If you're one of the millions in the planning stages of an over-the-top holiday feast, allow me to throw another log on an already roaring fire. What comes after dinner?
At my holiday table, there is almost always a dessert that's too good to pass up, and often an assortment of cheeses, too. Many hosts will take the path of least resistance and muddle through the dessert and/or cheese course sipping the leftover dinner wines.
There is a better way. Over the years, I've discovered a number of sure-fire after-dinner pairings that have served me well at holiday feasts past. These are but a few.
With rich chocolate desserts I favor late-bottled vintage (LBV) ports. LBV port is reasonably priced. All the top port houses, such as Sandeman, Dow's, Graham's, et al., make them. I wouldn't waste a vintage port on dessert.
Heavily spiced pies and cakes call for tawny port, preferably 10 years old. Older tawnies are best sipped on their own while curled up in front of a fire. Off-dry aromatic whites, such as pinot gris, riesling, muscat or gewurztraminer, also show well with this pairing. One of my current favorites of this genre is Navarro's 2017 Late Harvest muscat blanc.
Salty blue-veined cheeses sing when paired with Sauternes or Barsac. Chateau Rieussec Sauternes, and the Barsac from Chateau Climens and Chateau Coutet are three of my go-to wines from this unique area of Bordeaux. A little bit goes a long way, so buy the half bottle unless you have a big crowd to please. The finest domestic wine in this style is the Napa Valley's Dolce.
Aromatic, savory cheeses make me long for vintage port — the older the better. I currently have the 1963, 1977 and 2000 vintages in my cellar. Oh, what a feast that will be!
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Simonsig 2017 Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose, Western Cape, South Africa ($20) — Simonsig is one of South Africa's top producers of table wines. This brut rose has a small dose of pinotage in the cuvee, though the dominant grape is pinot noir. It shows notes of strawberry and cherry, and it is clean and refreshing, with a frothy mousse, bright acidity and a creamy mid-palate. Rating: 88.
Vallado 2015 Vintage Port, 'Adelaide,' Portugal ($220) — Vallado's 2015 vintage port is dense and richly layered, showing notes of blueberry and raspberry, a hint of spice and impressive length. The tannins are supple and smooth, making this young vintage port extremely drinkable now, although another 10 years in the cellar would do it wonders. Rating: 96.
Black Kite 2016 Pinot Noir, Stony Terrace, Anderson Valley ($60) — Richly layered and showing complex notes of red and black fruits, the estate-grown Stony Terrace from the Black Kite property in the Anderson Valley is an exquisite pinot noir that exhibits exceptional aging potential, a firm backbone and luscious, spicy fruit. Rating: 94.
Duckhorn 2015 Merlot, Napa Valley ($54) — If your ideal merlot is soft and supple (some might even say simple), then you've come to the wrong place. The 2015 Duckhorn is a muscular wine with richly layered dark fruits, a touch of vanilla and firm tannins that make this vintage a serious candidate for long-term cellaring. Rating: 94.
Quinta do Vallado 2015 Tinta Roriz, Douro DOC, Portugal ($79.99) — The tinta roriz grape is prominent in the production of sweet port wine, but more recently, it has gained popularity as a stand-alone dry table wine, and with good reason. It has exceptional aging potential, seductive red-fruit aromas, layers of spice and the capacity to hold its own in the fine dining arena. The 2015 from Quinta do Vallado will improve over the next 10 years under proper cellar conditions. Rating: 94.
Quinta do Vallado 10 Years Old Tawny Port, Portugal ($40) — Young tawny port this complex and elegant is the exception rather than the rule. The Vallado 10 Years Old tawny is well-balanced and smooth, showing fruit notes of prune, dried persimmon and cherry, with a strong essence of fall spices and brown sugar. Rating: 93.
Palmer & Co. Brut Reserve, Champagne, France ($65) — This light and airy Champagne delivers a frothy mousse, notes of crunchy apple and citrus, and a dollop of toasty goodness. Rating: 90.
Decoy 2016 Merlot, Sonoma County ($25) — By Duckhorn standards, the 2016 Decoy might seem a tad light. But this easy-drinking merlot delivers fresh, pleasing aromas of plum and blackberry, supple tannins and a lingering, spicy finish. For the price, it's very solid and a good candidate for the holiday table this year. Rating: 89.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]