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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Dessert Wines

Tasting the Wines of Australia's Moss Wood

Recently I had the opportunity to taste through the wines of Moss Wood. They’re an Australian producer with a history dating to 1969. Their current winemaker Keith Mugford has been making the wines since 1979. Since 1984 Keith and his wife Clare have run the entire operation at Moss Wood. In their time at the helm they have made thoughtful advances such as being up to 75% in screw cap as far back as 2003. They’re located in Wilyabrup which is a sub-section of the Margret River region. We started the evening by tasting a trio wines from four varietal verticals. Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon dating as far back as 1990 were the varietals and each was represented by an example from each of the last 3 decades.

Moss Wood 1993 Semillon – This 20 year old Semillon has an obviously darker hue than the others which is natural for a white of this age. Bits of citrus appear on the nose along with a touch of toffee. Plenty of secondary characteristics emerge on the palate to go along with apple and a boatload of baker’s spice. This wine is still vibrant and alive. It’s a lovely and truly gorgeous example of aged Semillon.

Moss Wood 2003 Semillon – A gentle hint of Petrol emerges on the nose of this decade old Semillon. The palate is filled with a bevy of citrus notes. The finish here is long and fleshy with minerals, spice and pineapple characteristics all in abundance. This wine is delicious and giving but it will continue to evolve positively with more time.

Moss Wood 2013 Semillon – This is the current vintage and it has a suggested retail price of $42. Meyer lemon and lime notes light up the nose of this Semillon. Additional fruits such as white fig are part of the gently layered palate. The finish has good persistence and things end with bits of crispy acidity. Compared to the older vintages this wine is a bit reticent now. Time will open it up and allow it to more fully express its charms.

Moss Wood 1991 Chardonnay – This 22 year old Chardonnay showcases a cavalcade of pure and expressive fruits. There is depth and complexity here to spare. Apple and pear flavors are joined by bits of hazelnut and toast. A bit of butter crème emerges on the finish which has excellent length and persistence. This is a gorgeous wine that exemplifies how fantastic Chardonnay can be when it’s treated appropriately all the way from vineyard to bottle.

Moss Wood 2003 Chardonnay – This Chardonnay has the darkest hue of the trio. The nose shows a bit of candied apple. The finish is fairly long with zippy acidity, minerals and a wisp of crème fraiche. Not quite as fresh or vibrant as either the 1991 or the 2011 but no less interesting.

Moss Wood 2011 Chardonnay – The current vintage, it has a suggested retail price of $63. Lemon custard and orchard fruits mark the deep and layered palate of this wine. Spices galore are present from the first whiff of the nose through the last, lingering note on the finish. This wine is loaded with gorgeous layers of fruit. It’s delicious now but will be even lovelier with time in the bottle. This release will likely get to a similar spot down the road that the 1991 is at today.

Moss Wood 1994 Pinot Noir – Plum aromas emerge from the still vibrant nose of this Pinot Noir along with mushroom and lot’s of secondary characteristics. Sour cherry notes dominate the palate and lead to a lengthy spice filled finish that also shows off black tea and hints of earth. This is a balanced and exquisite example of well aged Pinot Noir.

Moss Wood 2001 Pinot Noir – Red fruit, leather and a hint of smoked meat fills the expressive nose of this 12 year old Pinot Noir. Lots of cherry and strawberry star on te palate here along with hints of earth and mushroom. Minerals and sour red fruits emerge on the finish which has good persistence. Medium tannins that show a pleasing amount of grip and firm acidity speak to the wonderful structure this wine has. It’s delicious now, but certainly has quite a few years of aging ahead of it.

Moss Wood 2010 Pinot Noir – This is the current release, it has a suggested retail price of $62. Red and black cherry character dominates the nose of this Pinot. Red fruits interspersed with black, are key components throughout the palate, along with a well rounded complement of spices. All of these elements continue through the finish which has nice length. This Pinot is still young and a bit tight right now. It needs some time and a few years in bottle will serve it well. That said a few hours in the decanter are highly recommended if drinking it in the next couple of years.

Moss Wood 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon – The fruit on this 23 year old Cabernet has receded and the secondary characteristics have really taken hold. Earth, minerals, espresso and a potpourri of spices are the dominant players here. Chocolate and leather emerge on the finish with some lingering remnants of cherry. If you like your Cabernet Sauvignon aged (and I do), this happens to be an excellent example. It’s beautifully perfumed, loaded with minerals and spice, easy drinking and layered. This is the kind of wine I could hide in the corner with, allowing it to keep me content all night long.

Moss Wood 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is all about cherry characteristics. A combination of red and black cherry flavors dominates the nose and palate. Spice elements join in and continue through the finish where cherry flavors continue to ring out loud and clear. Bits of rhubarb and chicory are present as well. The tannins still have some bite and the acidity keeps things beautifully balanced. This is a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.

Moss Wood 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – The current release, it has a suggested retail price of $105. Red and black raspberries emerge on the welcoming nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry, cherry and spice are all prominent through the layered palate which shows lots of depth. Blueberry, spices and espresso notes dot the finish which has good length. The tannins here are firm but give with some air. This is a young but approachable Cabernet Sauvignon that will improve greatly with several more years of age. It’s a promising wine that will only become better.

After the vertical tasting we moved on to sample a handful of their other releases alongside our dinner at CraftBar. Three of them were blends and they were lovely wines well suited to our meal. But for me the knockout amongst this quartet was the final wine which was paired with dessert.

Moss Wood Ribbonvale Botrytis 2011 Semillon – This wine was slowly fermented and then racked to barrel. It was bottled in January of this year. It’s available in both 375ml ($38), and 750ml ($70) bottles. Mission fig aromas are part of the nose on this lovely dessert wine. The palate is sweet but not overly so with a variety of fruit and spice flavors coming to the forefront. Fruitcake spices emerge on the honeyed finish which has great length and nice acidity. This wine works equally well paired with other sweets or a cheese course.

Tasting these wines in such a setting allowed us to see their aging potential as well as take a look at what the level of consistency is. While there was certainly vintage variation and some stylistic differences as they have made some adjustments in treatment over the years, each varietal had connective tissues within their subset that allowed us to see how they related to each other. The key here is that these wines were all made in a style that allowed their origin in the Margaret River to be showcased along with the vagaries of what each vintage brings. These are not manipulated products but vineyard driven wines that are allowed to shine. Each varietal is shepherded into bottle in a manner that makes long term aging not only possible but interesting and exciting. The Moss Wood wines taken as a whole were quite impressive. They’re fine examples of their place, their respective grapes and their particular  vintages. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had top shelf Australian wine, the offerings from Moss Wood are a perfect spot to leap back in.

Hawk and Horse Vineyards - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon / 2006 Latigo Port Style Wine

Hawk and Horse Vineyards was founded in 1999. Their first release was the 2004 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re a hands-on family owned and operated winery that makes small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and a dessert wine (also Cab based). Today I’ll look at their current releases. The Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit grown in the Red Hills section of Lake County California. This fruit comes from the winery’s 18 acre vineyard which is farmed both Organically and Biodynamically. Hawk and Horse Vineyards is a mountain estate with elevations reaching 2,200 at some points. This offering is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Barrel aging was accomplished over a period of 18 months in a combination of new and two year French oak. 430 cases of this Cabernet Sauvignon were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $65.

Aromas of rose petals, bramble and black raspberries fill the nose of this 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Black and red cherry flavors play a significant role through the palate; black raspberry and blackberry characteristics, both fresh and dried are present as well. The long and impressive finish is marked by cranberries, sour cherries, rhubarb and earth along with dusty dark chocolate and spice. This is a well proportioned Cabernet that has firm tannins that yield with some aeration. The 2007 Cabernet from Hawk and Horse Vineyards is a beautiful wine that drinks well now and will also benefit from up to a decade of aging. If you’re drinking it today, I recommend decanting it for about 90 minutes and pairing it with something hearty for a winning combination.

The Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2007 Latigo is a Port Style wine. This fortified dessert wine was made using estate grown fruit. This wine is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and fortified with varietal Brandy. Barrel aging occurred over 26 months in new French oak. 200 cases of this wine in 375ml splits were produced. It has a suggested retail price of $45.

Red and black raspberry jam aromas flood the nose of this 2006 Port style wine. A compote of berry flavors is present through the palate. Sweet wild strawberry flavors are of particular note. Characteristics of chocolate sauce tinged with caramel, toffee and bits of espresso emerge on the finish which has good length that leaves a lasting impression. This wine can easily serve as dessert all by itself. However it pairs beautifully with dark chocolate as well as cheesecake to name a few options. 

Lake County is a California region that’s been on the climb for a number of years now. There are certain varietals that really thrive there and Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly amongst them. If you like classically styled Cabernet that you can drink now or lay down for awhile made in small boutique level quantities, this offering is for you. Latigo the dessert wine is a perfect counterpoint. Made from the same varietal grown in the same vineyard it showcases a completely different style of winemaking. Both are delicious in their own right and they are more than fairly priced for the quality they offer. These are well worth seeking out.

Pellegrino - 2008 Passito di Pantelleria

Dessert wines come in all shapes and sizes. Port and port style wines are perhaps the most recognizable to the average wine drinker. But just like most growing regions, or counties at least, have their own take on Sparkling Wine, so to do most of them have their own styles of dessert wine. Throughout Italy there are several. One of the grapes often used for making sweeter wines is Moscato. Today I’ll look at a Moscato based wine from Sicily. The Pellegrino 2008 Passito di Pantelleria was produced from 100% Moscato grapes. The fruit was sourced from the family’s own vineyards in Sicily. The vines average 20-30 years of age. This family owned winery has close to 1,000 acres under vine, mostly planted to indigenous varietals. Geographically Pellegrino is located about 80 miles south of the Marsala region. Pure alcohol is added to stop fermentation. Approximately 20% of the grapes used are dried. The suggested retail price for this selection, in standard 750 ml bottles, is $27.99.

Aromas of Nectarine and Apricot with a lighter floral undertone highlight the nose of this 2008 Sicilian dessert wine. The apricot theme continues on the palate along with both white and yellow peach notes. Tangerine and orange flavors chime in as well, helping to produce a rounded and full flavored contingent of sweet, juicy fruit flavors. Both white pepper and nutmeg characteristics are present in the above average finish of this wine; they cling to the back of the throat, leaving a lasting impression.

What most impressed me about this wine is that it has a refreshing quality that is not often present in dessert wines. Way too often dessert wines are overly sweet and cloying, making it difficult to enjoy more than a small portion. The 2008 Passito di Pantelleria is the antithesis of this. Yes it’s sweet and full flavored, but it’s not overly sticky. In fact it’s not hard to imagine sharing a bottle of this wine over a long evening with a friend or two. For a retail price of $27.99 it also represents a nice value. While this wine works perfectly well at room temperature, don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on it during the warmer months of the year. Appetizing on its own, this wine will be an excellent match for soft, ripe cheeses.

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Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards - "Silver King" Port

ll-portI drink dessert wine pretty regularly. Most often it's Tawny or Late Bottled Port from Portugal. After that I'm always curious to taste the different styles of Ports and Dessert wines being made in California. When it comes to the Golden State I most often think of Late Harvest Zinfandel. That style seems to be the most ubiquitous expression in California; not surprising when you consider how much Zin there is. The last few years though I've run across a solid handful of folks making Dessert Wine or Port with Merlot. I was a bit dubious at first, but then I had the chance to taste a couple and I found there are some interesting offerings out there. Today I'll look at one from Lucas & Lewellen. The Lucas & Lewellen "Silver King" Port is produced using Merlot grapes sourced at their Los Alamos Vineyards. To that juice, neutral grape spirits are added. 312 cases of this wine were produced. It's available in 375 ml bottles for $20.

As soon as I poured this wine my senses were engulfed with deep, dark, cherry pie aromas. Chocolate dipped fruitcake notes were plentiful throughout the palate along with bountiful black cherry characteristics that kept resonating. The finish of this Port had a touch of perceptible heat. In this particular case it worked really well and provided hints of Cherry Liqueur. That finish coated the back of my throat with a thick honey-like consistency in it's mouth-feel. This wine could easily have been dessert on its own. I paired it with dark chocolate covered biscotti and found that to be a ridiculously delicious match.

What I like best about this particular port is that it's unique. While the number of dessert wines made from Merlot is increasing it's still a small segment of the whole. The fact that it stands out from the pack is reason enough to seek it out so you can have a different experience. The main reason though is that it's well made and delicious.

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Williams & Humbert Dry Sack 15 Sherry

drysacksolera-botellaThere are numerous designations for dessert wines in the world. In Europe especially, many countries have their own proprietary dessert wines. These are generally made in strict accordance with local regulations. Italy has Vin Santo, Portugal has Port of course  and Madeira which is specific to the Madeira Islands. Spain is home to several well regarded wine regions and has a bevy of varietals that flourish there, has Sherry as their best known entry in the Dessert category. Much like Port and Madeira there are numerous classifications and styles within the broader Sherry category. Each of them can be indicative of production method, aging requirements and even level of sweetness. The one I am looking at today is a blend of Oloroso (78%) and Pedro Jimenez (22%). The Pedro Jimenez is added to sweeten and balance the drier Oloroso wine.

The Williams & Humbert Dry Sack 15 is made in the Solera method. As the name indicates this wine was aged for a minimum of 15 years. The suggested retail price for this Sherry is $29.99

The nose of this Sherry has expressive toffee, hazelnut and spice notes. As you take the first sip, reference point to sweetness come out and play a little bit of a trick on your palate. While this wine does have a nice sweetness to it, it's a touch drier than it seems at first blush. Throughout the palate apricot characteristics play a huge role and are really quite lovely and bold. These are joined by gentler reminders of orange peel, figs, balsamic vinegar, continued hazelnut, and a host of spice notes. The finish of this Sherry is lengthy and clean featuring mineral and tea notes.

What I liked best about this Sherry is how well it threads the needle between dry and sweet. It offers elements of both and thus is a very well balanced wine that will  pair well with a wide array of desserts. Because it isn't super sweet it's also easy to drink well on its own without fatiguing your palate. A truly gorgeous wine, and within the realm of dessert wines, this is a bargain.

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Three Wines For Easter Dinner

With Easter a few days away, everyone is probably worried about what to cook. Personally I'm more vested in which wines to serve, to match those foods. So I decided to find a trio of wines I could recommend. Thus I'm presenting a wine for each of three courses; Appetizers, Main Course and Dessert. moscatoFirst up is the Martin & Weyrich Moscato Allegro. This offering is based on the Muscat Canelli grape. The intent with this wine is to make a Moscato in the Italian style. Martin & Weyrich even used the bottle that is traditional for this in Italy. Alcohol is a modest 7.8%. 65,000 cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.

The nose of this wine is loaded with orchard fruits such as white peach and apricot. A touch of spice also makes its presence known. Throughout the palate the Moscato Allegro is incredibly refreshing. White peach notes continue and are joined by some lighter citrus notes. Honey notes emerge on the finish, which is zesty and full of lingering spice notes.

This Moscato will be perfect on Easter served as a welcome wine, or paired with just about any appetizer. It's light bodied with some pleasing sweetness. What I like best about this wine as the starter is that it won't bog anyone down with too much alcohol or sweetness. It has just enough, and that's balanced by excellent acidity. It's likely your Easter guests will be hesitant to move on to the next wine when they get a hold of this one.

The main course wine is from Two Angels, headquartered in Napa. The divinity2006 Divinity is produced from fruit sourced in High valley. This blend is 52% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 20% Mouvedre and 6% Petite Sirah. Grapes were sourced at Shannon Ridge Vineyards. This blend was aged in a combination of French (70%) and American (30%) oak barrels; 35% of them were new. 500 cases of this offering were produced and the suggested retail price is $25.

Blueberry, plum and raspberry aromas are underscored by touches of vanilla and nutmeg in the nose of this wine. The palate is absolutely loaded with rich, dark, explosive fruit notes that envelop the palate and scream out with unadulterated joy. Hints of white pepper, bright red cherry, and toasty oak emerge in the lengthy finish. This wine keeps beckoning you back to the glass for another sip. Divinity has a firm but yielding structure and excellent acidity.

The question is Ham or Lamb? That's what most people will serve on Easter in the United States. Either way Divinity has you covered and will make an excellent accompaniment. If you're Italian like me and your family insists on serving a heavy pasta dish after the antipasto and before the meat course, have no fear, Divinity has your back. This wine will match well with Ravioli, Lasagna or even Angel Hair with Marinara sauce. It's a delicious wine and will impress both the wine geeks in your family and the novices simply looking for a glass of red to pair with their food.

closDessert is important for any Holiday meal and Easter is no exception. My recommendation this holiday is to go with a Late Harvest Zinfandel. Specifically the 2006 from Clos LaChance. This wine is made from 100% Zinfandel. The fruit is sourced from a specific block of Zinfandel that is grown specifically for this wine. Alcohol is 16%, modest for a Late Harvest Zin. A mere 84 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price is $26.00.

This Late Harvest Zinfandel has a bright nose. Cherries are prominent and are joined by hints of apple that underscore them. Raspberry, strawberry and a host of other berry fruit notes dominate the palate which is full flavored but a touch lighter in body than the average Late Harvest Zinfandel. The finish brings out some chocolate notes, black pepper, lingering light mineral and spice qualities. This Zin can be dessert on it's own or match it with chocolate or berry topped cheesecake. Either way it's a perfect, and slightly decadent way to end a celebratory holiday meal.

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Montes - 2006 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer

The last wine I'm looking at, this week, from Montes is a Dessert wine. As much as I enjoy South American wines, my experience with Dessert montes_late_harvestwines from that region is a little limited. That made me very curious and excited to try a Late Harvest wine from a producer I was already fond of. The Montes 2006 Late  Harvest Gewürztraminer is 100% varietal. Grapes for this offering are from a Montes Estate vineyard in Curicó Valley. This wine saw no oak treatment at all, and was fermented in stainless steel. The suggested retail price for a 375 ml bottle, the predominate size for late harvest wines, is $27.

Apricot and honey followed by subtle vanilla and hazelnut aromas are the most dominate characteristics in the nose of this Late Harvest wine. Gewürztraminer tends to be an exceptionally floral varietal, and this is no exception. Throughout a nicely balanced palate, apricot dominates along with honey and hibiscus notes. The joyful sweetness of this wine is balanced by crisp acidity, which keeps things in check. This offering never crosses the line to become cloying, too often the downfall of Late Harvest wines. White peach emerges on the finish along with a touch of mango, but the honey  notes keep on coming, and pleasingly coat the back of the throat. This wine will be an excellent match for a diverse array of desserts. Cheesecake and Hazelnut Biscotti are the first two that come to mind. However it's balanced enough to be dessert in and of itself.

What I like best about this wine is that's a great value. Late Harvest wines are quite often priced out of most people price ranges. Take a look at what the prices are for some better known Late Harvest Wines. You'll see that this Gewürztraminer from Montes is a bargain. Taste it and you might not care what the price is. While I've looked at four wines from Montes over the last few days, I feel it's important to mention that I find their portfolio to be loaded with well made, appropriately priced wines. I consider them a go to name for value. I encourage everyone to give them a shot.

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Have A Sweet Valentine's Day

There is something about the cold winter months that draws me to Dessert Wines more frequently than in warmer months. With Valentine's Day right in the middle of winter, I think something sweet, and perhaps a bit sticky, could be the right way to go for your holiday libation. Over the last few weeks I tasted well over a dozen Dessert wines. I'll present six of my favorites here today. cl_logotype1Two of the selections I picked are from Clos La Chance Winery. These are distinctly different wines. First up is Nectar. This 2006 Semillion is made in a true late harvest style with botrytized grapes. Fruit was sourced from Clos La Chance Estate Vineyards.  This selection was aged in French oak for 12 months. The suggested retail price for this wine, available in 375 mil bottles is $19.

Nectar from Clos la Chance, is for me a classic California take on late harvest Semillon. The nose is filled with honey and tea notes. The palate has apricot, peach and light mango throughout. All of these characteristics ride above a base of more tea elements. Nectar coats the back of the throat and finishes with a bit of toast and a touch of vanilla. The finish is long and lingering.

The bottom line for me in liking and recommending this wine from Clos La Chance is that it's a sweet, lovely and in a word balanced. Nectar is the sort of Late Harvest wine that for me IS dessert. Sure it can be paired with soft, stinky cheeses and work wonderfully, but there is no need this is a beautiful expression of Late harvest Semillion, and a bargain at $19. If you don't believe that, check the prices on some of the better known offerings.

The second wine I'm recommending is from Cyprus. This area which makes the Commandaria Dessert Wines, is one I have come to have great appreciation for in the last year. The St. John Commandaria from Keo has a suggested retail price of $20.

The nose of this Commandaria has a ton of apricot and a light, subtle touch of balsamic vinegar. The palate features toffee, candies apricot and hazelnut notes. This thick, slightly syrupy wine coats the back of the throat and has an avalanche of honey on the finish. This will be a great match for a ricotta based cheesecake.

What I like best about this Commandaria is that it's a steal. I've had selections from Cyprus that sold for less and quite a few that sold for a lot more. The St John provides tremendous bang for the buck. As these wines from Cyprus are a bit under the radar to the average person you'll definitely make an impression if you pull this out on Valentine's Day.

There are some tremendous dessert wines coming out of Italy. Most of them aren't quite as famous as their French counterparts and thus Italy la_tunella_verduzzo_friulano_bottleisn't as often thought of for after dinner libations. And for my money that's a shame. The wines of Italy are as good as those anywhere. The dessert wine from there I'm compelled to recommend is from La Tunella.

The 2005 La TunellaVerduzzo Friulano is 100% varietal. The wine was aged in 1-3 year old French barriques for 10 months. 2,000 cases of this selection were produced and the suggested retail price, for a 500 ml bottle, is $22.99.

The nose of this wine is filled with both honey and chamomile tea notes. The palate features candies apricot, date and subtle almond notes. The oak on this selection, more than the average dessert wine is apparent. It provides a fascinating and unexpected touch of tartness on the finish. The end result is a firmer, more structured dessert wine than average. I found this wine to be an excellent match for Macadamia nuts that had a touch of sea salt on them.

What I like best about the selection from La Tunella is how unique it is. Yes, it's sweet, but never over the top. As a result of that it'll pair well with a very large array of dessert items.

Shifting back to California, the next selection is from Truett Hurst Winery in Dry Creek Valley. This is a region I feel so strongly about, I've launched an entire site dedicated to it.

The 2006 Dessert wine from Truett Hurst is for all intents and purposes a Port. Labelling laws however forbid them from calling it that. This wine was produced from the same grape varieties used in Portugal for Port. 450 375 ml bottle cases of this wine were produced and the suggested retail price is $35.99.

When I popped the cork and poured this wine into my glass I was hit with an avalanche of chocolate covered cherry notes. The palate is filled with more cherry, both red and black. Kirsch liqueur notes kick in around mid-palate and carry on through the finish which also features lots of black pepper and a touch of bramble.

The highlight of this wine for me, and the reason it's on my recommendation list is that it finds the happy place that bridges Portuguese and California Dessert wines. Elements of both styles are readily evident and they work wonderfully. Pour your Valentine this wine, match it with some high quality dark chocolate, and she (or he) is bound to melt in your arms.

I started with a wine from Clos La Chance and I'm including a second one here as well. Stylistically and content wise they couldn't be more different. This second selection from Clos La Chance is made from Zinfandel.

This Late Harvest Zinfandel is of the Non-Vintage variety. Grapes come from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages. This wine was fermented in stainless steel. 750 ml bottles have a suggested retail price of $25.

The nose of this Late Harvest Zin is filled with Maraschino Cherries. Red and black cherry notes are prominent throughout the palate along with sweet, dark chocolate. A touch of pencil lead also appears. The finish has both white and black pepper, along with nutmeg and a bit of dust. This wine has a firm but approachable tannic structure and is quite sweet, but not over the top.

Clos La Chance has become a favorite producer for me. This Non-Vintage, Late Harvest Zin is as good of an example of why that is as any of their other selections. There is a purity of fruit and a balance here, despite it being very sweet, that some Dessert wine simply don't have. At $25 for a 750 ml bottle this is a steal.

loclhThe sixth and final dessert wine I'm recommending this Valentine's Day is from Locatelli Winery  in Paso Robles. This selection is a Late harvest Merlot. This isn't the first varietal I think of when Late harvest wines come to mind and thus I was particularly curious about it.

The Locatelli Winery Late Harvest Merlot is 100% varietal. It was aged in American Oak for two years. A mere 70 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for $30.

I found the nose of this wine to be particularly expressive. Cherry, leather and apricot notes co-mingle to form an alluring aroma. Taking the first sip I found the wine to be a bit lighter on the palate than I had expected. It was full flavored with cherry pie and honey notes. Hints of apple seeped through as well. The finish brought out Cinnamon, nutmeg and white pepper as well as a touch of sour cherry. This wine will be an excellent match for sharp cheeses as well as dark chocolate.

What I like best about the Late Harvest Merlot from Locatelli is the fact that it showed me a side and style of Merlot I've rarely seen.Interestingly it features some of the elements of Late harvest Zin, but in a lighter stylistic package. A really enjoyable and interesting wine that's well worth making the extra effort to obtain.

You really can't go wrong with any of the wines above. Each of them is well crafted and delicious. So grab one or more of them, and sweeten things up this Valentine's Day and beyond.

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Madeira Tasting - Park Avenue Summer

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend a Madeira Tasting in NYC. Over 50 wines from approximately half a dozen Madeira producers were represented. This is a fascinating and informative way to taste one category of wine side by side. While the history of Madeira is a long one, it doesn't get as much attention from American Consumers and writers as Port often does. Hopefully with time that will change. Madeira can be just as interesting, complex and age worthy as port. Also like Port, Madeira can be made in a number of varying styles. Each producer that was represented was pouring a broad selection of Madeira. Of the producers present several stood out for me. However none more so than Broadbent. From their Rainwater which is a Madeira meant to be consumed young through a 10 year old Malmsey and all the way to their oldest and most layered selections, The Broadbent wines were impressive across the board. A house style was evident that led me from wine to wine like a connective taste tissue. However each wine was distinctive in it's own way. The 5 year old reserve priced in the mid $20's struck me as the top overall bargain. However I enjoyed each one and hope to take a closer look at a couple of them in the future.

The other wine that most impressed me was the Blandy's Terrantez 1976. Among other qualities this wine had an excellent finish that seemed to go on forever. Conversely their 1977 was one of my least favorites of the day. The Barbeito Malvasia 30 year old Special Lot Madeira was another standout for me.

At the end of the day, having tasted over 50 wines in varying styles and price ranges from $15 to $500 there is one absolute. There is plenty of excellent and diverse Madeira available. Regardless of your level of drinking sophistication, or budget, you should have no problem finding one to enjoy.


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Etko Wines - Commandaria - St Nicholas

The second dessert wine from Etko Wines I'm looking at is the Commandaria St. Nicholas. As with any wine region Commandaria offers a variety of dessert wines that have been aged and treated differently. Thus there is something to try a different levels of cost with varying complexity and the like. The Etko Wines Commandaria St. Nicholas is a blend of 60% Xynisteri and 40% Mavro. The suggested retail St. Nicholasprice for this wine is $18. It can be found for a couple dollars less.

The nose of the St. Nicholas is full of fresh apricot and peach with an undercurrent of maple syrup, caramel and sweet burn sugar. From the very first sip through the mid palate, tons and tons of fig notes permeate this wine. Again their accompanied by caramel flavors that ride just underneath that in an almost sly manner. The Finish of this wine continues the fig flavors accompanied by ginger spice, light espresso bean notes and a slight bit of mocha. This wine will be an excellent match for dried fruit, nuts and fairly stinky cheeses.

Compared to the Centurion the St. Nicholas features much fresher fruit flavors. The St. Nicholas offers nice complexity in it's price category. This is a wine to consider as an alternative to Tawny Ports. For the cost it delivers a lot of favor, sweetness and pleasure. It's not overly stick, sweet or cloying though. For the price the Etko Wines Commandaria St. Nicholas is a bargain. If you drink dessert wines, look out for this one. If you don't drink dessert wines regularly this one comes in at a price more than reasonable enough to experiment with. Check it out.

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Etko Wines - Commandaria Centurion

A couple of months back I had the opportunity to try some dessert wines from Cyprus. It was my first experience with wines from this island. Whenever I'm at a large-scale tasting, as I was on this day I keep my eyes open for anyone pouring dessert wines, as they're of particular interest to me. Much like the larger world of wine itself they're made from a wide array of varietals in a host of different styles. I'm going to look at several dessert wines from Cyprus. The first two will be from Etko Wines, which is the oldest Greek Cypriot Winery. Additionally the Etko wines are from the Commandaria region, which is the oldest wine appellation in the world. Wines have been made there since 1,000 BC. Etko Winery itself was founded in 1844. Etko CenturionEtko Wines Commandaria Centurion is a blend of 60% Xynisteri and 40% Mavro. The wine is made from a cuvee ranging in age from 30 to 100 years. Centurion has a suggested retail price of $130. A looked around on wine-searcher and it can be found for around $99. Alcohol is 16%, fairly modest for a dessert wine.

Centurion has an immense nose filled with honey; figs, raisins, apricot and other assorted dried fruits along with gingerbread spice and a hint of espresso bean. The first sips bring out apricot, fruitcake spice, additional fig and date bread notes. These carry on through the mid-palate, which is underpinned by a subtle hint of balsamic vinegar. The finish, which is long, luxurious and persistent in its intensity, has subtle cinnamon notes and hints of chicory, which lend to some earthiness.

Most wine producing regions have a signature style of dessert wine. Some have several. Italy has Vin Santo, France Sauternes and in the US we have late harvest wines. Cyprus has the Commandaria area, which produces some lovely wines. Centurion is a complex, layered and elegant dessert wine befitting its status as a benchmark wine.

At a suggested retail price of $130 this isn't by any means an inexpensive wine. But it's a tremendous wine well worth experiencing. Centurion would be a perfect dessert to serve guests at the end of a dinner party or gathering with close friends and family.

Up Next: Another Commandaria Dessert Wine from Etko.

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