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Two Women on Wine: The love of sweet wines, Part Two

Consider fortified, late

Posted: March 16, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: March 16, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

Part Two of a two-part series.

In our last visit with you, we talked about sweet wines, such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewrtztraminer and Moscato d'Asti. In this segment we will discuss dessert wines, which, although sweet, fall into a different category. Typically these wines are higher in sugar and alcohol content. We're talking about fortified wines, late harvest and "noble rot" wines.

Fortified wines are dessert wines that brandy has been added to "fortify" the wine during fermentation. This brings the alcohol content up past 18 percent. As world trade began to expand in the 13th and 14th centuries, traders who where bringing wines from Europe across the seas on long voyages needed to protect and stabilize the wines. To accomplish this they added brandy to them.

The most common types of fortified wines are Port, Marsala, Sherry and Madeira. These wines have their own unique origin and history, different classifications, flavor profiles and food pairings.

Port, which comes from Portugal, has a variety of styles, both white and red, and they can all be enjoyed after a meal. One of the best pairings with Port is Stilton blue cheese. The sweetness of the Port nicely balances the sharpness of the cheese.

Marsala, Italy's famous version of a fortified wine, comes from the ancient city of Marsala on the coast of Sicily. Marsala's styles are both dry and sweet and, contrary to popular belief, are not always used in cooking. A dry Marsala would be wonderful with smoked meats, walnuts, assorted olives and goat cheese; while a sweet Marsala is delightful with a decadent chocolate dessert.

Sherry is made from white grapes grown in and around the town of Jerez in Spain. As with Port, Sherry comes in various styles ...from bone dry to very sweet. Like Marsala, Sherry is also used as a cooking wine but also can be enjoyed with a variety of foods, from seafood to cheeses.

Madiera hails from the Portuguese island of Madiera. As with Marsala, this wine's styles are both dry as well as sweet and can be enjoyed either as an aperitif or a dessert wine. What makes this wine unique is that it's not only fortified but it is also oxidized and "cooked." Madiera is usually amber in color, with wonderful nutty and caramel flavors. It was the favorite wine of Thomas Jefferson and a staple wine on vessels heading for the American colonies.

Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vines late into the harvest season, giving them a longer ripening time to increase the sugar levels. These wines are known for their rich, ripe flavors. Late harvest Riesling, or a late harvest Zinfandel, are very common dessert wines.

When we speak of late harvest wines we cannot help but mention "noble rot." It is a friendly fungus called Botrytis cinerea. The fungus dehydrates the grape, leaving more concentrated sweet juice behind. The wide range of grapes that benefit from noble rot are Riesling, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurtztraminer. The most famous of the noble rot wines are Sauternes from France, made mostly from Semillon and Tokaji (Tokay), which comes from Hungary, made from a grape called Furmint. Both of these wines are delicate, sweet and delicious.

With all of these dessert wines, our recommendation is to enjoy them before or after a meal and truly savor the nectar of the gods. Cheers!


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