Sweet Surrender

February 12, 2013
Vendange Institute 440 Albert Street
Reported by Larry Woods

For the first time in several years, Guild members and their guests had an opportunity to enjoy a wine tasting event devoted exclusively to sweet wines. Each attendee was given their own personal plate of cheese (Stilton, Cambozola and Balderson 5-year-old cheddar), Lindt 70% cocoa chocolate and nuts (pecans and almonds) as matches to the various wines.

The first flight included four different bubbly wines, served in order of increasing sweetness. The crowd favorites were the two frizzante wines (fine small bubbles) that were made from Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains. The $18 Clairette de Die was characterized as “fun in a glass”, with fresh fruit (nectarine) aromas and flavours. The $15 Moscato d?Asti had peach and apricot aromas and flavours, and matched well with both the chocolate and pecans. The sweetness and low alcohol content (5.5 to 8%) in both of the Muscats was a result of stopping fermentation well before completion by cooling or filtering. Moscato d?Asti is an excellent brunch wine as it is low in alcohol (5.5%) and matches very well with both egg dishes and fruit. The $71 Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec was readily identified as Champagne, with its bready, toasty nose that resulted from the wine resting on the lees in the bottle for an extended period.

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual wine of the flight was the Hinterland “Ancestral” (100% Gamay), which had a beautiful intense pink colour. After the first flight of wines had been tasted and discussed, a surprise guest, Mr. Jonas Newman, was introduced. He is the winemaker and co-owner of Hinterland wines in Prince Edward County. It was fascinating to hear Jonas talk about how he made the Ancestral. The fermentation was stopped before completion when the desired combination of sweetness and alcohol was achieved. The fermentation tank was sealed, and during the sixteen hours needed to chill the tank to stop fermentation, the carbon dioxide captured in the tank produced the bubbles in the wine. This contrasts with the secondary fermentation method for Champagne, in which the sweetness in the final product is determined by the amount of liquid sugar that is added at bottling time. Jonas also had lots of interesting comments about the challenges of growing grapes and making wine in Prince Edward County, where this is still a very young industry.

The last nine wines were served in order of increasing sweetness, based on sugar content information supplied by producers or the LCBO. Of the two golden coloured wines in the second flight, the clear crowd favorite was the $15 Huxelrebe Auslese (late harvest). An earlier vintage of this wine had been selected as “best value” wine in the Guild?s “Sweet Decadence” event in March 2006. It had an apricot flavour that was described as “pure”. About a third of the group preferred the $71 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes, which took a while to open up, and had more complexity on the nose, including the aroma of “expensive leather”. This wine was made with botrytis-affected grapes individually picked in four separate passes through the vineyard.

Of the three dark ruby coloured wines in this flight, the group favorite was the approachable $17 Graham?s Late Bottled Vintage Port, which had delicious sweet dark fruit flavours with chocolate notes, and was a wonderful match with the Stilton cheese, known as a classic match. Port is made by fortifying the wine early in fermentation process, which stops fermentation, preserving much of the sugar from the grapes, and typically increases the alcohol content to around 20%. The rare Bellum El Remate wine, one of only 960 bottles made, was described as warmer and softer, with flavours of dark red fruit, Christmas cake and an intriguing spiciness that likely resulted partially from being aged for four years in 40% French oak, 40% Chestnut, 10% Cherry and 10% Acacia barrels. According to the producer, “Bellum El Remate is fermented naturally to 12%; once fermentation is finished, the skins are distilled to make a grappa that is used to fortify the overall alcohol content to 15.5%.” The Recioto della Valpollicella had dried dark fruit aromas and flavours that resulted from drying the hand-picked grapes from September until January, then making a wine from the dried grapes, and stopping the fermentation early to preserve sweetness (before the wine can fully ferment to become Amarone, which is said to have been discovered by accident around 1936 when a winemaker neglected to stop a fermenting Recioto).

The first wine of the final flight, Walnut Brown Sherry, was just as described in the tasting notes of the producer, Williams & Humbert, “Very sweet oloroso. Dark mahogany, almost ebony. On the nose, dried nuts and faint aroma of raisins, muscatel and toasted sugar. Smooth and velvety with a warm palate owing to its alcohol content. A long finish.” This wine is still a great bargain at $14 (up from $11 three years ago). Unlike Port, Sherry is fortified with brandy after fermentation is completed. This Sherry was made with dried sweet grapes.

The final three wines were all popular and all were around the same price (~$60 per 750 ml). The Tokaji Aszu from Hungary had lovely flavours of fruit and honey, with pleasant “waxy” notes, good balance and a long finish. Tokaji Aszu wines are made by macerating a sweet paste of hand-picked botrytis-affected grapes with base wines, with the sweetness determined by the number of buckets or “puttonyos” of the sweet paste added. The Vidal Icewine had more acidity than the other two wines and had lovely apricot fruit flavours and good complexity (including baked apple notes). It was suggested that this seemed more like a late-harvest wine than an icewine, perhaps because our palates were overwhelmed by the huge amount of sugar we had been exposed to at this point in the evening.

The final wine of the evening was the Ortega Trockenbeerenauslese. It was softer and rounder than the icewine and very sweet (215 grams per litre!). The LCBO Vintages catalogue of January 6, 2007 said of an earlier vintage, “This multi-award winning wine is made from the seldom seen Ortega grape, a cross between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. Ortega’s full-flavoured nature and very bright fruitiness make it a natural for creating dessert wines. Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) is the German designation for totally botrytis-affected wines, similar in style to Bordeaux’s Sauternes. This sweet, ripe, soft and very approachable full-bodied wine is an excellent dessert unto itself, or serve it with mature cheeses.”

It was a great pleasure for me to lead this tasting for an appreciative and enthusiastic group of participants and to share this opportunity to taste thirteen sweet wines in various combinations with cheeses, chocolate and nuts.

First Flight

  • Ancestral, Prince Edward County, VQA Ontario, Canada, 2012, Hinterland, $22.15
  • Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec Champagne, Reims, France, NV, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, 38307, $71.20
  • Clairette de Die Tradition, AOC, Rhone Valley, France, NV, Monge et Granon, 305474, $17.95
  • Moscato D’Asti, DOCG, Piemonte, Italy, 2011, Fratelli Ponte Vini, 305847, $14.95

Second Flight

  • Huxelrebe Auslese, Pradikatswein, Pfalz, Germany, 2007, Anselmann, 681445, $14.95
  • Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port, DOC, Porto, Portugal, 2003, Symington Family Estates, 191239, $16.95
  • Chateau Guiraud Sauternes, 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes, France, 2006, Chateau Guiraud, 563452, $75.00
  • Bellum El Remate, DO Yecla, Spain, 2006, Bodegas Senorio de Barahonda, $15.86 (500 ml)
  • Recioto della Valpolicella Classico, DOCG, Veneto, Italy, 2006, Gieseppe Campagnolo, 84079, $29.95 (500 ml)

Third Flight

  • Walnut Brown Sherry, DO Jerez, Spain, NV, Williams & Humbert, 437467, $13.95
  • Royal Tokaji , 5 Puttonyos Aszu, Tokaj, Hungary, 2007, Royal Tokaji Wine Co, 972836, $19.95 (250 ml)
  • Limited Edition Vidal Icewine, VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario, Canada, 2011, Magnotta, 587154, $29.95 (375 ml)
  • Ortega Trockenbeerenauslese, Pradikatswein, Pfalz, Germany, 2006, Anselmann, 909960, $32.95 (375 ml)