Corkscrew - Sweet!

Warming up to dessert wines

At this very moment, I'm freezing my butt off in 30-degree weather, ?but warming wine is never far from my mind. It takes the edge off a bit and ?then I feel invincible to the cold. The wine that gets you there the fastest ?is dessert wine, high in alcohol and satisfaction. And judging from the amount ?of mail I get from people craving sweeter wines, the subject is apropos to newer ?wine drinkers. Wine snobs drink them all the time, as dessert or with dessert, ?but the masses haven't hugged the really sweet stuff yet. Maybe it's time we ?all drink together, especially when it's cold outside.

Unlike blush wines that contain added sugar or grape juice concentrate, dessert wines are naturally sweet, made with grapes that "raisinate" (when grapes shrivel and sugars become concentrated) before fermentation. The flavor of dessert wines is intense, sometimes overwhelming, and reminiscent of sucking a sugar cube. Like port, the high sugar content of dessert wines keeps them fresh up to a year after opening.

There are four major types of dessert wines, each reaching its sweetness in a different fashion: late harvest, "botrytized" wines, Vin Santo and ice wines. Late harvest wines are currently popular with "new world" winemakers in the United States, Australia and South America. Normally not as sweet as the other types, late harvest grapes stay on the vine after the normal harvest season is finished, gaining a sweeter, more concentrated flavor. The resulting wine tastes more sugary than normal table wines, but it is quite refreshing. Several grapes amenable to late harvest (and other methods) are Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc Muscat (an aromatic grape usually reserved for dessert wines). Each grape exhibits a different personality, so approach each dessert wine variety with an open palate.

Botrytis cinerea (aka "noble rot") is a fungus that attacks grapes during harvest when the weather conditions are warm and humid. Noble rot makes the fruit shrivel and dehydrate, so when the grapes are picked and crushed, the juice is intense with sweetness. Germany and France are experts at deliberately employing this method. Sauternes, a wine region in Bordeaux, France, produces primarily dessert wines and uses Semillon grapes. The Germans use Riesling, and label their botrytized wine "Trockenbeerenauslese."

Italian Vin Santo comes from just-ripe grapes, cut off the vine and allowed to air-dry to concentrate their sugars. This method creates some kick-ass alcohol content, reaching as high as 17 percent (most table wines fall between 10 percent-15 percent). A variation of that method is also used to produce Vin de Paille, an ancient dessert wine experiencing resurgence right now in Europe.

The last method, and probably the least recognized, is Vin de Glaciere, ice wine, or Eiswein — all different names for the same method of freezing the grapes on the vine (or after picking) to concentrate sugars. It produces a wine that is very sweet, but balanced and not overwhelming. The grapes used are normally Muscat, Semillon or Riesling.

White varietal dessert wines — Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Vin Santo — are best enjoyed well chilled at 57-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Red varietals — Zinfandel, black Muscat — should be slightly chilled to 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Often they are sold in half-bottles (375 milliliters), because the rich, almost syrupy contents should be sipped, not slammed.

To test out the dessert wine waters, here are some of my favorite producers: Bonny Doon's Vin de Glaciere, Quady Black Muscat, Librandi "Le Passule" Vino Passito, Inniskillin Ice Wine, Rosenblum Late Harvest Zinfandel, Santa Julia Tardio, and King Estate Late Harvest Pinot Gris.

?The Wine List
?Black Bear Tavern — Bottles of red and white wines every Tuesday ?for $12. 1931 Peachtree Road. 404-355-9089. www.blackbeartavern.net.
?Cafe at East Andrews — Each week, the restaurant offers Wine Down Wednesdays, ?with bottles of wine for half price. Included in the promotion is the "Cellar ?List," so patrons have the chance to sample high-quality wines like Silver Oak ?and Opus One. 56 E. Andrews Drive. 404-869-1132. www.eastandrews.com.

Cheetah — Wine, Women & Thong every third Friday of each month, ?beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Executive Room. The $15 event includes front door ?cover, Executive Room admission, hors d'oeuvres and wine. The next tasting is ?Fri., Jan. 21. 887 Spring St. 404-892-3037.

D'Vine Wine Bar and Shop — Come enjoy a wine event every day of the ?week (with the exception of Sunday). To mention just a few: Monday from ?6-8 p.m. is D'Vine's Uncorked Night, where customers can sample all open bottles ?for $12. From 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, D'Vine has wine tastings of six to ?eight themed wines. Wine Knowledge Wednesdays include classes by expert ?Michael Bryant, trivia and a four-course dinner. 5486 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. ?770-350-9463. www.atlantawinebar.com.

Eclipse di Luna -- Enjoy a wine tasting event the first Tuesday ?of every month from 6-7 p.m. For $10, it includes tapas and bottomless glasses ?of six to eight wines. 764 Miami Circle. 404-846-0449.

Eno -- Blind tasting special offered every Tuesday. Those who ?correctly identify an unknown wine receive a complimentary glass. Restricted ?to Tuesday bar hours, at the bar only. Every Wednesday, Mediterranean ?wine and tapas. $5 a glass, $3 a plate. 6-8 p.m. Also, Eno presents a wine tasting ?special every Thursday. Admission of $25-$35 includes three to five wines ?from different regions around the world served like a flight. 6-8 p.m. 800 Peachtree ?St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

Flying Biscuit Cafe, Candler Park — Take advantage of the Fabulous ?Fixed Price Friday Wine Tasting Dinner every Friday. The $25 event includes ?a three-course meal and paired wines. 1655 McLendon Ave. For info and reservations, ?call 404-687-8888. www.flyingbiscuit.com.

Gilbert's Mediterranean Cafe — Every Thursday, Gilbert's offers ?a tasting of three half-glasses of featured wines with a full glass of your ?favorite pick, along with a cheese platter, for $15, from 6-11 p.m. 219 10th ?St. 404-872-8012. www.gilbertscafe.com.

The Grape — Grape Crush every Wednesday, 5-7 p.m. Wine specials ?and complimentary appetizers. Saturdays, noon-3 p.m., sample six featured ?wines. 4300 Paces Ferry Road, Suite 244. 770-803-WINE.

Haven — Come enjoy D'Vine Sundays at Haven when the restaurant offers $29 bottles from the entire wine list. 1441 Dresden Drive. For more info, call 404-969-0700 or visit www.havenrestaurant.com.

Imperial Fez — Taste wines from around the world paired with Moroccan ?appetizers the first Wednesday of every month. $15. 5:30-7 p.m. 2285 ?Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870.

Inman Park Patio — Every Monday night, wines by the bottle ?are half-off. 1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-659-5757. www.inmanparkpatio.com.

Java Monkey -- Wine tasting every other Thursday on the patio. ?The next tasting — which includes music and chair massage — will be Thurs., ?Jan. 6. Sample featured wines and complimentary hors d'oeuvres. $15. 7-9 ?p.m. 425 Church St. 404-378-5002.

Murphy's — Wine tasting Tuesdays start at 6:30 p.m. Cost is ?$10 for tasting, with $5 off any entree. 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphysvh.com.

Sage — Come enjoy the revival of Wednesday night wine tasting, ?6:30-8:30 p.m. For $13, the event includes light hors d'oeuvres, live jazz and ?a raffle. Reservations recommended. 121 Sycamore St. 404-373-5574. www.thebistros.com.

SoHo -- Every Wednesday night is "flight night." Beginning at ?5:30 p.m., bar manager J.D. Doyle leads participants on a tasting tour of regions. ?For December and January, SoHo embarks on a "Wine Tour Down Under," featuring ?wines from Australia and New Zealand. Prices range from $17-$19. 4300 Paces ?Ferry Road. 770-801-0069. www.sohoatlanta.com.

Spice — Half-priced bottles of wine every Tuesday, 6 p.m.-closing. ?Choose from more than 100 wine varietals. Also, "Sipping from the Vine" wine ?tasting and complimentary hors d'oeuvres every Thursday, 6-8 p.m. $10 ?per person. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.

Star Provisions — Wine tasting every Wednesday, 7-8 p.m. Reservations ?required. 1198 Howell Mill Road. 404-365-0410, ext. 1111.

Tierra -- Bottles of half-priced wine every Tuesday to celebrate ?its fifth anniversary. This special is limited to bottles under $40. 1425 Piedmont ?Ave. 404-974-5951. www.tierrarestaurant.com.

Twist — Every Monday, Twist offers half-priced bottles for ?every item on the wine list, including Dom Perignon. 3500 Peachtree Road. 404-869-1191.

Vine — Each Monday, the complete wine list of more than 160 ?wines by the bottle and 40 by the glass is 50 percent off. Every Wednesday, ?the restaurant offers a tasting of at least six wines from 6-8 p.m. Cost is ?$10, which can be applied to your dinner check to receive $10 off, rendering ?the wine tasting free. Every Sunday, Vine holds a three-course wine pairing ?dinner for $27.95. Reservations are encouraged. 404-892-2393. 1190 N. Highland ?Ave. www.vinerestaurant.com.

Vinocity — Exotic dinners paired with bottomless glasses of wine from ?a specific region every Sunday, starting at 5:30 p.m. Prices vary by ?the week. And Mondays, $5 wine tasting from 6-11 p.m. Three or four selections ?presented like a flight. 36 13th St. 404-870-8886. www.vinocitywinebar.com.

E-mail winelist@creativeloafing.com or fax information to 404-420-1402 at least two weeks prior to event.