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Save Room for Dessert…Wines, That Is

As New Year's Eve approaches, and wine merchants are being beseeched with requests for Champagne and other sparkling wine suggestions, at, we quietly and ever-so-politely asked one of our favorite wine merchants about his choices for dessert wines to serve at the conclusion of a lovely New Year's Eve supper with friends, before we pop those Champagne corks as the ball drops.

"Start with a late-harvest Riesling (prices vary) if you're not sure what your dessert selection will be," advises Joseph Kudla, a wine manager at Total Wine in Boca Raton, Florida. "A sweet sparkling wine, like a Moscato d' Asti will also work. I've also recently suggested a white port by Offley (about $15) that surprises and delights those who have tried it," he reports. "It's unexpected and goes well with soft cheeses and even some spicy dishes"…and will certainly stand alone if served as dessert.

Other selections include Quady Winery's Essensia, which has achieved a loyal following over the last several years, and Bonny Doon Vineyard's Muscat Vin de Glacière 2007, each in the $20 range. If you're doing it up very elegant, you may want to serve what many consider the ultimate dessert wine, French Sauternes, the crème de la crème of which is Chateau d'Yquem (prices vary from moderately expensive to through-the-stratosphere).

Let your taste and budget be your guide and observe this one rule of thumb: The wine should always be sweeter than the dessert with which it is paired.

For our part, we'll be serving a Vin Santo (in the $25 range), and urging our guests to go ahead and dunk our homemade anise biscotti in this luxurious, mellow wine, as is the tradition in Tuscany.

Whatever you choose to serve, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. Saluti!

Most wine shops carry at least a small selection of dessert wines. Here's a quick guide to the category:

Wines classified as dessert wines vary in grape variety, style, country of origin, and in how their sweetness is achieved. They can be served as dessert or with dessert. Due to their sweetness, they are poured as a smaller serving of 2 to 3 ounces. Generally they are sold in half bottles (375 ml), which will serve 4 to 6 guests.

Fortified Wines: Wines like port, sherry, vermouth and Marsala are "fortified," that is brandy and/or herbs, spices or peels are added to the original wine during the fermentation process. This results in wine that is substantially sweeter, and higher in alcohol, in the 17-20% range, than non-fortified wine.

Late-Harvest Wines: For this method, grapes are left on the vine longer than usual to allow them to develop as much sugar as possible. German Riesling and Gewurztraminer are two of the most of the most popular late-harvest wines.

Ice Wine or Eiswein: Wines produced from this late-harvest method are almost exclusively German and Canadian. The grapes are left on the vine until a frost occurs and the grapes actually freeze, resulting in a more concentrated juice or must to be pressed from the grapes.

Noble Rot: Another late-harvest method, in which the grapes are affected by a fungus, Botrytis cinerea (noble rot), which causes them to become raisin like. French Sauternes is the most famous wine produced by this method; also Tokaji from Hungary and Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Austria and Germany.

Vin Santo: "Holy Wine." Produced from grapes that are dried after harvesting, wine made by this method is most famously the domain of the Tuscany region of Italy.

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