From Fruity to Fizzy, Sweet Wines Kiss Autumn Desserts
Do you remember the days before sugar? Since the 16th century, when sugarcane was transplanted from the East to the New World's tropical climes, our daily diet has been sprinkled, spooned, spun, poured and permeated throughout with sugar.
But before sprawling sugar plantations and candy aisles, mankind had only two ready sources of sweetness: honey and fruit.
Harvesting honey has its drawbacks. So, to satisfy their energy requirements and sweet tooth, ancients turned to the most sugarful of all fruits - the grape. The grape repaid the confidence: it adapted quickly and grew where no other crop could; it resisted disease and endured pests; and if placed in a covered urn and ignored for a few days' time, would magically transmute into a nectar fit for the gods called wine.
Wine "mellowed by age and sweet as honey" as praised by Homer in the 8th century B.C. became even more prized as civilization advanced from sun-rich Greece into the cooler reaches of France and Germany. With world colonization, wines stabilized by sweetness withstood ocean voyages and filled cellars in Asia and the Americas. Edgar Allen Poe's horrific tale "The Cask of Amontillado" reminds us that New England social status required a private stock of Sherry and, well into the 20th century, retiring from the dinner table to Port and cigars was considered the apex of culture and gentility.
In fact, the all-encompassing dominance of dry is a recent trend in the wine world and one of the most ill-advised.
"Sweeter for the sweets" is a cardinal guideline of wine and food. Wine is packed with acid. When paired with a sweeter dish, a drier wine - no matter how delicious on its own - will taste sour and hard. Honey-Baked Ham, Turkey with Cranberry Sauce, the tropical fruit flavors in "Floribbean" cuisine, all require delicately sweet wine, such as Vouvray, Mosel Kabinatt or American Riesling from California, Oregon or New York.
This article, however, is not about delicate sweetness. This article is about the mouth-coating, eye-ball popping, laughter- provoking, sweeter-than-kisses sweetness of dessert wine.
Take, for instance, Italy's favorite fizz, Asti Spumante. Bursting with flavor like a ripe nectarine, Asti is an exuberant complement to fruit desserts, such as peach pie or a raspberry tart. Martini & Rossi is a widely available choice, ($11.95).
For less froth and more complexity, look to Asti's big sister, Moscato d'Asti from producers Saracco and Marchesi di Gresy ($14.95).
Bubbly wine also aids the ascent of airy desserts. At Spruce restaurant (see Page 1), sommelier Jurgen Jandausch pairs Moscato d'Asti with a trio of fruit sorbets. For the dirigible-like weightlessness of angel food cake or souffle, select the richest of all bubblies, a sweet Champagne labeled Sec or Doux, such as Moet & Chandon "Nectar" or Veuve Clicquot "Green Label" (about $45).
For simple festivity, fill a parfait glass or Champagne flute with lemon sorbet. Insert and remove a chopstick to form a tunnel through the sorbet. Dash with green creme de menthe, splash with Asti, top with a mint leaf and dig in.
Vanilla or honeyed desserts find a common denominator with the vanilla-like flavors imparted to wine by barrel aging. …