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Treat your sweetheart to balanced sweet wines to celebrate

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

With Valentine's Day just two days away, let those who have not procrastinated cast the first chocolate-covered strawberry.

That said, prompt wine shopping can easily save the day.

PLCB stores offer well-made sweet wines aplenty. The best versions balance lush, natural fruitiness with vibrant, refreshing acidity to stir all the senses with passion.

Oddly enough, a benign mold — Botrytis cinerea — plays a crucial role in producing many of these delicious gems. Also referred to as the “Noble Rot,” Botrytis cinerea appears with predictability only in vineyards with consistently damp, foggy nights followed by warm, brilliantly sunny days.

The Botrytis mold attacks and shrivels the fruit by removing moisture. The resulting raisin-like grapes retain concentrated sugar levels to create the final wine's sweetness. But sweetness alone does make a fine wine.

The fruit must retain ample acidity to offset sweetness with freshness. Regions featuring infertile, stony soils, often laced with limestone provide the best conditions. As the vines toil and struggle, the grapes avoid the over-ripening that diminishes adequate acidity.

Botrytis-affected wines make terrific desserts by themselves. But with ripe blue cheeses, dried fruit, bittersweet chocolate or chocolate-covered fresh fruit, the proverbial whole delivers much more than the sum of the parts.

Delay no longer. Pick up a bottle of the following to share with your sweetie:

Located in France's Bordeaux region, Sauternes features ideal sweet-wine terroir. Its dazzling Botrytis-influenced wines command eye-popping prices around the globe. Half-size bottles typically cost nearly $100, and collectors willingly shell out over $400 for a half bottle of the famed Château d'Yquem.

Across from Sauternes at the confluence of the Garonne and Ciron rivers, the lesser-known Loupiac appellation also enjoys the Noble Rot's blessings. Ghostly mists descend each night and then gradually burn off with the brilliant morning sun.

As the grapes slowly ripen each fall, vendangeurs make numerous painstaking passes through the vineyards to pick only shriveled, Botrytis-affected grapes. After slow fermentation, aging in previously used oak barrels adds complex aromas to support the wines' forthright fruit.

Because of its relative international obscurity, Loupiac's terrific wines sell for a fraction of Sauternes. Try the beguiling 2010 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet, Loupiac, France (Luxury 46949; $13.99 for 500 milliliters).

The property's 60 acres of vineyards unfurl on sunny, south-facing vineyards overlooking the Garonne River. The vines average nearly 50 years old, and, typical of Loupiac, the grapes include mainly sémillon (95 percent) with sauvignon blanc (3 percent) and muscadelle (2 percent).

The wine's light-gold color unfolds honeysuckle, ripe pineapple and mango aromas. Ripe, pure pineapple and honey flavors balance with zesty acidity in the lingering, fruity finish. Highly recommended.

In eastern Bordeaux on the Dordogne River, the Monbazillac appellation produces sweet wines with lush fruitiness and complexity generally a notch more concentrated than Loupiac. Try the 2009 Château Tirecul La Gravière “Les Pins,” Monbazillac, France (Luxury 39662; $21.99 for 500 milliliters).

Owners Claudia and Bruno Bilancini and their team pick individual grapes by hand to ensure high-quality results. Muscadelle (50 percent) leads the blend followed by sémillon (45 percent) and sauvignon blanc (5 percent).

The wine's “old” gold color offers honey, pineapple and peach aromas. Ripe, lush apricot, pineapple and honey flavors balance brilliantly with fresh acidity. The seamless, delightful finish lingers enticingly. Highly recommended.

Prompted by Communism's demise in 1990, well known British wine writer Hugh Johnson joined a small group of investors to found Royal Tokaji in Hungary. The group sought to resurrect Hungary's long tradition of sweet, Botrytis-affected wines made from local varieties.

Despite extremely difficult conditions in 2010, they succeeded admirably with the 2010 Royal Tokaji Mád Cuvée “Late Harvest,” Tokaji, Hungary (Luxury 46826; $21.99 for 375 milliliters.). Rain persisted throughout the growing season without the benefits of ample, offsetting sunshine. Mother Nature rendered much of the fruit useless, despite plenty of Botrytis.

Undeterred by adversity, the pickers and winemakers persevered to produce a modest, yet engaging, wine. This blend of furmint (70 percent), muscat (15 percent), and hárslevelü (15 percent) has a brilliant gold color with enticing honey, peach and apple aromas. Vibrant, pure peach, apricot and apple flavors balance with zesty, fresh acidity. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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