlée and tangerine clafoutis, of roasted honey and orange marmalade. This dazzling panoply of nectar is saved from cloyingness by a tremendous charge of limestone-like minerality and by acidity that feels electrified. “Exquisite” scarcely begins to describe this wine, made completely from sämling 88 grapes. The alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $52 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

USA Wine Imports, New York

The SantoWines Vinsanto 2003, Santorini, Greece — the company also deals in capers, fava beans and tomato products as well as non-dessert wines — is a blend of 70 percent assyrtiko and 30 percent aidani grapes, both widely grown on the island of Santorini; the wine was bottled in 2008 and is throwing a sediment. The color is medium amber with a translucent rim; the bouquet offers aromas of toffee, roasted raisins and toasted almonds, fruit cake and a sort of Platonic cinnamon toast. These beguiling qualities segue into the mouth, where such flavors are a little torn between a very sweet entry and an achingly dry finish. Let’s call it an enjoyably rustic version of vinsanto that just misses essential balance. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $40 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Stellar Importing Co., Whitestone. N.Y. Image, slightly cropped, from Benito.


You may have to get up off your shiftless butt and do a bit of legwork to find this Vin Doux Natural from a small appellation in the South of France, but a little research is good for the soul, and the result will be splendid. I never said that the Wine of the Week would be easy.

The product is Chateau Tour de Farges 2006, Muscat de Lunel. This A.O.C. region lies between Montpellier and Nîmes in the Languedoc; the required grape for Vin Doux Natural here is the evocatively dubbed Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Despite its name, V.D.N is not all that natural; the wine is fortified with grape spirits — to stop fermentation and leave sugar in the wine –to about 15 percent alcohol.

Chateau Tour de Farges has a long and storied history. The property was evidently established in the 16th Century and has been owned since the end of the 18th Century by the Sabatier d’Espeyres family. During the 19th Century, the chateau was presided over by the celebrated Viennese singer Caroline Ungher, whom François Sabatier married in 1840. Intellectual, sentimental, charming and gregarious, she attracted to Tour de Farges such figures as artist Gustave Courbet, who executed an appropriately poetic depiction of the chateau; novelist Alexander Dumas; and the as-yet-unknown political and economic theorist named Karl Marx. I don’t often include the websites of wineries in these posts, but the website of Tour de Farges is so charming and eccentric and filled with anecdote that I will break my injunction for this occasion.

Chateau Tour de Farges 2006 sees no oak; it ages six months in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. The color is very pale yet glowing straw-gold. The wine manifests every fraction of lightness and elegance yet offers real presence and consequence on the palate. The lithesome bouquet is woven of ripe peach and spiced apricot with hints of apples, apple pie and roasted almonds. The entry is moderately sweet and honeyed, but from midway back the effect is increasingly dry, balanced by pinpoint, almost electrifying acidity. Poised in paradoxical equilibrium between rich and spicy peach, apricot and quince flavors and a texture that’s close to lacy transparency, this wine is a true sweetheart that exhibits its earthy side in a mineral-permeated finish of stones and bones. Luscious and supple but with inner spareness and a sense of discretion. Drink now through 2016 to ’18 (well-stored) with the simplest of desserts, like unadorned fruit tarts or even a shortbread cookie. For a culinary frisson, try with seared foie gras, a classic match. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal. Tasted at a trade event. The label image says “2005,” but it is the 2006 under review here.

… but blueberries and cherries are good for warding off the accumulation of uric acid that can lead to a gout episode (sorry to be clinical) and yogurt, well, yogurt is good for something, in fact, LL asserts that “yogurt is totally good for everything!” so in the interest of good health — I also despite that term “wellness” — I’m trying to eat more fruit and berries (pineapple is also a top-rated gout preventative), so a couple of days ago I cleaned some Rainier cherries, blueberries and raspberries and put them in a bowl, and I scooped out a spoonful of the no-fat Greek yogurt that LL buys, and I thought, “Ugh, yuck, gack, no, I can’t do this.” BUT, I had a brilliant idea! I put the yogurt in a little bowl, stirred in a dollop of honey and then very carefully, drop by drop, added some aged balsamic vinegar and stirred that in too. I bought this tiny bottle for LL for her birthday, oh, maybe 15 years ago. We were having lunch at the old 61 restaurant in the basement of the Barney’s on Madison at 61st Street and before leaving we wandered around the food shop. There was a display of long-aged and rare balsamic vinegars, and we were particularly fascinated by this one, from the firm of Cavalli cav. Ferdinando that cost $100 for 100 milliliters; friends, that’s 3.4 fluid ounces. Only 333 bottles were produced. When we were back in Memphis, I called a friend in New York and sent him the money to go to Barney’s and buy one of those precious bottles. And fresh mint from the Farmers Market, as you can see in these images.

Anyway, I’ll tell you that that was some yogurt I could get my tongue and taste-buds around!

So, the next time (today) I wanted to eat some fruit and berries and doctored yogurt — maybe there’s a market for this — we had peaches from the Farmers Market and strawberries that some friends had brought over. I washed and and peeled and sliced (not necessarily for everything) and jazzed up the yogurt and was about to take a bite when I had ANOTHER BRILLIANT IDEA!! I was really missing an opportunity to try a dessert wine. I mean, the fruit and yogurt concoction was for lunch today, but what the hell, that’s what being a professional is all about.

Actually, I have 10 or so dessert wines that I have been meaning to try, so here was a chance to knock one off, so to speak. I poked around in the wine fridge and pulled out a bottom of Mendelson Muscat Canelli 2002, Napa Valley. This is a fairly unusual wine for California in that it’s made in the French vin doux natural style, that is lightly fortified with grape spirits (to 14.2 percent alcohol), and then after fermentation it’s aged two years in French oak. The result is pungent and potent, a wine bursting with notes of peach and apricot, banana and ripe mango; it’s spicy, honeyed and roasted, and exhibits profound earthiness and minerality. The texture is thick, almost viscous, and after a few minutes in the glass the wine begins to exhibit signs of spicy, blond wood, as well as touches of bananas Foster, baked apples and macerated peaches. The finish brings in candied ginger and orange peel. Yes, this is quite an effort, best enjoyed with a few sips on its own or with a shortbread cookie, not, I have to say, with fruit, berries and pumped up yogurt. 250 cases of half-bottles were produced. Excellent. About $33 for a half-bottle.

So, I’m thinking, though the Mendelson Muscat Canelli ’02 was terrific — it inspires silence and contemplation — what would go better with my yogurt and berry lunch? Back to the wine fridge I went and pulled out a bottle of the Vino dei Fratelli Moscato d’Asti 2007 from Piedmont. The alcohol on this wine is only 5.5 percent. It’s incredible freshness and appeal results from the winemaking process; the must (that is the mass of crushed grapes) is kept just above zero, and when wine is needed for bottling, the must is fermented and the wine is bottled immediately. The color is pale straw; the bouquet offers a beguiling wreathing of lemon-lime, almond and almond blossom, a hint of apple, a touch of jasmine. The wine is sweet, lightly spritzy, delicately fruity in a citrusy-apple sense and though basically simple and direct, it’s also tasty and charming and was delightful with the yogurt, fruit and berries. That’s the twins, Castor and Pollux, on the label. Very Good. About $15.

LL came home for lunch yesterday and said, “You know, today is Bastille Day.”

“Right,” I said, “Allons, enfants de la patria and all that.”

“We should have a French dinner tonight,” she said. “And French wines.”

“Good ideas,” I said.

“And you should do it,” she said. “You know, moules, steak frites, escargot, duck a l’orange.” A pause. “French onion soup.”

“Uh, right.”

Now there was a certain rigorous logic behind this statement. I am, after all, the one who is out of work, not she, whiling away the hours laboring over this blog, practicing the piano and generally indulging in grandiose visions of the future. (“Yes, I will write that novel!”) So, I did a little cookbook investigation and decided to prepare a sort of rustic dinner consisting of an onion tart, soupe au pistou and a pear clafoutis. Went to the store, bought what was needed, though I’ll tell you, while the tart was baking and the soup was simmering, with ingredients still to be chopped and put in, I thought, “No way am I making a clafoutis tonight.” So LL took the slices of pear that I was marinating in cognac, lemon juice and sugar, caramelized them in butter in the good ol’ cast-iron skillet, and we had them over vanilla ice cream, which was immensely satisfying.

Here’s what we ate and drank for Bastille Day 2009.
O.K., so I cheated on the onion tart. It should be pretty obvious from the picture that this is a small onion pizza, ha-ha! not an Official Julia Child-Sanctioned Tart. Yes, I made a pizza dough using one cup of flour — the usual pizza has about two-and-a-half cups of flour — but the same amount of yeast (1/2 a teaspoon) so the dough rose fairly quickly. I followed the advice from several French cookbooks and allowed the thinly sliced onions to cook over very low heat for about 45 minutes with salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. I patted out the dough by hand, instead of rolling it, so that it would be fairly irregular, spread the onions on top, added some sliced black olives, more thyme and a generous amount of shredded Gruyère cheese, and put it into a 450-degree oven for 12 or 15 minutes. It was self-indulgently good.

I went looking for a Bourgogne Aligoté, not a common wine in the ol’ Mid-South, but found exactly what I was looking for at Great Wine & Spirits, owned by a longtime friend, Gary Burhop. This is the Bourgogne Aligoté 2007 from the distinguished house of Amiot Guy et Fils. Aligote, the “second white grape of Burgundy,” is generally described along the lines of “tart, acidic and functional” and is best-known as the wine from which a true kir is supposed to be fashioned (with a few drops of cassis, the black currant liqueur). Some domaines lift aligoté above the fray, however, and Amiot Guy is one. (A. Villaine is another.) The Amiot Guy Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, as elegant as aligoté gets, feels etched in limestone and wreathed in little waxy white flowers. This piercing minerality is buoyed by scintillating acidity and hints of roasted lemon, pears and almond skin. The wine is defined by lovely heft and balance, though the finish, one grants, is dry and chalky to the point of astringency. This drank nicely with the onion tart, cutting through the richness, but would probably really shine with grilled trout or shellfish. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
The next course, soupe au pistou, I took from Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook (Scribner, 1999). This is a country-style soup from Provence, finished with pistou, a sort of pesto sans pine nuts, though — shoot me if you will — I bought a jar of pesto instead of using the bales of basil it would require to make it. Anyway, this is a sort of kitchen sink concoction with celery, onion, leek, garlic, potato, green beans, carrots, chickpeas, zucchini and, finally, plum tomatoes, which you don’t add until the soup is finished and off the fire. You could use a vegetable stock, if you wanted, but I just used water as the base and let the leeks, onion and potatoes sort of melt into the liquid, making a fragrant and flavorful broth. Before serving the soup, you stir in some pesto or pistou and scatter julienne basil over the top. It was really good.

For the soup, I opened the Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne “Cuvée Léa Felsh” 2006, Côtes du Rhône Villages. The soup could probably have used a wine less robust than this one — even a rosé — but the wine was so well-made that it hardly mattered. (In fact, I’m sipping from a glass of this wine as I type these words, and it’s lovely.) Cairanne is one of a small number of villages in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region considered a good enough source of grapes and wines that it is entitled to put its own name on labels of its wines.

This was substantial, hearty, robust without being rustic, seething with lavender and lilac, earth and minerals, black currant and plums and blueberries with a high wild berry note. Flavors of slightly macerated and roasted black and blue fruits are supported by stalwart but smooth tannins that unfurl to reveal touches of wet slate, tar, leather, briers and brambles. The dusty, earthy finish pulls up underbrush and moss and, intriguingly, powerful spicy elements. As with a wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not far away, this blends grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, cinsault and counoise grapes. Try this from 2010 through 2015 or ’16 with veal chops, country-style pates and terrines and hearty pasta dishes. Certified organic. Excellent. About $20, though found on the Internet from $14 to $18.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
So, we didn’t have the clafoutis; there’s a limit to how many courses one can cook after 7 p.m., and timing a meal of several courses, especially with dessert, has always been one of my weak points as a stove-meister. Still, caramelizing the pears in butter with the cognac and lemon juice was brilliant and resulted in a simple yet sumptuous dessert. Not much eye-appeal but great flavors.

Along with the Amiot Guy Aligoté ’07 and the Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne ’06, I purchased a half-bottle of the dessert wine Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002, a blend of 85 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. Monbazillac, part of the Bergerac appellation, is a sort of country cousin to Sauternes and Barsac, further west in Bordeaux. (Bergerac’s most important river, the Dordogne, merges with the Garonne to form the Gironde that flows northwest through the Bordeaux region.) Sweet wines from Monbazillac, made from the same grapes found in Sauternes and Barsac, don’t have the finesse of their more elegant relatives, but the wines are satisfying and much less expensive.

The Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002 gave off aromas of honeyed peach and apricots, cloves and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, the wine was thick and chewy, almost viscous though brightened with keen acidity and minerality; flavors of roasted apricots and pears were permeated by baking spice and a hint of orange rind. The principle feature, however, is a kind of foresty earthiness that grounds every other aspect. Simple, direct and appealing. Very Good+ and a sweetheart of a food and wine match. About $11 for a half-bottle.

Victoire Imports, San Leandro, Cal.

In case you didn’t know, cherries are incredibly healthy, and, in case you have a tendency to gout, as I do, they’re terrific gout attack preventatives. (So is pineapple.) And, in case you didn’t know, blackberries are packed with antioxidants. In fact, a story by syndicated health writer Megan Murphy that ran in the local paper this morning informs us that blackberries come at the top of a list of 1,900 foods and their antioxidant properties. So, whew, it’s a good thing that this weekend I bought some beautiful Rainier cherries at Costco and some plump, glistening blackberries at Whole Foods. Why do blackberries cost so freakin’ much, though? You’d think that each one sprang full-blown from the brow of Zeus.

And what better way to consume our essential antioxidants than with — ice cream! Organic ice cream, of course.

So, after dinner last night — there’ll be a post later; we had one of our favorite summer dishes, shrimp with cannellini beans, mint and watercress — and after cleaning up the kitchen, LL washed and pitted some of the cherries — and performed a little experiment in which she discovered that dogs do indeed like cherries very much, thank you — and I washed the blackberries and scooped the ice cream into some small bowls, and we devoured a delicious and sumptuous (and antioxidant providing!) dessert,
which, frankly, we don’t often do at home, I mean, have dessert.

And as we were eating the cherries and blackberries and ice cream, a notion struck me, and I reached into the refrigerator (first opening the door; I’m not a magician) and pulled out a small bottle of the Innocent Bystander Moscato 2009, from Australia’s Victoria region. A blend of 65 percent Muscat of Alexandria and 35 percent Muscat of Hamburg, the lightly effervescent wine embodies pure strawberry and rhubarb laced with a strain of the muscat grape’s natural earthy foxiness and a hint of roses; flavors tend more toward watermelon and Braeburn apples. Made in stainless steel and endowed with bountiful freshness, mild sweetness and vibrant acidity, the wine is completely delightful and bursting with personality. At only 5.5 percent alcohol, you could drink this stuff all day long! Very Good+. About $12 for a 375 ml half-bottle.

And it was wonderful with dessert, very fresh and certainly tasty and rather cleansing.

Benito of Benito’s Wine Reviews came over Sunday to taste fielddandelions.jpg ports with me and LL — that’s the next post — and brought a bottle of dandelion wine he purchased in Ohio. It was made by the Breitenbach Winery in Dover, a concern owned and operated by the Amish. The winery produces an astonishing number of wines. The red wines include a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and a shiraz as well as proprietary labels like Roadhouse Red, a “classic semi-sweet red” wine. Three “blush” wines include the intriguing Old Dusty Miller. Among whites are Charming Nancy and Frost Fire. (The winery’s website,, does not mention grape varieties for the proprietary labels.) There is also a full line of fruit and berry wines. Most of these products cost under $12.

The closest I have come to a glass of dandelion wine was reading Ray Bradbury’s evocative novel about Midwestern small-town life, “Dandelion Wine,” about 50 years ago, so I was happy that Benito was bringing a bottle of the stuff to the house.

One expects a flower wine to be sweet, and this was, but it wasn’t as sweet as I had anticipated. In fact, I found it delicate, finely structured and just balanced by clean acidity. Aromas of spiced pear and fig wafted from the glass, with hints of dusty meadows. In the mouth, those spiced pear and fig qualities persisted, with touches of something wild and foxy, a little weedy, all of this encompassed by a texture that was almost oily. The finish brought in cinnamon and hay. It felt as if I were sipping the essence of a sunny summer’s afternoon on a blustery Fall day. I’ll rate the wine Very Good. The price was about $10.

Is this actually a dessert wine? I would say only with the most delicate or simple desserts, a plain apple tart or a slice of unadorned sweet potato pie. Perhaps it would be best sipped judiciously after dinner by itself.

Field of dandelions from

Tasting sweet dessert wines is tough. They’re extremely rich and over-ripe and can come close to being cloying, though if they’re made correctly dynamite acid keeps them honest and dry from mid-palate back; that point is essential; you want to feel the clean vibrancy as well as the lushness, the unctuousness. The best examples of dessert wines are amazingly complicated, royal.jpg not only directly sensuous but intellectual. Glorious though they can be, they tire the palate and weary the tongue. They are made, after all, for sipping, not drinking.

Nevertheless, I had accumulated a number of dessert wines of widely diverse origins and styles, so I invited enough people to make a group of eight and we sat down on a rainy Sunday afternoon to try them. We tasted the wines blind, the principle order being from youngest to oldest. Since the wines varied so much in mode and manner, I didn’t arrange them in flights, instead, we tasted each individually. For convenience and fun more than anything else, we scored the wines on a 20 point scale — reminder: on this blog and on I do not rate wines on a numerical system — which gave us a means of keeping track of our favorites. I include on this list, which goes from highest to lowest rating, the group score followed by my score. With the exception of the Monbazillac (the last wine on this roster), I regard all of these examples mentioned here as successes in varying degrees

Some of the wines that I thought were terrific the group didn’t regard very highly. I have no way of explaining this occurrence.

There are, basically and briefly, three methods of producing dessert wines. The point is that the sugar content of the grapes will be high enough (or to put it another way, so high) that fermentation will stop before all the sugar is converted to alcohol; that’s why sweet wines are sweet.

First, in the classic procedure made famous in Bordeaux’s Sauternes and Barsac regions, the grapes are affected by the botrytis cinerea mold, which shrinks and dries the grapes, concentrating the sugars and raising the sugar level dolce03.gif(usually measured by the Brix ripeness scale). Botrytis, the “noble rot,” may contribute a scent and flavor of over-ripeness, a sort of sweet, crystalized earthy-superfruitiness to the wine. The climate of the vineyard has to be perfectly balanced with foggy mornings and warm afternoon humidity in late summer and early fall to produce the rot. Botrytis can be induced in the winery, as is the case with Beringer’s well-known Nightingale dessert wines.

Second, the grapes can be dried on straw mats or wooden boxes or on special racks to concentrate the sugar, a procedure that takes several months, so fermentation may not begin until January or February. This is common practice in northern Italy, for example in the production of Vinsanto.

Third, in the “late harvest” method grapes are allowed to hang on the vines so the grapes dry and shrivel as sugar levels rise, while trying (usually) to avoid the presence of botrytis. This method produces the Vendages Tardives sweet wines of Alsace. Winemakers can, of course, leave grapes on the vine until they actually freeze, producing the specialty called Eiswein or ice wine.

This tasting of white dessert wines included examples of all these methods.

1. Royal Tokaji Red Label 2000, five puttonyos, Hungary. About $32 for a 500 ml bottle. The grapes are furmint, harslevelu and muscat. Imported by Wilson Daniels. Composite score: 18. My score: 17. The wine spends four years in barrels. Bright, brassy gold color; quince, peach and pear, cloves and cinnamon, spiced and macerated peaches, candied melon and lime; quivering acid, scintillating limestone. A puttonyo is the traditional 4.5 gallon wooden tub used to collect grapes in Aszu; the higher the puttonyo level (up to six) the sweeter the wine. A beauty. 2010 to 2015.

2. (Tie with no. 3) Louis Guntrun Silvaner Eiswein 2003, Rheinhessen, Germany. About $53 for a half-bottle. Imported by Broadbent Selections. Composite score: 16.83. My score: 16. Very clean, fresh and lively, quince, pear and lychee, quite floral; sleek, smooth and charming; sweet candied entry but a dry finish that chimes with acid. 2013 to 2018.

3. (Tie with no. 2) Carpineto Farnito Vinsanto del Chianti 1986, Tuscany, Italy. Trebbiano Toscano 60%, malvasia 40%. About farnito_vinsanto_del_chianti_1986_small.jpg$44 to $55 for a 500 ml. bottle. Imported by Opici. Composite score: 16.83. My score: 17. Rich and warm, toasted almonds, orange rind, toffee, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and cinnamon; quite dense and luscious, long spicy finish with a huge hit of acid. Now through 2012 to 2016.

4. Chateau de Fesles 1997, Bonnezeaux, Loire Valley, France. Chenin blanc. About $40 for a half-bottle. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons. Composite score: 16.33. My score: 17. Vivid medium amber color; slightly oxidized and sherry-like, toffee, caramel, candied orange rind, touch of roasted lemon; attractive tone and presence. now through 2012 or 2015.

5. Renaissance Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1991, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California. About $ for a full bottle. Composite score: 15.83. My score: 16. I wasn’t as impressed with this wine as when I tried it in October. This example seemed lighter, more delicate, though quite delicious, with hints of dried herbs, spiced pears and apricots, a bit of nectarine, candied lime peel. Good length and a dry, crisp finish. Now though 2011 to 2015.

6. (Tie with no. 7 ) Dolce 2003, Napa Valley, California. Semillon 89%, sauvignon blanc 11%. Made by Far Niente. About $85 for a half-bottle. Composite score: 15.71. My score: 19 (my highest score of the tasting). This is a fabulous wine, the nectar of the gods, the nectar of the goddesses, the nectar of the nymphs, the nectar of the nymphets. (I dunno what happened to my fellow tasters on this wine, but I like them anyway.) Golden yellow; deep, rich and spicy, fruit not only ripe but macerated and roasted, as in peaches, pears, quince and apricot with touch of mango; roasted honey; intense and powerful, like drinking liquid gold plate but never obvious or ponderous. Best from 2009 through 2015 or ’18.

7. (Tie with no. 6) Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine Gold 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. About $85 for a half-bottle. Imported by Icon Estates. Composite score: 15.71. My score: 18. Incredibly deep and spicy and layered, so thick and dense, nectarine over peach over apricot and lychee, all super-ripe, over-the-top, macerated and roasted, yet clean, electrified by acid. Try 2008 or ’09 through 2015 or ’18.

8. Beringer Nightingale Private Reserve 2001, Napa Valley. Semillon 65%, sauvignon blanc 35%. About $40 for a half-bottle. Composite score: 15.5. My score: 18. Myron Nightingale (1915-1988) pioneered the used of induced botrytis for making Sauternes-style dessert wines in California. Medium brassy-gold; incredibly rich, deep and spicy, honeysuckle and jasmine, super-ripe peach, apricot and mango, roasted and smoky, a foundation of limestone and vivid acid, almost daringly spicy. Now to 2013 to ’15.

9. (Tie with no. 10) Schmitt Sohne Eiswein 2004, Rheinhessen, Germany. Made from scheurebe grapes. About $20 for a 500 ml. bottle (the bargain of this tasting). Imported by Schmitte Sohne Inc. Composite score: 15.33. My score: 14. No great depth or presence but very attractive, authentic over-ripe botryised aromas, rich and spicy, dense and moderately lush.

10. (Tie with no. 9) Sonnenmulde Samling Eiswein 2003, Burgenland, Austria. Samling is the local name for scheurebe in Burgenland. About $33 for a half-bottle. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates. Composite score: 15.33. My score: 15. Not particularly complicated but a lovely dessert wine, well-balanced and structured, slightly floral, very spicy peach and apricot, good length.

11. Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve Vidal Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. About $20 for a quarter-bottle. Imported by R.H. Phillips, Inc. Group score: 15.28. My score: 15. Very attractive, mango and orange rind, peach and nectarine, touch of honeysuckle, sweet entry balanced by keen acidity.

12. Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine 2006, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. About $75 for a half-bottle. Imported by Icon Estates. Group score: 15.14. My score: 16. Light, delicate, lively, subtly woven, peach and apricot, lime and lime peel, touch of lychee and orange blossom, practically shimmers in the glass.

13. Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine 2006, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario. About $65 for a half-bottle. Imported by Icon Estates. Group score: 15. My score: 18. Light gold color, fresh, clean and delicate but so much substance, tone and structure, crystalline acidity like a tuning fork, multiple layers of super-ripe stone fruit, citrus peel, flowers, honey and limestone. Fabulous. Best from 2008 through 2012 to ’15.

14. Jorge Ordonez & Co. Seleccion Especial Moscatel 2005, Malaga, Spain. About $19 for a half-bottle (another bargain). Imported by Star Distributors, Memphis, Tenn. Group score: 14.7. My score: 14. No profound depth here but absolutely lovely; orange rind, orange and almond blossom, white peach, lime peel, lychee and rose petal, very spicy with heaps of limestone. Now through 2010 or ’11.

15. Beringer Nightingale Private Reserve 2002, Napa Valley. Semillon 65%, sauvignon blanc 35%. About $40 for a half-bottle. Group score: 14.42. My score: 17. What was wrong with the group? So many layers, details and nuances, deep, rich and very spicy, creme brulee with honey-peach whipped cream, jasmine and honeysuckle, and so much energy and nervosity. Now through 2012 to ’15.

16. Chateau Villefranche 2005, Sauternes, Bordeaux. Semillon 85%, sauvignon blanc 10%, muscadelle 5%. About $33 for a villefranche_01.jpg half-bottle. William Harrison Imports. Group score: 13.7. My score: 15. Clean, fresh and delicate, Meyer lemon, very ripe pineapple and grapefruit, peach and apricot, stone fruit, tingling acid, a wash of limestone and shale in the dry finish. Very charming. Now through 2012 to ’15.

17. Bonny Doon Le Val des Anges Roussanne 2006, Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. About $30 for a half-bottle. Group score: 13.14. My score: 13. This “flight of angels” emerges from Bonny Doon’s biodynamic vineyard in southern Monterey county. Elegant, delicate, composed of finely poised layers of jasmine, spiced and honeyed white peaches, roasted grapefruit, lime peel and limestone; gripping acid keeps the finish dry. Now through 2011 or ’12.

18. Chateau Monbazillac 2000, Monbazillac. Semillon 80%, sauvignon blanc 10%, muscadelle 10%. About $22 for a half-bottle. No importer listed. Group score: 12.57. My score: 9. Unbalanced, tired, earthy and a little dirty.

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