When it comes to dessert, some wines pair beautifully and some are themselves dessert. You'll find everything from chocolate wines to port here, all for less than $25 a bottle.
A phenom on local retail shelves over the past year or so has been the proliferation of so-called chocolate wines. They're not fermented from chocolate, of course, but rather are infusions of chocolate with red wine and cream. One we've seen all over the place is Cocoa di Vine, a Florida product from Opici Wines of Auburndale. We find this concoction too cloying to drink straight, even well chilled, and advise trying it — provided the combination appeals — on the rocks instead, producing something reminiscent of a White Russian cocktail.
Another family of sweet sippers are those wines commonly called late harvest and ice wines. Whether or not the grapes have been allowed to freeze on the vine before harvest, these late-season white wines tend to be highly concentrated. The best not only are sweet but also complex. All of them should be served cold and in a tiny glass. One we admire for its balance of sweet and crisp with lovely floral and herbal accents is Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese from Austria, a wine blended from chardonnay and welschriesling grapes intensified by the effects of botrytis, or noble rot, which is the natural agent behind many of the world's most acclaimed dessert wines.
When it comes to chocolate and wine, we prefer ours separate. We also prefer our chocolate dark — in lava cakes and mousses, even in profiteroles and crepes drenched in chocolate sauce — and our paired wines of the gutsy red school. Two of our favorites are the Joel Gott 815 Cabernet Sauvignon from California, a deeply complex cab we characterized in our review of the 2009 vintage earlier this year as luscious and feisty, and the 2009 Mettler Family Vineyards Lodi Zinfandel, which we described here earlier this month as a stunning, complex and full-bodied blend of old vines zin, a little petite syrah and a smidge of cabernet franc. It's no accident that both of these wines include dark chocolate in their taste profiles.
If fruit, fresh or baked into tarts or cobblers, is your finishing course, you can't go wrong with a sparkling wine. One of the best fits is prosecco, owing to its ebullient fizz and citrusy overtones, and one of the best of those is La Marca Prosecco, an outstanding wine from Italy's Veneto region. This light and lively sparkler is good enough to drink on its own, too, either before or after dinner.
If cheese is the way you like to follow a meal, the natural pairing is with a rich and pungent port or a true Champagne like Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. Two of our favorite after-dinner ports are Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Porto from Portugal's Douro Valley, an intensely grapey fortified wine that makes a muscular match for strong cheeses, and Warres Otima 10, a tawny port aged 10 years in oak to yield a nicely nuanced and intensely nutty sipper.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel. For an index and archive of reviews, go to pictograph.com.