Sticky whites

Newcomers often prefer wines (mostly whites) with a touch of sweetness; vino veterans tend to move through tough, tannic reds and bone-dry whites … and out the other side to seriously sweet wines. The natural sugar in wine can be concentrated in several ways, including leaving grapes on the vine to shrivel, allowing them to freeze while on the vine (a risky business totally at nature’s whim), or by freezing the grapes artificially after harvest. The goal is also to produce wines that are more than simply syrup — that have a degree of acid-based liveliness to give structure to the sweetness. Think the vaunted Sauternes from France or the revered Tokays from Hungary. This balance was just what Omniboire’s panel looked for in its investigation of unfortified sweet white wines.

Wine pros are especially critical when it comes to these wines lest, I suspect, they be accused of being soft on “stickies,” as the Aussies call them. Such severity was reflected in our scores. Out of 10 wines tasted (blind, as usual), only six made the necessary 13/20 point cut — and this in the perfect environment for wines with (or as) dessert: Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro. Coco’s Philippe Placé graciously accepted a panel position as did Robert Robles of Virtuoso Selections and Stephen Etheridge of Domains & Estates. Prejudices were revealed, desserts were consumed — including a fantastic dark-chocolate truffle filled with passion fruit, mango, and more — and much mitigating water was drunk.

A couple of wines that came close deserve mention — if only because Omniboire has a soft spot for Moscato d’Asti and Beaumes de Venise. The 2008 Beni di Batasiolo Bosc dla Rei Moscato d’Asti got good comments (“fresh-cut flowers, roses, pretty palate”), just not great scores. “The ladies like it, and you don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy it,” said Placé. Because it’s on many wine lists, Omniboire had actually purchased the 2006 Pierre Amadieu Muscat Beaumes de Venise, but admits that it was disjointed, the nose and the palate having little to do with one another. Yet, the dregs are being drunk as I write, and, critical faculties somewhat suspended, it’s not damn bad. 

2006 Konzelmann Estate Winery Vidal Special Select Late Harvest, Ontario VQA, 375ml, $26

Rich floral, honeyed nose; ripe quince, apricot, and lively, long finish 

Vidal is a grape grown primarily in Canada and the Northeastern U.S., largely because of its cold-hardines. “It had an intense, floral nose and a rich, full mouth feel — but not cloying,” offered Robles. He was seconded by Etheridge, who found it “rich and weighty `yet` agile and mouthwatering.” Placé didn’t like the nose, but said it was “great in the mouth.” Omniboire was all over it, detecting dried apricot, honey, and flowers. 

2006 King Estate Vin Glacé Oregon Pinot Gris,  375ml, $17

Caramel notes on nose; weighty yet lively palate with orange, apricot, and honey 

The producers list the residual sugar at a whopping 19.4 percent. Yet the sweetness wasn’t overbearing. “I really like this,” enthused Placé. “It’s on our wine list and I do it with a Grand Marnier soufflé. Heaven.” Robles thought of “caramel squares” and found it “well-balanced and juicy.” Etheridge claimed honey and apricot — qualities we noticed in most of the wines we tasted. “It gets hard finding new adjectives,” said one taster. Tell me about it.

2008 Celler Piñol Josefina Piñol P Vi Dolç D.O. Terra Alta (Spain), White Garnacha, 500ml, $30

Nutty, caramel on nose; meaty, smoky and nutty 

“It smells like sweet whiskey,” said Placé. “I’d do a ganache … pair it with dark chocolate…” “Good balance,” said Robles (it was one of his wines), but Etheridge noticed a “cooked, smoked” quality verging on rubber. Omniboire, on the other hand, was fascinated by the smoky, meaty, Port-like qualities.  

2007 Carlos Basso Vendimia Tardia Mendoza (Argentina), 500ml, $17

Golden raisin, some toast; floral, honey, and spice, good finish 

This wine, handsomely packaged in a slender 500 ml bottle, is composed of sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris, and viognier grapes in almost equal proportions, all of which have “an elevated sugar concentration obtained by natural dehydration.” Not everybody loved this one. “Nothing special, just kinda there,” Robles said. But Etheridge tasted “golden raisin, nougat, and crème brûlée” along with a little oak barrel on the palate. (It gets six months in French oak.) Omniboire was even more positive: The unctuous apricot qualities (along with a touch of spice, likely from the oak) were perfect with Placé’s petit fours.  

2004 Louis Guntrum Penguin Eiswein Rheinhessen, Sylvaner, 375ml, $59

Honeysuckle, raisin, and quince to start; dried fruit and marmalade to finish 

Yes, penguins appear on the label, perhaps to reinforce the icy part of the equation. Etheridge summed it up nicely: “It’s got orange marmalade and a velvety mouthfeel … not too viscous yet you can feel the weight.” “There’s mineral along with the orange and acidity,” said Robles. Omniboire kept thinking of orange flan.  

2008 Flat Creek Estate Texas High Plains Moscato Blanco, 500ml, $17

Light orange blossom on nose; pleasant but light on palate 

Wine number six squeeked in by the skin of its muscat canelli. “It’s a pleasant, entry-level wine — not going for richness or sweetness … very feminine,” said Placé. Etheridge noted orange blossom. Omniboire called it “not deep.” And that about sums it up.

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