You know that feeling when you get to the end of a great meal and you are perfectly satisfied, but that little voice in your head whispers "I want something sweet"? Swimsuit season is just around the corner, so why not opt for a glass of dessert wine over that decadent dessert? You can surrender to your sweet tooth without fighting your desire. It's a win-win.
How are these wines different from the ones you normally drink? The wines you enjoy day-to-day use grapes that are harvested at their peak. Dessert wines are more concentrated and are made using late-harvest, Noble-rot, frozen or dried grapes. All four methods increase the sugar level of the grapes to create wines with heavenly aromas and seductively sweet flavors. Let's explore how these methods differ from one another.
Late-harvest wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine to become riper and richer than the ones from the regular harvest. These are meant to be enjoyed when they are young. Knife and Fork Inn in Atlantic City has Susana Balbo's Late Harvest Torrontes from Argentina for $12 a glass.
Sauternes or German Trockenbeerenauslese wines are made from grapes affected by Noble-rot. It only occurs when you have the right amount of humidity in the vineyard. Grapes that develop this magic mold slowly dehydrate, which increases the sugars and intensifies the flavors. Because of the intensity of these wines, they can easily age for decades. The Palm in the Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort has the Sauternes-style Dolce by Napa Valley's Far Niente for $169 a bottle.
Ice Wines are made from partially frozen grapes. This concept seems straight forward; frozen grapes can only grow in very cold areas, right? There are a few controversial wine makers who consider it fair game to throw their grapes into a giant freezer to try to get the same results. True Ice Wines are expensive because of how hard it is to get Mother Nature to cooperate. Sofia Restaurant in Margate offers Jackson Triggs Vidal Eiswein from Canada for $15 a glass.
The last process is very simple. You harvest the grapes and dry them on straw mats, which literally turn them into raisins. This is known as Passito or Recioto style. When it's time to press these little morsels there is very little juice left in them so it takes a lot of grapes to make a small amount of this unctuous wine. You can enjoy a glass of Recioto di Soave Classico "Col Foscarin" from Italy for $20 at Luke Palladino's in Harrah's Resort.
Given all that goes into making these sweet little beauties, don't be surprised to find your dessert wine arriving to the table in a smaller portion (and a little pricier) than you're accustomed. Happy sipping!
Anjoleena Griffin-Holst'is Wine Director at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa since March 2006 and is the only female wine director at a casino-resort in the United States. She helped establish Borgata's reputation for its impressive wine selection, which includes more than 40,000 bottles and recently received four separate "Best of Award of Excellence" and two "Award of Excellence" by Wine Spectator's 2011 "Restaurant Awards." Her column will run every other week.