A sweet suggestion for an after the meal, dessert wine
March 7, 2001
There are few subjects about which local wine lovers know less than dessert wines. That really is a pity because some of the great wines in this world are made to drink after the meal rather than before or with it.
People rarely drink them in Mississippi because the state inventories very few, the package stores ignore what few there are because of limited demand and only a handful of the state's finest restaurants show them on their wine list.
Many years ago we lived in Memphis. My favorite restaurant was Justines, a truly great establishment located in a mansion built in the 1830s. Its waiters wore white jackets and had the grand manner of true professionals. It was owned by Dayton and Justine Smith, both of them wine lovers who, as a result, kept a major wine cellar in the restaurant. They were also personal friends.
One night as we were having dinner, Dayton said he had a wine he wanted us to taste. I was willing, heck I'm always willing to try a new wine. But this wine was different. He served it after dinner and we had never tasted anything like it. The color was pure gold and the flavor was rich, deep and sweet, but not the annoying sweet of cheap wines. It was marvelous and over the next few years we drank many bottles, all of them from that point for which I willingly paid.
The wine was Chateau D'Yquem, considered everywhere as one of the greatest wines in the world and by many wine lovers as the absolute greatest wine in the world.
In my Memphis days, a bottle was in the $25 range, but remember that was a long time ago. I bought the 1971 vintage at $50 per bottle. Today, even the newest vintage comes out at $300 per bottle or more. The older vintages are so much in demand that $1,000 per bottle in a wine auction is not uncommon. One of the most desirable vintages is 1967. We've seen it on a fine restaurant wine list for $1,600 a bottle. D'Yquem is now so pricey, it is not even listed in the catalogs I receive from New Orleans, Washington, even New York wine retailers.
If your wallet can stand it, Martin's Wine Cellar in New Orleans keeps it in inventory. Prepare to take out a mortgage on your house.
Other sauternes are available and many of them are excellent. But they are not D'Yquem.
My other favorite dessert wine is Vintage Port. Do not confuse this with cheap California wines labeled "port." That wine is virtually undrinkable, usable perhaps for cooking but certainly not for drinking.
Vintage Port comes from Portugal and it is wonderful if you're are patient. The wine should be at least 10 years old before it is consumed. Twenty years old is better.
It is called Vintage Port because its producers only bottle it in years of outstanding vintages. For example, in the last 30 years vintages were declared and bottled in 1960, 63, 66, 70, 75, 77, 80, 83, 85 and 91. The rest was blended. As a result, Vintage Port is also pricey. A leading 1970 Vintage port, Taylors, sells for about $140. Their 1977 is listed at $135.
The color is ruby and the flavor is sweet but again, not a cloying sweetness. It is very high in alcohol, about 19 percent, so it calls for consumption in small amounts, a few sips after dinner makes the meal. This is a wine you do not gulp.
Be certain the bottle says Vintage Port and the year. There are blends on the market that carry the winery's name, but they are their lesser wines. Many of them are very good but Vintage ports are the real thing.
We also recommend vintage tawny ports. These are aged in barrels while Vintage Port ages in the bottle. Again, be patient. The great Portuguese tawnies are 20 years old. They are hard to find, but worth the search. Blends, however, can be very tasty even if not quite as good, as long as they are made in Portugal.
Do you like something sweet for dessert? The above are the best.
Those of you who are planning to attend the Riedel glass wine tasting March 29 at Northwood Country Club should know that over three-fourths of the available spaces have already been reserved.
Riedel, considered by most wine lovers as the finest wine glasses in the world, will provide the glasses for this event. Their Mississippi manager will be here and last week, we were notified Riedel's manager for the entire Eastern United States will also attend. That's how important they believe this tasting to be. In fact, Riedel has put the Meridian tasting on their Internet site.
We will taste a chardonnay out of a country club glass, then out of Riedel's chardonnay and sauvignon blanc glasses. The difference should be dramatic. Next, will be a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon out of two Riedel red wine glasses. You'll be amazed at what the proper glass will do for the wine.
Seats for this unusual tasting remain $20 each. You do not have to be a member of the country club to attend. Call 482-0930 for a reservation or send your check made out to Wines Unlimited at Post Office Box 5223, Meridian, Miss., 39302.
Because seating is very limited, all reservations must be paid for in advance.
Stan Torgerson, a long-time Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years.