I like dessert wines, a confession that should come as no shock to longtime readers. I even like to drink sweet wines with savory food, especially cheese. Sweet wines go well with spicy dishes and those that have some fruit or other sweet elements, but when they're good, they don't need food to complete to the picture. They can be dessert.
So I could hardly contain my delight when Desmond Echevarre, the sommelier at Restaurant Charlie at the Palazzo in Las Vegas, poured von Hövel Riesling Eiswein Mosel Oberemmler Hütte 2002 and Maculan Torcolato 2000 side-by-side with the peach tart for dessert there. See my video for my on-the-spot reaction to them, and a surprise third wine.
It occurred to me that these wines represented two ways to get grapes sweet enough to make rich dessert wines by means other than simply letting the grapes ripen and shrivel on the vine. To make eiswein, the grapes are harvested only after freezing temperatures have turned the water in them to ice. By pressing while the ice is still solid, the resulting juice concentrates both sugar and flavor. To make Torcolato, the Maculan winery in northern Italy cuts the entire branch with the bunches on it and twists several of them together to hang them in an attic and let the grape bunches dry into raisins.
Echevarre heard me describing another technique, used by Mount Horrocks winery in Clare Valley, Australia, to make its unique Cordon Cut Riesling. Winemaker Stephanie Toole goes through the vineyard when the grapes ripen and cuts partially through each branch, or cordon, then lets them hang on the vine until the grapes have raisined. The sommelier mentioned that he had the wine in the cellar, and brought out a bottle of the 2006 to try alongside the other wines.
They were all rich and sweet, but they couldn't have been more different. The eiswein had a green tinge to it, and tremendous nerve from its natural acidity, a brightness that let the citrusy apple and gooseberry flavors sail like a javelin. The Torcolato was the opposite, turning toward tawny in color, with spicy, raisiny aromas from the Vespaiola, Tocai and Garganega grapes in it. It reminded me of an older Sauternes, as it goes to that cigar-box-scented caramel range of flavors. The Cordon Cut struck a beautiful balance, showing the richness of a late-harvest Riesling and just enough acidity to make it feel silky, not jazzy like the eiswein.
That's the world of dessert wines. The good ones are so much more than sugary.