I love dessert wines, and not because I was a Kool-Aid junkie as a kid. I love them because of how they subvert a lot of the conventions of wine in general.
I got a fresh hit of this the other night at a dinner a buddy of mine threw to celebrate buying a cellar from a guy in Germany who had a couple of strokes and had to stop drinking. This gentleman, Ludwig Balz, had spent 40 years collecting dessert Rieslings called “Trockenbeerenauslese” (which means, roughly speaking, “hand-selected, late-harvested berries dessicated to almost pure sugar by bunch rot”). Now the whole collection’s in San Francisco at Dee Vine Wines on Pier 19.
So let’s consider how these wines, known as “TBAs” for short, knock down stereotypes.
Riesling is pretty pale in color, right? Well, the TBAs we had at dinner the other night were not pale. They were not even close to white. They were gold-, caramel-, and Coca-cola-colored.
Wine is supposed to smell like fruit, right? These wines smelled of dried dill, fabric softener, marshmallows and motor oil. I mean they smelled divinely of these things, along with apricots, roasted chestnuts and caramelized walnuts.
You know how Riesling is generally pretty thin stuff? These flowed like maple syrup.
Dessert wines get drunk after a meal, right? We drank these TBAs as perfect complements to some cheese, a fois gras appetizer, and a main course of fancy chicken and potatoes. (Okay, we had some with dessert, too. But you get the point.)
Best of all, there is no way on earth to make wines like these to order, the way so many wineries in so many countries are making Syrah and Merlot and Chardonnay to a chemically calibrated standard, like beer, so they can ship it 10,000 miles and sell it at Safeway.
You make one of these babies, you are sending a ship out on the ocean that will make landfall in some other dimension of time and space as a completely different creature. No one can predict what it will be at that moment. I can only salute Herr Balz and my pal Dade for bringing a whole flotilla of these miracles into a harbor near me.
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.