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LEARNING TO APPRECIATE A SWEET END TO A MEAL

One glass of dessert wine contributes around 120 calories to your diet.

One piece of apple pie contributes around 400 calories.

That's a good argument for serving a sweet wine instead of a rich dessert at the end of a meal if calorie counts interest you.

Although it certainly isn't the only argument. Or even the best one.

Dessert wines -- ice wines, late-harvest Rieslings, ports, Sauternes and sweet sherries -- have a charm and presence all their own. When you stop to think about it, some of the greatest and most expensive wines in the world are sweet.

The famous Trockenbeerenausleses of Germany and the Sauternes of Bordeaux sell for more than $100 a bottle and are coveted by oenophiles although, of course, there are many sweet wines that sell for much less. (A late harvest New York State Riesling, for instance, can go for $10 or $12.)

But most dessert wines are relatively expensive, which may be one reason they aren't all that popular or even well-known in this part of the country. "There's not much of a sweet wine market in Buffalo, although Canadian ice wines are popular," says Terry Bechakas of the Hourglass Restaurant, where the wine list is legendary.

"We list quite a few dessert wines but don't sell them all that often," says Mark Turgeon of the Riverside Inn in Lewiston, which has won an award of excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine for the last 10 years. Turgeon recommends ice wines, New York State Rieslings and Beaumes de Venise from France to his customers, he says, but not all of them are happy about it. "They sometimes complain that they are like drinking cold syrup.

"You have to be in the mood for the dessert wines," Turgeon says. "And it has to be the right occasion."

Of course, there may be another reason why dessert wines don't sell out. "The education is not there," says Terry Bechakas. "People start with sweet wines when they are just learning and move along on the sophistication scale to dry wines and never go back." It takes an experienced wine drinker to appreciate the complexity of dessert wines, he adds.

But they are missing a good deal if they don't experiment a little. For the most part, dessert wines are served chilled. And because -- especially at the end of a big meal -- you will only drink a single glass, it's best to buy them by the half bottle.

Sweet wines are usually served at the end of the meal, although in France, Sauternes is served with foie gras for a dynamite effect. I once enjoyed that combination in Bordeaux and remember it still.

And though the wines are wonderful on their own as a sweet way to end a meal, they do pair well with desserts and that's the way they are usually served. Rick McLeod, wine manager of the Premier Group, has a theory about this.

"The sweetness in the food," says McLeod, "draws out the sweetness in the wine. The wine then finishes dry to make an excellent balance. I've tasted this several times and know that it's so."

You can call it a chemical reaction, the wine manager explains, but he thinks it's more than that.

"That's the magic of wine," says McLeod.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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