Ambrosia was the drink of choice for the Greek gods: a sweet and ethereal wine so magical that merely tasting it could make one immortal.
Ambrosia appears often in classical Greek poetry, but the origins of the word are obscure. Some scholars think it comes from the Greek word for “deathless,” but others trace it to an archaic form of “fragrant” and say it’s related to our word “amber” (which was used as incense in ancient temples).
I can conclusively settle this argument. I have tasted this ambrosia, and I assert that it was a lovely, amber color and was very fragrant, indeed.
How did I find the nectar of the gods? This ambrosia did not come from Greece, but from the tiny subregion of Sauternes in Bordeaux, France.
Sauternes is famous for producing perhaps one the most famous dessert wines — a golden-hued elixir combining luxuriant sweetness with lightness and grace that charm even those who have no sweet tooth.
Oddly enough, the key ingredient to this thing of beauty is a fungal infection. Sauternes is found at the juncture of two rivers, and the morning mist that arises from them creates ideal conditions for the fungus botrytis. The infection doesn’t injure the vines, but settles on the grapes, shriveling them into ugly berries of mold. Unsavoury? Yes, but it’s also magic. The noble rot concentrates the grape’s flavors into what little juice remains, while also adding viscosity and complexity that must be tasted to be believed.
Chateau Guiraud Sauterne Blend, 2005 — Delivers lots of botrytis spice, with lemon tart and cooked apple. It’s a full-bodied wine, with loads of cream and vanilla and an intense tropical fruit and honey aftertaste. Long and viscous, with a layered and beautiful spicy finish, it’s hard not to drink it now.
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What about late harvest wine? Late harvest is a term applied to wines made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual. Late harvest is usually an indication of a sweet dessert wine such as late harvest zinfandel or late harvest Riesling. Late harvest grapes are often more similar to raisins, but have been naturally dehydrated while on the vine. This makes for an extremely viscous product with a raisiny taste. Of course, some late harvest wines are better than others. I like this wine; it is a term that I like to call easy (meaning easy to buy, easy to drink).
Herzog Reserve Late Harvest Zinfandel, 2007 — The Late Harvest Zin draws on the rich, concentrated fruit from 70-year-old vines in Lodi’s Watt’s Vineyard. A well-balanced aromatic blend of blackberries and strawberries with 9.6 percent residual sugar and just 9 percent alcohol, the wine can be served as an aperitif or at the end of a meal.
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Of course, there is always fruit wine, though not many are kosher. The one I have tried and enjoyed is called Rimon Pomegranite wine. Keep in mind that this beverage would not be considered wine according to traditions because grapes are not being used. The question is, can this wine be used for Passover for the four cups of wine? Someone will have to answer that for me.
Rimon Pomegranate Wine — This is a sweet, yet light wine, with fruity aromas and bright cherry flavors. Notes of chocolate and lush pomegranate flavors linger on the finish. The lingering taste is especially noticeable. I recommend serving it alone or with desserts and soft ripe cheeses.
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Ice wine (or in German, Eiswein) is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that were frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterward. Sadly, there is no truly kosher ice wine out on the market. Realize, I am talking about the North American version of ice wine from Canada, not from Austria or Germany. Although, as I have written in the past, Golan Heights winery makes a lovely ice wine-style wine out of Gewurtztraminer (They freeze the grapes).
Yarden Heights Wine (Gewurtztraminer Icewine) — This is a bright gold wine with silvery glints, deliciously sweet nose, honeycomb and preserved glace citrus fruits. It has a fabulous intensity in the mouth, unctuously sweet but with a spear of acidity to cut through the sweetness. This wonderful wine should be bought whenever possible.
Who knew that dessert wines could be so fantastic that I would write about them. Then again, if you love wine as much as I do, you will try anything at least once.
(Uriel Marcovitz, a Downtown Pittsburgh restaurateur and recognized wine expert (who dabbles in beer) can be reached at email@example.com.)