For many wine drinkers, sweet wines represent childlike or simple flavors.  This thought can be a stigma, rising from the fact that most beginning wine drinkers enjoy sweet & light wines while long-time wine drinkers move away from sweetness toward dry and complex wines.
 
Both kids and adults alike, however, still should enjoy the ‘sweet life’.  While kids enjoy Kool-Aid and banana splits, adults prefer more complex desserts like Crème Brulee and dark chocolate flourless tortes with raspberry sauce. All are very sweet, but the craft of creating luscious desserts is lost on kids, even if they enjoy the flavors.
 
There is a wide variety of sweet wines that have been artfully crafted to be complex.  The finest have delicate, enjoyable qualities or powerfully deep flavors.  Many have historical significance.  To ignore them as a wine drinker is to deny yourself some of the most unique experiences and most ideal food pairings.  It’s simply a travesty to discount the value of sweet wines!  Here’s a short run-down of several of the most popular sweet wines of the world:
 
Solera for Sherry

A Solera system of barrels used to make Sherry

Port, Madeira and Cream Sherry

Before yeast converts all the sugar to alcohol, extra grape spirits can “fortify” a wine to kill the yeast and leave some sugar remaining in the higher-alcohol result.  The Iberian peninsula is the birthplace of these full-bodied, complex after-dinner wines, where ships destined for the US and Britain were once filled with the stuff!

Each of these three selections has a different and unique production method.  Find out more about: Port, Sherry or Madeira.

Moscato & Brachetto

In Piedmont in northern Italy, Muscat and Brachetto grapes respectively create this pair of white and red semi-sparkling summer dazzlers.  Moscato d’Asti has a pear and apricot flavor profile while Brachetto delivers with Strawberry, raspberry and rose notes.  Drink them with fresh fruit and cheese platters at your next picnic.

Ice Wines

When grapes are left on the vine during the season’s first frost, the resulting juice squeezed from the frozen fruit is decadently sweet – a result of the water ice staying frozen while the sugary juice (which does not freeze at the same temperatures) flows under gentle crushing.  Canada has built a worldwide reputation for the best ice wines, which are only produced under the strictest regulations.  For more info:  Ice Wines

Botrytis Wines – Sauternes & Tokay

Botrytis

The Botrytis "Noble Rot" mold

Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous wine affected by the Noble Rot mold called Botrytis, yielding a complex and unique taste from the blend of late-harvested Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes in France’s Sauterne area of Bordeaux. It is the historical benchmark for similar wines produced worldwide.

Click here to learn more about Sauternes

Tokaj is a specialty of Hungary made from the Noble Rot grapes and is available in varying levels of sweetness, ranked increasingly sweet with higher “puttanyos” numbers on the label.  The Hungarian Wine Society can tell you more about this elixir.

Dried Grapes – Vin Santo & Recioto

Vin Santo is a product of Tuscany made with partially dried grapes, lending a raisiny quality to the full-bodied and nutty character.  It makes a perfect match to almond and pecan desserts. Recioto is made in the Veneto area of Northeast Italy near Venice, made from the dried  red grapes of Valpolicella.  Its flavors are deeper, richer, and more suitable for chocolate explorations.  Originally, dried-grape wines were invented by the Greeks, who coined the name Vin Santo. 

It’s time for adults to enjoy the sweet tastes

Drying Vin Santo grapes

Drying grapes for Vin Santo

There are many more sweet wines on the market, which pair beautifully with salty cheeses, spicy Asian and East Indian cuisines, fresh fruit as well as sweet desserts. Don’t miss out on your opportunities to experience these complex and unique expressions of the winemaking art as part of your passage through adulthood!

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Just two weeks ago we invited Portland to sample through a grand array of 100 different wines at our first-ever Squatters Tasting Event in Portland.  Over 100 people came to taste, and one wine stole the show.  Nearly every taster immediately took home bottles and we sold out of this wine first.

This wine is a creation from Lodi, California, with 85% Grenache and 15% Tempranillo.  Both varieties are best known on the Iberian Peninsula as ingredients in the best wines of Spain, and as grapes used in the production of Port wines.  Grenache is also famed as one of the main grapes of France’s Rhone Valley.

grapes are now taking hold here on the West Coast as producers test fun new varietals in the more arid growing regions most resembling the weather patterns in the traditional countries.

Displays a bright, vibrant ruby color with aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and pomegranate fruit intermingled with sweet oak and savory spice. The flavors match the aromas with the pure, lively fruit washing over the palate with hints of cola, vanilla and fresh herbs. The velvety texture is highlighted by the bright acidity that carries the fruit through the smooth, supple and sensuous finish where the well integrated, powdery tannins complete the wine.

The spicy fruit flavors will pair perfectly with bold BBQ, game meats, hearty burgers and even Asian or East Indian dishes, but certainly can just be enjoyed as is, for years to come!  But act fast.  Only 146 cases of this wine were produced.

This wine is now regularly sold for $18.99Tech Sheet 


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The Red Mountain grape growing region is Washington State’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA), defined in 2001 by the U.S. Treasury and the ATF. Located at the eastern tip of the Yakima Valley, just west of the Tri-Cities (Richland) area, this important area encompasses little more than 4,000 acres (only 700 acres are planted with producing vines so far) of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah grapes. But here is where you’ll find some of the best wine grapes in all of Washington.

The arid region is characterized by the springtime’s red Cheatgrass growing on the area’s rolling hills 500-1500 ft. above sea level. Daytime temperatures stay 90 degrees, with cooler nights reaching 50. Rainfall stays low, near 5 inches a year. The dry, warm temperatures are ideal conditions to grow the perfect grapes, You won’t find any “Old Vine” Red Mountain grapes yet but that time is getting close…the first wine grapes in the Red Mountain area were planted in 1972, on 10 acres of what is now Kiona.
Red Mountain

A view of Washington's smallest wine appellation

Only 14 wineries call this area home. Among them:  Hedges, Kiona, Seth Ryan, Oakwood, Blackwood Canyon, Taptiel Vineyard, Hightower and Terra Blanca. Additional grape-growers include Klipsun Vineyards (Ranked in the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine), Ciel de Cheval Vineyards, Artz Vineyards. Across the state, the finer wineries seek out the coveted Red Mountain grapes to blend into the growing number of outstanding Washington red wines. You’ll find Red Mountain grapes in the wines from Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, L’Ecole No. 41, Washington Hills, Seven Hills and Canoe Ridge and more.

Success has come quickly… Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 100 Wines for 2002 listed Hedges Red Mountain Reserve ($46) and Sandhill’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($24), as well as Andrew Will’s Ciel du Cheval Merlot and Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Hedge’s Fume/Chardonnay ($11) also made the “Top 100 Values” from Wine Enthusiast’s 2002 list.

Look for increasing success and production in the region as more acreage is planted and more vines bear fruit with age. With such perfect growing conditions, and rising talent gaining experience each year, Washington’s Red Mountain will be the region to watch!

For more information

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Mount Eden is very well known as one of the original modern-day wine producers of the Santa Cruz mountains, and their Chardonnay represents both a luscious example of what California Chardonnay is known for, plus an outstanding value on top of that.  Hailed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in several vintages, the Wolff Chardonnay from grapes sourced in the Edna Valley, it demonstrates exactly what people mean when they ask for a “buttery” wine.

EdnaFor the 2007 vintage, Wine Spectator awarded another great score, with 91 points and a “Smart Buy” designation:

Ripe and floral, with fleshy peach, nectarine, melon and spice.  Full-bodied, focused and elegant, with a long, persistent finish that emphasizes the ripe fruitiness.  Drink now through 2012.

In recent years, the overabundance of poorly made and over-hyped buttery styles of Chardonnay created a backlash.  Now, the propensity of many wineries is toward producing un-oaked, crisp and clean versions.  As wineries scramble to prove themselves as non-conformist as every other winery by stopping their buttery/oaky production of Chardonnay, it’s the remaining neo-traditionalists that show just why this style became popular in the first place.   My recommendation is to remove the attitude.  There are plenty of unoaked wines throughout the world to choose from.  Sometimes the table begs for something rich, full, smooth and creamy.

The processes

The spectrum of styles comes from two winemaking methods working in tandem.  First, oak aging of the Chardonnay adds flavors including not just oak/cedar notes, but also butter and vanilla.  The newer the oak, the stronger the impressions.  This oak aging is a hallmark of France’s Burgundy region.  Unoaked versions are more in line with France’s Chablis style.  Secondly, the winemaking process known as Malolactic Fermentation is the use of a second strain of bacteria put to work transforming crisper Malic acids into the softer, creamier Lactic acids (like the acids in cream).

mounteden_2007_wolff_chardThis Wolff Chardonnay is both 100% oak aged and has gone through 100% malolactic fermentation.  But rather than overdone, the rich and creamy appeal is in the full-bodied fruit in abundance, layed across a backbone of balanced oak flavors.  Thankfully, there are still enough great producers of this California style that we can craft savory and creamy chicken dishes, cedar-plank salmon or a sprawling holiday meal to enjoy alongside a great glass of Chardonnay.  This is one of the best anywhere near this price.

2007 was a classic year from this mature, thirty-year-old vineyard. The grapes were harvested in October because of the cool, maritime climate in Edna Valley, and the long growing season gave the wine firm structure and beautiful acidity with buoyant aromas of citrus zest, gardenia flower and toasty nuance. Aged for nine months in French and American oak, this chardonnay is full and rich on the palate reflecting its old-vine, barrel fermented, sur-lie approach. The finish is long and complete.

This wine is regularly sold for $19.99, but is available to wine club members for only $17.99!

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Perfect wine doesn’t have a single definition.  There will never be a machine that can turn out ‘perfect’ wines.  There are too many variables and it is the uniqueness of each artful release that brings forth a worthy story rather than a homogenous, measurable string of proper qualities. 

That being said, it is possible to hedge bets toward fantastic releases.  It requires attention to a number of variables:

  • Buy the best grapes available from the areas most skilled grape growers (a step that requires longstanding relationships as well)
  • Buy the most technologically advanced equipment and finest traditional barrels
  • Enlist the help of the finest and most experienced oenologists, practiced using the grapes found in your final release

saggi_90This is the basis for Long Shadows Vintners. 

Founder Allen Shoup has earned an influential placement at the pinnacle of Washington’s wine industry.   He began with humble beginnings at Gallo in California and rose through vast achievement to CEO of Stimson Lane (owner of Chateau Ste. Michelle & Columbia Crest), Washington’s largest wine company.  With his broad assets of professional relationships, prime properties and ample finances, he’s been able to pair Washington’s best grapes with the world’s finest talent to create tremendously well-made expressions of our Northwest’s best.

Through these efforts come the 2006 rendition of Saggi, the Long Shadows “Super Tuscan” style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Shoup has invited the talents of the Tuscan winemaking father and son team of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari to craft the wine using grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills and Alder Ridge vineyards.

The added bonus of this wine is an additional year of age in the bottle.  The 2007 has been released, but the silky smoothness of the 2006 is showing through with increasing balance and contemplative layers.

Dark cherry aromas and flavors combine with a hint of nutmeg in this Super Tuscan style blend. An elegant entry in the front of the mouth reveals refined tannins with focused concentration, enhanced by the wine’s silky mouth feel and lengthy finish.

This wine is regularly sold for $36.99, but is available to wine club members for only $31.99!

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The very recently released DiStefano 2005 Meritage (a blend with roughly equal parts Merlot, Cab Sauvignon and Cab Franc) will do well to calm down for a little while.  We just sampled it for the first time at a recent trade event, and it was a bit warm and just slightly tight…  characters that will rest into the darker fruit structure underneath with a short bit of aging (just 2-6 months).  To be sure, it was delicious and balanced.  The 14.9% alcohol is a high mark in winemaking (a ranting discussion about the creeping alcohol levels in wine can be found on another blog) but knowing this ahead of time can help you match this wine to the occassion you desire.  Drinking this wine conjures up feelings of structure, warmth and relaxation.  Enjoy accordingly!

DiStefano Meritage Label

The release notes mention:

One of our boldest Meritage blends, the 2005 is full of robust flavors. Lots of black berries, blueberry, caramel and spice. Delicate aromas of violet and sweet cigar balance and undertone of dusted earthiness. The palate is alive with juicy berry flavors and wooded spices. Mature, round tannins give great structure to this wine, with a touch of oak giving way to a long, toasty finish. Drink now thorough 2012.

Hillary Sjolund,
Winemaker

“Meritage” is a coined and trademarked wine marketing term used to identify specific Bordeaux-like blends now that we’ve agreed to follow the laws that prevent wineries from simply labeling it “Bordeaux” like they did in the 70’s.   The Meritage Association guides use of the term, which can be used to identify either red or white wines, although Meritage white wines remain quite obscure.  The reds are created from blends mostly using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Carmenere. 

DiStefano Winery in Woodenville was born not so long ago from owner Mark Newton’s passion.  His original releases bore his last name until questioned by the older Newton winery of California, giving Mark the perfect opportunity to rename his winery after his soon-to-be-wife Donna DiStefano, and to issue the first DiStefano Sauvignon Blanc as a part of his wedding gift. 

This wine is regularly sold for $16.99, but is available to wine club members for only $14.99!

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There’s a lot of Malbec out there nowadays!  Once a relatively obscure grape grown in France’s Cahors region (and still blended in Bordeaux style blends in France or around the world), Washington is now growing quite a bit of it!  Barnard Griffin, Beresan, Columbia Winery, Dusted Valley Vineyards, Fidelitas and many more wineries are making single-varietal examples nowadays.  In each case, the somewhat-drier, darker-fruit characters show through with enough light spice to create a match for ultra-flavorful foods such as Mexican, Spanish, Indian and Cajun fare. 

Bodega Lurton MalbecBut it’s Argentina that has developed a world-wide reputation around Malbec.  The economics help…labor is cheap and so is the transportation to get it up here to North America.  What we receive are outstanding wines at great value, including the delicious Bodega Lurton Reserve Malbec we just discovered at a recent trade tasting event. 

Bodega Lurton is just one of five countries in which the Frenchmen Francois and Jacques have stretched their winemaking arms.  Since the late 80’s Francois has handled the business end while Jacques has created the wines from grapes grown in France, Chile, Portugal, Spain and Argentina. 

This particular example is a feather in the cap of great red value wines, with a dry finish allowing the light spice to smoothly flow off the palate.  Ultra-fine tannins help dry out the palate when oily fats are involved, making this wine a great match with sausage dishes.  It’s also immenently quaffable when a craving for a glass of red hits you.

The winery expounds:

“Malbec finds its most typical expression in this wine. After aging in oak, the wine is bottled and placed on the market after six months, or even a year, so that it can continue to age It is a fine and elegant supple wine. Malbec, the great traditional grape variety of Argentina, gives wines with remarkable depth of color and lots of body. We have selected a raw material that allows us to produce structured wines, enhanced by aging in oak.

The body is a deep ruby red. The complex nose shows notes of spice and meat with a hint of toast. On the palate, the balance is subtle with very fine tannins giving it an aging potential of several years. It is a wine that can be enjoyed young with red meat dishes or in a few years with game dishes”

This wine is regularly sold for $12.99, but is available to wine club members for only $11.99!

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Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.