Wines for the Holidays
Riesling is a white wine that may either be bone dry or fairly sweet, excellent with dishes that are spicy, salty or sweet. Whether from Alsace, Germany or Washington – Riesling wines are a top pick white wine for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Riesling’s innate flavors of apple, apricot, honey and its clarifying acidity give it a significant pairing edge with the likes of sweet potatoes, turkey meat and spice-laden or herb-filled stuffing.
Most wine enthusiasts would agree that there is no better time to enjoy dessert wines than the holidays. Either with a holiday meal, an accompaniment to a home-made dessert or around a roaring fire with family and friends. Fortunately, there is a wide selection of dessert wines to chose from. Examples of these wines are the Alsacian and German Rieslings, French Sauternes, German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese , Hungarian Tokaji, Ice wine (Eiswein), Recioto della Valpolicella, Madeira and Port. The traditional methods for making these wines has been refined over centuries giving wine drinkers a panoply of tastes and styles that are unparalleled. A brief description of these wine making styles is offered here.
Wine makers who wish to produce naturally sweet dessert wines have to produce their sugar in the vineyard. Some grape varieties, such as Riesling, Muscat and Huxelrebe produce more residual sugar than other varieties. Pruning to expose the young grapes to the sun and green harvesting, which reduces the number of bunches on a vine can increase sugar production. The Germans and Alsacians rely heavy on the Riesling grape, because is it produces both high residual sugar and high organic acid, giving the wines balance and charm.
Some of the most famous dessert wines in the world are made from grapes manifesting Botrytis cinerea, a mold that attacks the grapes late in the harvest. This favorable condition, called the noble rot, allows water to escape from the skin. It can often revert to a destructive "grey rot" condition, if the grapes become too damp. Thus, each harvest is unique, accounting for the wide variability in the quality of these wines. Examples of wines that rely on the noble rot are French Sauternes, the German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella and Hungarian Tokaji.
Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella is made in a style laid down by the Romans as early as the 5th century B.C near Verona. The grapes chosen for Amarone Recioto are harvested toward the end of September and spread out on gratticci or straw mats, which are stacked and stored in well ventilated attics or solaio. This allows the moisture in the grapes to evaporate, concentrating the sugars and the extract. During this appassimento period, the grape clusters are turned and culled where various degrees of botrytis are encouraged. More than two-thirds of the grape’s volume is lost to evaporation, which explains the limited production and rarity of these profound wines.
The dessert wines of Portugal, specifically Port and Madeira, have an interesting wine making history that developed during the days of North American exploration. It was discovered that the addition of grape brandy to the must during fermentation, a process called fortification, made them more sea worthy. The high residual sugar and alcohol content was an obvious boon to the longevity and popularity of these wine, which persists to this day.
Best wishes for the holidays and the up coming New Year!