Tag Archives: dessert wine

Moscato Mania

Once in awhile I like to check the search data to see what you really want to know. And, what came in first? “What is Moscato.” Here’s a little info:

Do you have a favorite Moscato brand or Moscato pairing? Help us out!

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How About a Glass of Late-Harvest Wine?

Well – I’m a little late getting this out, but surely you have some left-over pumpkin or apple pie to go with a delicious late-harvest wine!

Here’s what it’s all about:

Far Niente’s Dolce is one of my very favorite examples. They call it “liquid gold”, and with good reason! What are some of your favorites?

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A Really Cool Wine to Beat the Heat: Ice Wine!

While most of the country swelters, I thought it would be refreshing to talk about something really cool – ice wine! enjoy this two-minute video. 


What’s your favorite dessert-wine pairing? 

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Brioche Bread Pudding Paired with Dolce Wine

I had the pleasure of interviewing the Executive Chef and the Winemaker for Dolce a few weeks ago ((Dolce is part of the Far Niente group here in Napa Valley). They put together a delicious pairing: Brioche Bread Pudding with the Dolce. YUM!

Dolce is a late-harvest, botrytized sweet wine that’s made from Sémillon blended with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s exquisite! A glass of Dolce does very well in place of dessert or served with a nice piece of blue cheese or, of course, with this recipe. Don’t worry – the recipe isn’t hard to do. See it here

Anyway, the Winemaker explains how the wine is made and he and the chef talk about pairing the Dolce. Enjoy! 

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What’s This Gunk in my Wine?


Question from Shelly: I have a bottle of port that someone gave me. It’s got gunky stuff just below the bottle neck. Is it okay to drink? 

Reply: Hi, Shelly. Thanks for writing! There’s nothing to worry about when you see that “crust” on the shoulder. It’s quite natural for full-bodied, intense Port wines to throw a significant amount of sediment as they age, particularly when they’re not filtered. In fact, sediment is so much expected and accepted that there’s actually a small category of Port wine called Crusted Port

What it tells me, is that the person who gave you the Port picked out a good one. 

Vintage Port is the top of the line and a tiny part of  the total production of Port. It’s released, unfiltered, after two or three years of barrel age and those lucky enough to own one should plan on aging it at home for at least a few more years before drinking it. There are many of the opinion that you shouldn’t even think of opening Vintage Port until it’s at least ten years old. During those years of bottle age, sediment forms and, assuming you’re storing the wine sideways, it settles there in the shoulder. 

It could also be a LBV (late-bottled vintage) that wasn’t filtered or a Single Quinta (a vintage-dated, single-estate Port but from a lesser year than normal Vintage Port). And, of course, it could be a Crusted Port. Continue reading

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What is Moscato?

Question from Richard: What is Moscato? Some friends served it to me and said it’s really popular but I thought it was awful!

Reply: Richard’s friends are right. According to Market Watch, moscato is the fastest-growing wine variety in the US right now.

Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat (but not Muscadine). With its beautiful perfume of apricot, orange blossom and tropical fruit the muscat grape lends itself to making sweet wine. But sweet wines don’t have to be bad. You can find delicious examples of Moscato or Muscat that absolutely seduce your nose and please your palate because the sweetness is balanced by refreshing acidity – and sometimes it bubbles.

The classic example, Italian Moscato d’Asti is fruity, floral and softly fizzy. It’s light as air at around five or six percent alcohol and can be lovely.

Muscat from southern France, the Beaumes de Venise, is heavier because it’s high in alcohol. The best are sweet and yummy after a nice meal.

A handful of wineries here in the Napa Valley produce delicious Muscat wines. Try the Moscato d’Oro next time you’re at Robert Mondavi winery. Or try ZD’s Muscat Canelli.

But these aren’t the ones flying off the shelf right now. New-world brands like Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge and Yellow Tail are the ones that really move. They’re sweet and evidently they don’t fizz. It sounds like you had a bad example or maybe you just don’t like Muscat. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Botrytis

The mention of botrytis draws very different reactions, depending upon who you’re talking to. 

What is it? It’s rot. It belongs in this year’s harvest vocabulary because there’s lots of it around. 

In my last post I talked about the problems associated with rain and, of course, rot is one of them. Some varieties are more resistant than others: Thin-skinned and tight-clustered varieties are the most vulnerable. We tend to think that tough-skinned varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, will weather a storm quite nicely unless it just goes on and on (which it hasn’t).

However – a friend who grows Cabernet grower told me that she’s had to thin out botrytis in her vineyard so it doesn’t spread. Bummer!

So, there’s that word again. It’s nearly always a bad word, but it does have a place in the world of winemaking. I sent a quick email to Roger Harrison, of RA Harrison Family Cellars, to check with him on his outlook for this vintage. His reply? “I’m the only man in the valley who’s smiling.”

You see, Roger only makes late-harvest, Sauternes-style wine and for that you actually need botrytis! Say what?

Yup! Under the right conditions, it perforates the grapeskins and the grapes start to dehydrate, concentrating the sugar and flavor. And, believe it or not the botrytis, itself, gives the wine a distinctive honeyed character that, once experienced, is never forgotten. Continue reading

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What is Late-Harvest Wine?

Question from Renee: Hi! I was at a friend’s house for dinner the other day and she served a really sweet wine from a small bottle called Dolce. I don’t usually like sweet wine, but this was delicious! She said it’s a late-harvest wine and I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I didn’t ask what that means. What is it? 

Reply: Hi, Renee. Thanks for writing! You have a very generous friend. That’s an expensive bottle of wine – I love it, too – I think of it as liquid gold…

Your friend was right – Dolce is in a category of wines referred to as late-harvest or botrytized wine. If you’ve ever heard of Sauternes, that was the model. This category also includes late-harvest, sweet German wines such as Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). From Hungary, there’s the famous Tokaj. Ice wine (eiswein) isn’t usually botrytized, but it certainly qualifies as late harvest since the grapes are picked and pressed in a frozen state. 

The term is quite literal. The grapes are harvested much later than normal – so late that they’ve begun to dehydrate and, in fact, begun to rot. Botrytis cinerea is famous in the wine world (the French call it the “noble rot”) for compounding the dehydration which concentrates the sugar, acid and flavors. This is because the rot perforates the grape skins and the watery juice seeps out. Botrytized wines have an unforgettable honeyed character, which I’m sure you noticed in the Dolce.    Continue reading

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What is Fortified Wine?

Question from Michael: I think you made reference to “fortified wine” in a previous post. Can you explain what it is?

Reply: Thanks for asking, Michael, and shame on me for tossing wine jargon without explaining it! 

The phrase immediately brings to mind wonderful, often robust, wines like Port, Sherry and Madeira. A bump up in alcohol due to added grape spirits (the spirits are the “fortification”) provides much of the heft. And, my knee-jerk reaction is to also think of dessert wine.

Let me quickly make some exceptions. Fino Sherry isn’t so robust and it isn’t sweet. It’s bone dry and only fortified to 15% alcohol – no higher than a number of warm-climate red wines. It makes a very nice dry aperitif. In fact, Sherry wine, in general, is designed to be dry. When it’s sweet it’s because the winery added sweet wine to dry Sherry. And, Sercial Madeira is tangy and dry.

But those exceptions are still fortified wines because spirits are added at some point. If the wine is meant to be dry, it’s fortified after the fermentation is over. If the winemaker’s shooting for a sweet wine, the spirits are introduced during the fermentation, before the yeast has used up all the grape sugar.   Continue reading

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