First published in The Irish Times, December 20th, 2016
If you still have room for Christmas pudding after the turkey, tawny or vintage character port compliment it very well; all of those spices and dried fruits work perfectly together. I will certainly crack open a bottle of vintage port on Christmas Day and, in the unlikely event that it is not finished, I will polish it off over the next few days. However, I am not a great fan of sweet foods, so I am happy to leave the pudding to others. Instead, I will also open a bottle or half-bottle of sweet wine and have a liquid dessert instead. A good dessert wine should never taste cloying; it is all about the fine balance of acidity and sweetness.
Many producers vie to make wines with the highest levels of extraction and a hefty concentration of residual sugar. This may be impressive at the tasting table, but such wines can bully rather than charm. Lighter – and often cheaper – sweet wines can be much more refreshing. They go really well with fruit salads and fruit tarts, both lighter alternatives to Christmas puddings, and blue cheese too. Half-bottles are a very good idea, as one glass is usually enough, and if your partner (like mine) doesn’t like dessert wine, a bottle might linger too long in the fridge door. I bought a batch of mixed Sauternes many years ago, and occasionally dip into my stash for a treat. An open bottle or half-bottle will keep in the fridge for a week or more. Moscato d’Asti is a simple but delicious dessert wine. Low in alcohol, it is exuberant, refreshing and sweet, all at the same time. It is possibly a little too light for Christmas pudding but goes really well with fruit salads and tarts, as well as creamy desserts such as panna cotta and pavlova. It is heavenly with some very unseasonal strawberries and cream.
Ice wine is made by crushing still-frozen grapes, leaving behind the water content. Originally a German rarity, they are now routinely made in Canada. They have very high levels of residual sugar and acidity, but I find them overwhelming and enamel stripping. Aldi have a good example if you want to experiment. Sauternes, southwest France and Alsace are just three sources of good French dessert wines. You will also find some superb sweet Rieslings from Germany, Austria, Australia and South Africa.Vin Santo from Tuscany is delicious but very intense, and a 5 Putts Tokaji from Hungary one of the finest of all.
Mitchell & Son have a fine selection of dessert wines in all price brackets from €15 upwards, including a half-bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 2006 for €284.99 if you are feeling flush. I have also recently tried the delicious Castelnau de Suduiraut (€32.99, half-bottles €18.99) from Jus de Vine and Wines on the Green.
My bargain bottle this week is a bit if a cheat – it is a 1/2 bottle. It was too good to leave out and finding a good sweet wine for less than €15 proved beyond me on this occasion.
½ bottle €18, Full bottle €39.99
Very attractive medium-bodied wine with light barley sugar and peaches.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, chq, Sandycove & Avoca, Kilmacanogue
Delectable honey and exotic fruits with a balanced long elegant sweet finish.
Stockists: Redmond’s, Ranelagh; The Corkscrew, Chatham St.; 64 Wine, Glasthule.
Exuberant fragrant light wine with intense Muscat grapes on nose and palate.
Stockists: Fresh Outlets; Jus de Vine; The Corkscrew; Mitchell & Son; Wicklow Wine Co; Donnybrook Fair Baggot St. Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Martins.
€13.95 per ½ bottle
Delicious refreshing dessert wine with luscious pineapple and apricot fruits.
Stockists: Wines Direct Mullingar winesdirect.ie