Dessert wines for Christmas fare

If ever there was a need for us all to pay a bit more attention to wines which otherwise get little, it's at this time of the year as we count down to the festivities which provide us with an annual excuse to over-indulge - to pig out on puddings, on chocolates, smelly cheeses and nuts, on pates, dried fruits whatever ... as well as do justice to the mains.

To cope with all these trimmings the answer is it to accompany them with what the English traditionally call pudding wines, or, what we at this end of the earth know better as sweet, or dessert wines.

And just for good measure (and the chocolates) a couple of Aussie fortifieds of the same ilk.

The dishes, the nibbles and these wines are, quite literally, made for each other, matching whatever degree of sweet and rich that you can throw at them.

Yes. They do come in small (375ml bottles) which can cost as much if not more than a normal (750ml) bottle of wine. But the upside is they are wines that, because of their very nature, are used more sparingly.

When we talk dessert, as opposed to the more specialist fortifieds, we are talking wines based mainly on riesling, but including semillon, gewurztraminer, sauvignon blanc and other white varieties which have either been picked late when they can look more like raisins than grapes or dehydrated on the vines by botrytis cinerea, the so-called noble rot.

Either way a high level of sugar is retained as it can be also by air-drying the grapes (rarely used in this country) or by freezing out the water, as in the so-called ice wine process.

By whichever method, some of the dessert wines that we do produce are among the finest in the world. In fact, Jancis Robinson, the grande dame of wine, wrote earlier in the year that she had just tasted the finest Marlborough wine ever to pass her lips - Framingham's 2011 F Series Riesling Auslese which "knocked the spots off wines a range of equivalent wines from Germany, the grape's homeland".

Framingham is, of course, one of the best known producers of such wines in this country with nine now on the shelf - six of them I note with five-star ratings in Michael Cooper's latest Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines.

While it is wines such as this, and others from Fromm and Forrest Estate in Marlborough, Pegasus Bay in Canterbury, Dry River and Margrain in Martinborough, and Ngatarawa in Hawke's Bay that set much of the pace, there are also plenty of others from which to choose.

The secret is to avoid those which match the "sticky" tag which is still unfortunately attached to many wines that do not deserve it.

"Sticky" describes wines which have a cloying rather than a clean finish, which is what you should be looking for.

Also look for wines which are sweeter than the dishes with which they are being served. And when they are, ensure they are chilled.

Some suggestions:

Trinity Hill 2009 Gimblett Gravels Noble Viognier, $34
One of the few sweet examples of this variety produced in New Zealand. Beautifully honeyed, dried apricot flavours make it a great match for fresh fruit salads. Clean finish.

Osawa 2011 Noble Hawke's Bay Gewurztraminer, $28
A luscious spicy, honeyed wine, one of two expertly assembled for this new Japanese producer by Rod McDonald. The other, which also smacks of ginger, is a late harvest.

Saints 2009 Gisborne Noble Semillon, $20
A hangover from the Montana era in Gisborne this still represents great value for money. A generous, lightly honeyed, tropical-fruited tipple that has wide appeal.

Framingham 2011 Noble Riesling, $40
Only half the grapes were infected with botrytis and part of the blend was barrel-fermented. The result is a lush and absolutely gorgeous wine that hints of marmalade.

For something to go with the chocolate, the fruit cake and whatever, look for a Rutherglen muscat from Australia.

The Southland Times