Just Desserts: sophisticated sweet wines worth the splurge

Just Desserts: sophisticated sweet wines worth the splurge

(Illustration: Jack Dylan)

Sweet wines generally get a bad rap. Even avid wine lovers tend to dismiss them as overly expensive, cloying or lacking in refinement. Yet the only wine I ever awarded a perfect 100-point score was a sweet Château d’Yquem 2001 Sauternes from Bordeaux. It was profound, powerful and exquisite. At a tasting of sweet wines—from Mediterranean muscats to Canadian icewines to Australian “stickies”—the quality of almost everything I tried was astounding. Most types are made from grapes that have lingered on the vine until they’re slightly raisiny, resulting in high sugar content, concentrated flavours and low juice volume (the same goes for frozen grapes pressed for icewines). In some cases, the wines are then aged in barrels for anywhere from three months to 40 years. The labour-intensive process accounts for the famously high price of sweet wine. But they aren’t always expensive, and the value is generally excellent, with each bottle presenting a range of flavours as complex as any pastry chef can conjure up. They make a terrific dinner party gift, paired with rich cheeses (port and blue is a no‑brainer), or sipped solo instead of dessert. Here, 10 great sweeties at the LCBO.

Blandy’s Five-Year-Old Bual Madeira
$24.95 | Portugal | 93 points
An impressive example from the eponymous Atlantic island, this is long-aged in gently heated barrels for a complex nose of coffee, raisins, wood and walnuts. It’s medium to full bodied, with a fiery core of acidity, tannin and 19 per cent alcohol. Sip with dark chocolate. 750 mL. Vintages. LCBO 11049

Cambas Mavrodaphne From Patras
$9.40 | Greece | 89 points
Lightly fortified to 15 per cent alcohol, this Greek dessert wine offers terrific value. It pours amber-brown, with a rich nose of barley, candy, molasses, dried figs and walnuts. It’s medium to full bodied, smooth yet piquant, with a hint of tannin. Lovely with nuts. Excellent length. 750 mL. Vintages. LCBO 178004

Château des Charmes 2007 Late Harvest Riesling
$21.95 | Niagara-on-the-Lake | 91 points
Among Ontario’s best late-harvest varieties, this one is mid-weight, medium-sweet and smooth, with aromas of peach, pineapple and petrol character. Acidity offsets the sweetness and combines with a lower alcohol content (just 10.5 per cent) for an air of delicacy. 375 mL. Vintages. LCBO 432930

Commandaria St. Nicholas
$18.95 | Cyprus | 91 points
Long-aged in barrels this lightly forti­fied dessert wine—made in Cyprus for at least a millennium—pours tawny brown. The nose is raisiny and molasses-like with some walnut tang and licorice. It’s very sweet yet built on an acidity that provides an orange-tangerine freshness. A penetrating wine. 750 mL. Vintages. LCBO 692491

Graham’s 2005 Late Bottled Vintage Port
$16.95 | Portugal | 90 points
This port is delicious, with a fragrant nose of blackberry jam, cedar, licorice and milk chocolate. It’s full, soft, creamy and warm, with mild, gritty tannin—a great introduction to the sumptuous character of fruit ports. Serve with fruit trifle, chocolate or blue cheese. 750 mL. LCBO 191239

Inniskillin 2007 Vidal Icewine
$49.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 92 points
Inniskillin is a world leader in ice­wine, capturing three golds at the 2010 Canadian Wine Awards. The ripe vintage has golden colour and a rich nose of papaya, peach and honey. It’s thick yet burnished by vibrant orange acidity. Outstanding length. Serve with crème brûlée. 375 mL. Vintages. LCBO 551085

Le Dauphin de Guiraud 2003 Sauternes
$24.95 | Bordeaux | 91 points
This barrel-aged sauternes is made from grapes dehydrated by botrytis, a fungus that causes the grape to shrivel, intensifying its flavours. It delivers huge apricot, mushroom and orange peel aromas and is full-bodied with surprising delicacy. Excellent length. 375 mL. Vintages. LCBO 190496

Quady Essensia Orange Muscat
$13.95 | California | 90 points
Cultivated to approximate the dessert muscats of the Aegean Islands, muscat grapes produce lightly fortified sweet wine that blooms with orange, licorice and tea spices, plus a hint of ginger. It’s full bodied, thick and a touch sugary, with a dry finish. Serve with strong, soft cheeses. 375 mL. Vintages. LCBO 299552

Stratus 2008 Red Icewine
$39.95 | Niagara-on-the-Lake | 91 points
Ontario is a pioneer in red icewine, a new genre that pairs with chocolate. Stratus’s cabernet franc, cab sauvignon and syrah blend has a nose of cherry-strawberry jam and vague dried herbs. It’s thick and creamy, with sourish acidity and heat cutting the sweetness. 200 mL. Vintages Essential. LCBO 56689