Traditional holiday fare is notoriously hard to pair with wine. Between turkey or ham (or sometimes, turkey and ham) and all the trimmings from fruity to earthy, not to mention sweet desserts like pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream, any wine will be hard pressed to perform with everything. A smart host or hostess will put a variety on the table, and let guests pick and choose.
But have you considered serving a dessert wine throughout the meal? The honeyed richness of a late-harvest wine can be perfect with holiday meals. And if your gathering is anything like mine, some of your guests have a sweet tooth. So here are three currently available, can’t-miss California dessert wines to try. (If you can’t find the exact vintage listed here, don’t worry. These producers are remarkably consistent from year to year.)
98 Dolce 2006 Late Harvest Wine (Napa Valley).
With this wine, Dolce cements its status as California’s most consistently great dessert wine. This year’s blend is 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc, and the grapes were botrytized, resulting in its fantastic sweetness. Devastating in apricot, orange, pear, honey, vanilla and crème brûlée flavors with an unctuous, viscous texture and wonderfully clean acidity, it’s certainly one of the greatest sweet California wines in memory.
abv: 13.8% Price: $85/375 ml
96 Macauley 2007 Special Selected Late Harvest Botrytis Sémillon (Alexander Valley).
This is one of the best dessert wines available from California. It’s dazzlingly rich and sweet in orange jam, apricot, honey, buttered cinnamon toast and crème brûlée flavors. The intense sweetness is perfectly balanced with crisp acidity, and despite its sweetness, finishes dry and clean. The grapes are 100% Sémillon.
abv: 14.8% Price: $45/375 ml
93 Navarro 2010 Cluster Select Late Harvest Muscat Blanc (Anderson Valley).
Navarro’s dessert wines always are some of the best in California, and this 2010 Muscat is the latest example. It’s quite sweet in honey, apricot and tangerine flavors, but superbly balanced with acidity and a firm minerality. Also widely available in half bottles.
abv: 8.3% Price: $59
Here are more delicious sweeties to try this holiday season!
95 Nicolaysen Family 2001 Late Harvest Alisos Vineyard Gewürztraminer (Santa Barbara County).
At nearly 10 years of age, this beautiful Gewürz shows how well a good California dessert wine can age. It’s still brisk in clean acidity, but is honeyed and sweet, with nearly 19% residual sugar. It shows rich, exotic pineapple, tangerine marmalade, gingerbread, apricot jam, buttered toast, crème brûlée, vanilla cream and spice flavors, leading to a long, deliriously delicious finish. A heady, flamboyantly sweet wine to drink now. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 9.5% Price: $50/375 ml
94 Envy 2007 Late Harvest White Blend (Napa Valley).
This very sweet wine was harvested at 33 degrees brix, which, for wine geeks, means lots and lots of sugar. Honeyed flavors dominate, fruited with apricots and tangerines. In a word, it’s delicious. Even better, it’s frosted with vanilla and butter, and vital acidity is perfect. A superior Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc that joins the top ranks of California dessert wines.
abv: 12% Price: $45
94 Arrowood 2008 Special Select Late Harvest Saralee’s Vineyards White Riesling (Russian River Valley).
A great success for this bottling. With extraordinarily high residual sugar, the wine is very sweet in wild honey, infused with the essence of oranges and apricots, folded into rich, buttery custard, and sprinkled with vanilla sugar and cinnamon. It’s all balanced with a squirt of lime acid. If that sounds good, it is. Only 95 cases were produced, but it’s worth a search. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 8.9% Price: $35/375 ml