A perfectly-balanced dessert wine menu does not just happen: much thoughtfulness and love goes into it before its vibrant siren song emerges at your table, beckoning you to sample a naughty sip. I had the good fortune to sit down with Andrew Bresnik, Wine Director of Bricco della Regina Anna and learn how a well-rounded dessert wine menu is born and how you can work your way through it.

Bricco is a delightful neighborhood wine bar and bistro tucked

The California Wine Club

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

into the charming urban promenade of Seattle’s Queen Anne area. Chef and owner Kevin Erickson started the place in 2005, inspired by travels though Italy’s Piemonte and Barolo regions, as well as a well-known New York enoteca. Bricco offers artisanal cheeses, cured meats and a host of seasonal and local delectables, accompanied by a fantastic wine list influenced by Italy, Washington State and other gems Andrew might come across. The interior’s dark wood coziness allows you to warmly settle in as you gaze upon an impressive floor to ceiling wine cabinet running the length of the tables – with a wise glass partition to keep out those gazing just a bit too longingly. Casually upscale, Bricco is a wine-lover’s alternative to the local pub when meeting friends and loved ones.

Andrew, who grew up in the restaurant business after starting off as a bus boy in his Aunt’s restaurant at the tender age of thirteen, climbed onboard the Bricco train in October and always offered dessert wines verbally to his patrons. But as people started asking more questions and slowly started dabbling into the dessert wine world, he felt the need to offer a printed dessert wine menu to aid people in decision making. But what to offer from the array of options out there?

“Dessert wine is still a relatively small niche here in Seattle, “ Andrew says, “I think this is the number one Port consuming city in the U.S., probably due to all the cold, rainy nights, but that is the extent of many people’s dessert wine repertoire.” Although he gets many requests, especially from young women, for a “sweeter” wine alternative to heavy or tannic reds, people still have a misconception about dessert wines in general. “Many people think anything termed as a ‘sweet’ wine is bad or cheap due to their past experiences. The term ‘dessert wine’ might even conjure up something overly synthesized, “ Andrew laments. He loves dessert wines and likes to encourage his customers to learn more, especially those who want something fun or unique.

In that spirit, the formal Bricco dessert wine list just came hot off the press in January. Andrew and I walked through it in hopes of helping you navigate just such a wine list on your next dinner out.

Organized from lighter to darker, both in color and intensity, this lovely menu also offers an assortment of accompanying desserts to round out your meal’s finale:

1) 2006 Vietti Moscato d’Asti
2) 2006 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui

Both of these selections are not super complex and are quite pleasant. These Moscatos paying tribute to the wine bar’s Piemontese heritage are a great introduction to the dessert wine realm: refreshing, floral, slightly sweet easy to drink. Andrew suggests they could even double as aperitifs.

3) 2003 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes
Ah, Sauternes. I personally love a glass of this AS my primary dessert. This one is very fruit-forward with not as much botrytis as most sweet wines contain, lending it an earthier quality. Tropical fruit aromas greet you with this lovely choice.

4) 2005 Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
Muscat was my first foray into dessert wines. Muscat is a versatile grape and this one is a traditional French dessert wine: refreshing with apricot and peach aromas. Andrew says this is a little darker than most Muscats, but as soon as he tried it, “”it blew my mind.” Quite a recommendation.

5) 2000 Poggio Salvi Vin Santo del Chianti Classico

This traditional Italian wine consists of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes, which are harvested and hung to dry in barns until the grapes shrivel. As we discussed in last month’s article, drying out grapes releases the water but concentrates the sugars. Slightly oxidized, this wine offers caramel, fig, date and other dried fruit aromas. Andrew suggests this one to those who are a bit more bold with dessert wines, as it is not super sweet.

6) 2004 M. Chapoutier Banyuls

This late harvest Grenache is from the South of France. They fortify the grapes to stop the fermentation of yeast, thus halting all the sugar from being “eaten up” to create a dark red, not overly sweet wine. Aromas of plums and dried cherries abound and this is another wine that Andrew suggests could be an aperitif. Grenache tends to have a higher alcohol content and tastes peppery. “Charming” is how Andrew describes this particular Banyuls.

7) n/v Porto Kopke 10 year Tawny Port
You’ve gotta have a Port on the dessert wine menu, as a rule. And this one is from one of the oldest Port houses in Portugal. Yum. For more on different Port types, see this past article.

8) 1979 Bodegas Toro Albalà Don PX Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva
Yes, Pedro Ximenez is actually a grape and not a winemaker. This one is “amazing” according to Andrew. The grape is grown in Montilla in Spain and shipped to Sherry where it is usually used to sweeten the sweeter styles of Sherry. Placed on mats in the hot Spanish sun for three days, the grapes become almost like raisins - all concentrated full of sugar. Originally a white grape in color, this wine is surprisingly black. Why? To be considered “Gran Reserva”, a wine must be stored a minimum of two years in oak and then at least three years in the bottle to oxidize it. Andrew believes this one was left even longer in the oak, producing the lovely black elixir.

As out tour through the wine list concluded, I asked Andrew his parting thoughts on dessert wines. “I love dessert wines,” he says, “There is such a variety of different characteristics worldwide and I especially love the stories of how they are made; how often some accident, unpredictable weather pattern or twist of fate ended up making some of the best wines we have.” Slowly but surely, wine directors like Andrew are breaking the old stereotypes of dessert wine so that “sweet wine” is no longer a dirty word.

 

Maria Ross is a freelance writer who also runs Red Slice, a branding and marketing agency that helps emerging businesses, including wineries and wine bars, tell their unique story and attract new loyalists. She is based in Seattle.