You may or may not recall the song by Campbell and Ledbetter:
Well, when I was a young man never been kissed
I got to thinkin’ it over how much I had missed
So I got me a girl and I kissed her and then, and then
Oh, lordy, well I kissed ‘er againBecause she had kisses sweeter than wine
She had, mmm, mmm, kisses sweeter than wine
(Sweeter than wine)
Well, it is time to discuss some sweet wines, perhaps you know them as dessert wines. Some can be consumed any time you want. Some are destined for the waste basket, or maybe a sauteed chicken dish. And some are quite good!
My personal experience with sweet wines began in college. I am not referring to the pop wines, but to a few aperitifs, that were introduced to me by friends. I learned to enjoy both Dubonnet on the rocks with a twist (from a girlfriend), or a Campari and soda before dinner (from a frat brother). Another option I soon learned to enjoy was a dry sherry (also from girlfriend).
But please fast forward to a visit to Portugal, in search of vintage ports along the coast. Thanks to my travel buddy and fellow golfer, Mr. Mike for introducing me to this expensive habit. If you remember the story, we ended up purchasing several vintage ports, most of which I could not afford today!
F&W: Tawny ports are labeled by the average age of the barrels that go into the blend. That blend of younger wines with, in this case, barrels as old as 15 years, creates a caramel, cherry, and toasted walnut complexity.
One of my favorites of late is the passito. We first tasted it in a Lafayette restaurant, then tried to buy it. Mike had to special order it from a boutique wine shop in the Marina. Once in a while, I can find it at Trader Joe’s. Try it, and though sweet, it goes well with a less sweet dessert like an almond cookie or apple tart. F&W: The unctuous Passitos of the Sicilian island of Pantelleria are made from partly raisined Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Ben Ryé, one of the best, has a flavor that recalls a tarte Tatin made with apricots.
I actually stayed two nights in Sauterne, in the Bordeaux region of France, while cycling. And I tried several Sauternes while there. Perhaps it was too short a period in which to acquire a taste? Very sweet! But it is a cute little village, perfect for cycling and friendly people. The locals there are quite proud of their wine.
Going back to the sherry, per F&W: The Gonzalez Oloroso sherry spends 30 years in partly filled oak casks before release, a fact that makes its highish price actually seem like a bargain. And what those 30 years of wood and oxygen and time have wrought is a sublime experience: Think dried figs, espresso, caramel, and dark chocolate. A little pricey but worth a try.
But I saved the best for last, the might Tokaji from Hungary. F&W says: Hungary’s Tokaji reached the apex of its fame when France’s King Louis XIV referred to it as vinum regum, rex vinorum (“wine of kings, king of wines”). Today’s Tokajis are still extraordinary, as this (2014 Oremus) subtly sweet example, with its tangerine-apricot-nougat flavors and thrilling acidity, makes perfectly clear. We each bought a bottle, mine is still somewhere. I am sure Mr. Mike drank his long ago. We spent the better part of an afternoon in search of the best.
You are now blessed with enough sweet wine information to be considered armed and dangerous. My suggestion, once we can mingle with friends again, is to buy a bottle, bring it to a group dinner, and pair it properly and try it. You might really enjoy it.