Succulent Sweet Wines for the Holidays: The Best of 2018

What better time of the year to open a bottle of profusely perfumed, deeply flavored sweet wine than the Holidays?  We’ve tasted a lot of them this past year from Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Washington, and, most recently, the Atlantic Coast where outstanding ones are being made from Virginia to the Finger Lakes.  They are late harvest wines, ice wines, and fortified wines, including Madeira and Port. Suggestions for how to drink these wines can be found in our in depth report Sweet Wines of the World.  The Finger Lakes region of New York has the perfect climate for making authentic ice wines, several of which are evaluated below. Look for much more about this region in our soon to be published report on The Wines of the Finger Lakes.


New York

Anthony Road 2015 Martini Becraft Selection Vignoles (92) $65 Bright golden straw. Sumptuous nose of pineapple and other tropical fruit with tangy botrytis accents all mirrored on a dense, creamy palate. Exhilarating sugar/acid balance.  198 g/L RS

Boundary Breaks 2018 Riesling Ice Wine Finger Lakes ($70) 92 A beautifully made ice wine from Riesling grapes left to freeze on the vine. Vibrant aromas of fresh, ripe stone fruit and tangy dried apricot are mirrored on a honeyed palate that finishes almost dry despite 184 g/L RS. Just 11.8% alc.

Buttonwood Grove 2017 Riesling Ice Wine ($60) 90 This is Buttonwood’s first vintage of ice wine, which was hand harvested the evening of Dec. 14, 2017, at a temperature of 12°.  Medium yellow gold.  Honeyed peach and apple aromas give way to a sweet palate of peach crumble with notes of orange marmalade and honey.  Finishes quite sweet but not cloying.  216 g/L RS

Lamoreaux Landing 2014 Riesling Ice Wine Finger Lakes ($35) 94 Deep yellow straw. An incredibly pure, vibrant wine showing highly complex, tropical aromas and flavors of pineapple, mango, and coconut. Ripe and generous on an admirably concentrated and deeply flavored palate. Finishes almost dry, but there’s 154 g/L RS.Lamoreaux landing 2017 Gewürztraminer Ice Wine Finger Lakes ($35) 92  Aromatically redolent of pineapple upside down cake, the yellow gold ice wine made from vine frozen Gewürztraminer grapes offers outstanding richness. The deeply flavored, highly expressive palate shows ginger bread, lemon syrup, and ripe pineapple. Finishes a tad sweeter than the Riesling.  175 g/L RS

Ravines 2013 Late Harvest Vignoles Finger Lakes ($30) 93 Amber gold. This is a wonderfully opulent and surprisingly refreshing late harvest wine made of Vignoles and a bit of Cayuga. There’s an incredible interplay between the sweet fruit (picked at 40 Brix) and high acidity (16 g/L) that provides a freshness that permeates the wine. Rich, multiple layers of generous flavors of tangy apricot, golden raisins and peach with botrytis notes. 200 g/L RS. It took 3 days of skin contact and all day in a basket press to get just a small amount of juice to make this wine.

Sheldrake Point 2016 Riesling Ice Wine Finger Lakes ($60) 93 Yellow straw. An exuberant ice wine showing succulent, honeyed yellow stone fruit with tropical fruit and botrytis notes. It has remarkable balance and freshness.  Harvested December 2016. 194 g/L RS  Sheldrake Point 2013 Late Harvest Riesling ($40) 93 Dark gold.  Gorgeous, dried apricot and tangy ripe pineapple aroma. Thickly textured, gorgeous depth and richness with rich dried stone fruit character.  Honeyed finish, superb acid-sugar balance. 184 g/L RS  alc 9.2%


Crow Vineyard 2014 Dessert Vidal Blanc Kent County ($25) 91 Reminiscent of perfectly ripe peaches on the nose, this off-dry Vidal Blanc reveals fruit and acidity working in tandem to yield a delicious off dry (23.5 g/L RS) wine.  The creamy textured palate is a highly attractive blend of tarte satin, tropical pineapple, and honeyed, golden raisins.  Well done!

Old Westminster NV Solera Batch No. 1 ($40) 91 A solera style, fortified wine that’s aged in French oak barrels for 5 years. Oxidative in character, it offers off dry, light red fruit with notes of raisins and milk chocolate. Fresh and original. We tasted Batch No. 1, but the winery released its second bottling, Batch No. 2, in late 2018.


Mazza Vineyards 2016 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine Lake Erie ($45) 89Medium gold. Attractive tangy, orange marmalade aromas that are mirrored on a balanced palate with the addition of interesting savory, earthy notes. Finishes almost dry.

Presque Isle 2016 Eskimo Kisses Lake Erie ($30) 90 Alluring, sweet aromas of apricot jam. An attractive, balanced wine offering orange marmalade and toasted nuts flavors on a creamy soft, rich palate. Tangy sweet but not at all cloying. Well done. Made of 100% Vidal Blanc.


Barboursville 2014 Paxxito Monticello ($32) 93 With aromas that recall ripe stone fruit, pineapple, and honey, this is the best straw wine we’ve yet tasted from Barboursville. Traminette, Moscato, and Vidal are air dried for 120 days, then fermented and aged in small barriques for 24+ months. Incredibly concentrated and deeply flavored with late-arriving acidity that counters the sugar and produces a just off dry sense on the 60 second finish.

Glen Manor 2015 Raphaeus ($35) 95 Yellow gold. This sweet Petit Manning is made from late harvested grapes that are frozen and then pressed with only the first cut going to the Raepheus for fermenting 50/50 in new barrels and stainless, which can take up to 6 months. It delivers gorgeous aromas and flavors of honeyed golden stone fruit balanced by lively, tangy acidity. It’s very rich and intense, almost viscous in the mouth and lasts for ever on the finish.  171 g/L RS 13.1% alc.

Linden 2014 Late Harvest Vidal Blanc Virginia ($35) 95 The 18 karat gold late harvest Vidal Blanc from the 2014 vintage is rich in botrytis and fresh in its concentrated ripe stone fruit flavors and ethereal in texture. Although it has 140 g/L RS, juicy acidity gives it a dry finish. Made from vines planted in 1985.Linden 2014 Late Harvest Petit Manseng Virginia ($28) 92 Although from the same vintage as the Vidal Blanc, the thick skins of the Petit Manseng prevent it from being affected by botrytis. It’s less complex as a result but also very rich and creamy with tangerine marmalade and dried apricot flavors complemented by tangy acidity. From vines planted  in 2002.  180 g/L RS

Washington State

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Ice Wine Riesling Horse Heaven Hills ($35) 94 An authentic ice wine picked in mid-November at 35 Brix, then immediately pressed and slowly fermented for 3 weeks. Medium yellow gold in color, the wine is unctuous and creamy with intense, juicy, stimulating stone fruit aromas and flavors. Only the 9th time in 59 years that Ste. Michelle has made an ice wine. RS 190 g/L Alc 9%Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Eroica Single Berry Select Riesling Horse Heaven Hills ($200) 97 Made from 100% botrytis affected clusters in late October/early November at 55-65 Brix, it takes 3 to 6 months for this very high sugar wine to ferment to 7% alcohol. It’s then kept on the lees for a year before bottling by hand. Tangy, dried apricot and whiskey-infused orange marmalade show on the nose. The syrupy-rich palate shows candied stone fruit, carmelized nuts, and a hint of Pedro Ximenez sherry. A unique American dessert wine with some of the highest residual sugar (470 g/L) we’ve ever found in a sweet wine.

Pacific Rim 2016 Ice Wine Riesling Hahn Hill Vineyard Yakima Valley 92Made from very old Riesling vines (planted in 1966), this wine is effusively aromatic and densely flavored, showing notes of honeysuckle and yellow stone fruit accented by hints of orange marmalade and pineapple. Rich and creamy in texture, this is the perfect pairing for creamy white cheeses.  The Hahn Hill Vineyard sits at 900′. Hand-harvested at 40 Brix on December 16, 2016, when the external temperature was just 10°F, this is a true ice wine. RS 220 g/L


Inniskillin 2017 Vidal Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($55)  92 Showing a tangy nose of ripe stone fruit with tropical and citrus notes, the Vidal Icewine shows excellent balance between sugar and acid. It’s rich and in the mouth with honeyed pear, lychee and apricot notes that linger and linger. 255 g/L with 9.8% alc.  Pair this flavor-packed wine with a simple cheesecake. Inniskillin 2016 Gold Vidal Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($85) 95 Fermented and then aged in French oak for 5 months, the Gold Vidal shows outstanding richness and complexity. It offers a perfumed nose, a lush mouth feel, and a liquid floral perfume on the palate recalls tangy dried apricot, orange marmalade, and hints of toasted nuts and spice. 250 g/L RS and 9.5% alc. It’s dessert in a glass and beautiful sipping on its own, but its bright acidity and bold flavors also make it a perfect candidate for pairing with aged cheeses. Inniskillin 2017 Riesling Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($79) 93   The yellow-gold straw colored Riesling Icewine shows its varietal character, offering an exotic mix of ripe white peach, orange blossom honey, a hint of tropical pineapple, and precise citrus-like acidity. It’s vibrant and pure with a refreshing mouth feel and a long, pure, seductively sweet finish.   RS 235 g/L, alc 9.4%. Inniskillin 2015 Cabernet Franc Icewine Niagara Peninsula ($125) 92  Light ruby in color, the Cabernet Franc Icewine delivers aromas of red berries and red plum that are mirrored on an unctuous, brightly flavored palate. Its distinct strawberry character is a good pairing with chocolate, cheese, or creamy berry desserts. Our pairing favorite is chocolate mousse. RS 235 g/L 9.5% alc.


Bründlmayer 2013 Riesling Beerenauslese Heiligenstein Kamptal 93 Medium yellow straw. The beautifully balanced and rich Riesling Beerenauslese reveals a tangy perfume of apricot liqueur followed by a very fresh palate of white peach, honeyed apricot, and lemony acidity. Gorgeous tension between exuberant sweet fruit and bracing acidity. RS 120 g/L

Feiler-Artinger 2015 Gelber Muskateller Ruster Ausbruch Burgenland  95 Light yellow gold. Showing a vibrant, effusive lemon, apricot and nutmeg nose, this is an outstanding sweet wine with impeccable sugar-acid balance. It’s tangy in the mouth with gorgeous muscat like flavors and very bright acidity, finishing dry despite the sugar level.  Feiler-Artinger 2015 Pinot Cuvée Ruster Ausbruch Burgenland 93 Medium yellow gold. A lively perfume of apricot and baked apple is followed by a tangy palate of orange, apricot, and honeyed botrytis. Intense and delicious with bright acidity balancing the wine’s high residual sugar. A blend of 100% botrytis Pinot Blanc, Neuberger, and Chardonnay partly fermented in new oak.

Sattlerhof 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Trockenbeerenauslese Steiermark ($65) 93 Showing nuances of dried stone fruit, this Sauvignon Blanc TBA is decadently rich with a creamy mouthfeel. Its high residual sugar is offset by high acidity, resulting in a beautifully balanced wine. Sourced from handpicked, fully botrytized grapes grown in sand, gravel and limestone soils near Gamlitz. RS 237 g/L alc 9.5%

Tinhof 2015 Weissburgunder Beerenauslese Burgenland 92 Medium yellow gold. Fermented in stainless steel and aged 12 months in used wooden barrels, this sweet wine offers gorgeous fresh and dried apricot aromas and flavors. The palate is rich and creamy with perfect acidity. Lingers on the finish with an ethereal lightness.


Nero NV Walnut Liqueur Thracian Valley ($30) 90 This is a cool weather liqueur with a warm nutty flavor.  Ancient Italian in origin,  it is made from green walnuts infused with Pinot Noir.  Some producers harvest the still-green walnuts as early as June, following Italy’s directive to pick on San Giovanni’s Day (June 24); others wait until September. It works both as an aperitif and in mixed drinks. It is rich and flavorful with 25% alc.


Heinz Eifel 2016 Beerenauslese Pradikatswein Rheinhessen ($18) 89 Yellow straw.  Surprisingly refreshing in character showing fresh apricot and honey aromas.  Lightly flavored for a Beerenauslese. An easy drinking wine that would pair well with Scottish shortbread. 100% Silvaner affected by noble rot.  RS 143 g/L Alc 9.5%  Heinz Eifel 2016 Eiswein Mainzer Domherr Silvaner Prädikatswein Rheinhessen ($32) 91 Showing vibrant aromas of melon and pear, this is a sweet wine with a very creamy texture and complex flavors of pear tart, nectarine, and a hint of dulce de leche. Refreshing and light in character, finishing off dry. A blend of  70% Silvaner and 30% Riesling.   RS 150+ g/L  Alc 10%



Justino’s Fine Rich 5 Years Old Reserve Madeira 89 Medium mohagony. Effusive rum raisin and toffee show on the nose.  Reminiscent of cream sherry with roasted nuts, dates and prunes on a very smooth, lush palate. Lingering finish.  Made from Tinta Negra with a 3 month estufagem and minimum of 5 years in oak casks. 109 g/L RS Alc 19%

Broadbent Reserve 5 Years Old Madeira ($24) 90Alluring mahogany color. A highly aromatic and complex, layered wine showing toasted nuts, cola and hints of orange and red berry on a softly textured palate.  There’s an attractive savory note and bright citrus acidity that adds interest and helps offset the sweetness, so it finishes just off dry. An easy drinking Madeira to sip in front of the fireplace on cold winter nights. Made from Tinta Negra. 105 g/L RS  Alc 19% Broadbent Malmsey 10 Years Old Madeira ($50) 91  An appealing, aged Madeira that’s surprisingly ethereal on the palate, showing refined notes of milk caramel and apple butter with a hint of orange citrus with a refined, silky mouth feel. Rounded and rich, finishing dry with a lingering fruit note.  Made from the Malmsey grape. 120 g/L RS Alc 19%

Port and Port Like Wines

Presque Isle NV Touriga Port Lake Erie ($30) 89  Medium dark ruby. Made from Touriga Nacional, this Port-like wine offers aromas of dark cherry and red plum with tobacco and espresso notes. It has a medium weight, clean palate with fresh, dark fruited flavors and a lingering fruity finish.

Romariz 10 Year Old Tawny Porto ($33) 89  Medium red. Surprisingly fresh and red fruited for a 10 year old Tawny, there’s good balance and straightforward red fruit complemented by hints of roasted nuts and tobacco.  Pair with less assertively flavored cheeses. Romariz Reserva Latina Tawny Porto  ($19) 88  A blend of different Ports aged in oak for several years, the Reserva Latina has an expressive nose of spicy, dark red fruit. Sweet on the mid palate with medium flavor density and finishing dry. Good value in Portuguese Port. Romariz 2012 Late Bottled Vintage Porto ($28) 90  Dark ruby red.  Restrained aromas of sweet, dark red fruit with good richness and density on a firmly structured palate. Layered, expressive flavors of plums and dried cherries with notes of fruitcake, tobacco and leather.  Fine firm tannins balance the wine’s natural sweetness. Aged 5 years in oak. Pair with strongly flavored, hard cheeses. Romariz 2003 Vintage Porto 92  Opaque ruby.  A complex, beautifully structured wine from Europe’s hot summer of 2003. Lively spicy, toasted aromas and a ripe and generous palate with layers of rich, dense flavors of dark fruit, chocolate, tobacco, spice box and a hint of marmalade. Finishes dry and long with still firm tannins. A delicious Port that should be paired with Roquefort and other blue cheeses.

Riebeek Cellars NV Cape Ruby Swartland ($22) 90  This wine from South Africa’s Swartland region offers the rich aromas and flavors of a good quality Ruby Port at a very reasonable price. It offers vibrant aromas and generous, ripe flavors of dark cherry, chocolate, and tobacco complemented by savory notes. It has just the right tannic firmness and a long, rich finish. Made in the style of a Ruby Port from Touriga Nacional and Shiraz grapes, half of which was aged in barriques for 2 years.

Thorn-Clarke 18 Year Old Rare Tawny Barossa Valley ($50) 91 Medium dark red. With a sumptuous nose and a complex and expressive palate, this Tawny Port style wine offers layers of dried fruit, caramel, espresso and toasted walnuts. It has a lush, creamy texture and a lingering, sweet finish.  Made from a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Touriga Nacional aged in old

This entry was posted in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Countries and Regions, Dessert Wine, Fortified, Germany, New York, Portugal, Portuguese, South Africa, Uncategorized, Virginia, Washington, Wine Type and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.