Matthew Weston of the Royal Palms in Phoenix Talks Dessert Wines
CB: Is there one country that really excels at producing dessert wines?
MW: Austria. Blessed with a wonderful natural environment and a wine-culture there are many great value late-harvest wines from Austria. They tend to be very sweet with a purity of fruit flavor.
CB: If you're new to dessert wines, is there a good way to purchase an enjoyable selection?
MW: Many restaurants offer tasting flights of dessert wines. Like all wines dessert wines can be confusing so getting an idea of what you like before you start buying bottles and cases is probably wise.
CB: Do you need any special glasses to serve dessert wine?
MW: Never let this stop you! Every wine benefits from being served in the proper vessel but even if you do not have special glassware dessert wines complete a great meal. Would you not serve dessert if you did not have the correct fork? Of course not! Pick a glass that allows the wine to show its aroma. Fortified dessert wines do not benefit from too big a glass as the higher alcohol can be a bit off-putting in the larger vessels but you can serve late-harvest and ice wines in Bordeaux glasses and it can be quite delightful to be overwhelmed by all the heady fruit aromas.
CB: What temperature(s) should you serve dessert wine at? How much do you pour?
MW: Port wines and dessert-style sherries should be only slightly chilled (around 55 F). Too warm, and the alcohol becomes too prominent, too cold and the wine becomes bitter, like cold tea. Just below room temperature is a good rule of thumb.
Late-harvest, ice wines, and fortified Muscats should be fully chilled. To fully appreciate the nuances of flavor it helps to let the wine warm up a bit in your glass but most guests love the crispness they get when the wine is cold (40F). Serve these at the temperature you prefer your white wines.
In the restaurant we pour 3 oz. At home I would recommend less (1-2 oz.). This allows your guests to sip slowly and refill with chilled wine.
CB: What prices ranges can be expected for dessert wines and how long can you store a dessert wine?
MW: You can pick up a delicious half bottle of late-harvest wine for $20. This is a great bargain in the wine world compared to the labor that went into creating it and the joy you get out of it. The sky is the limit to how much you spend. How long they last depends on the style. Vintage Port loses flavor in a day or two. Most dessert wines will last longer than a bottle of still wine. A couple weeks is a good bet for most late-harvest wines. Taste frequently to ensure it is still delicious!