Ports and other dessert wines make great gourmet gifts.

Walnut blue cheese, cranberry cookies… and dessert wines!

It is getting very close to that gifting time… Or do you just want a treat to take along to that house party full of wine loving friends?

Combined with these easy-to-make savoury fruit, nut and cheese cookies, Ports and other dessert wines are great gourmet gifts.

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Half cup salted butter, room temp

Half tsp. fresh ground black pepper

1 cup flour

Three quarters cup walnut bits and crumbs

Three quarters cup chopped dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325’F. Mix cheese, butter and pepper until roughly blended.  Stir in flour, nuts and cranberries until doughy. Form dough into one inch balls and press flat to one quarter inch. Bake 20 –25 minutes until golden around bottom edges. Substitute aged grated cheddar for the blue cheese, if desired – but add an extra tablespoon of butter.

A ‘puttonyo’ is a 25kg basket of botrytised grapes added to sweeten already sweet Aszú dessert wines.  All honeyed lemon and tangerine rind and simmering cake spices Chateau Dereszla 2008 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos (285643) $45.85/500ml from Hungary could be cellared another year or two for each puttonyo to truly develop all of its potential caramelized honeyed tropical fruit complexities.  But who’s going to wait?

The best-known dessert wine is Port – made by adding Brandy to half-fermented wine to stun the fermenting yeasts that have been converting grape sugars to alcohol.  The natural grape sugars are retained lusciously sweet and fruity.

To be called ‘Port’ the wine must be made in Portugal.  But every wine region has their own sweet pretenders made from their best and ripest grapes.

Great dessert wines come with steeper price tags and in a variety of smaller bottle sizes. Frequently fortified with spirits, they are often higher in alcohol than everyday wines.  Sip slowly and savour!

Outside of Mill Bay, on Vancouver Island, Unsworth Ovation (634535) $18.90/500ml is made from 100 per cent estate grown Marechal Foch and blends last years’ wines with previous vintages to achieve rich sweet dusky plum and dark prune flavours with  lingering echoes of cappuccino in the finish.

Vintage Port is made from the wines of one single, exceptional ‘declared’ year and bottled after only two years in cask.

Dark purple in colour and very true to the real grape flavours, typically – Vintage Port should be matured for at least 10 years before drinking… but who wants to be typical?

Awarded an average of 96/100 by the Wine Spectator. Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast et al. Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port (350687) $48.95/375ml really delivers with ripe black berry fruit aromas and cherry, raspberry and blackcurrant flavours that finish with a twist of anise and dark chocolate.

Aged longer before release and lighter in style, Tawny Port is more caramel in colour and flavour and ready to enjoy any time. Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny (565705) $23.65/500ml is effortlessly rich with aromas and flavours of caramel, honey, orange rind, dried apricots and figs. Great with Walnut, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Cookies – magnificent with pumpkin or pecan pie!

Australians call dessert wines ‘stickies’. Made primarily from Grenache and Shiraz grapes, aged an average of 8 years, Hardy’s Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny  (478537) $22.50/750ml is a delectable Australian pretender.

Like many more affordable imitations, it doesn’t quite have the ‘grip’ and cleanly acidic finish that are the hallmarks of the finest tawny dessert wines. Try it over ice with a twist of fresh squeezed lemon!

Sweet dessert wines also include some Sherries. Undoubtedly the best known, Harvey’s Bristol Cream (215483) $16.49/750ml is often dismissed derisively by sophisticated wine geeks.

Made from three types of sherry – Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso, all created from the Palomino grape – then sweetened with Pedro Ximénez. Just because this is Grandma’s favourite sipper, it isn’t necessarily anything less than wonderful.

A locally made homage to the the wines of legendary Madeira – a ‘baked barrel’ kind of Sherry – Cedar Creek Platinum M 2009 (330761) $52.70 is mostly Pinot Blanc fortified with spirits then left in small casks in the Okanagan Valley summer sun to reduce and concentrate for five years.

Sweet and almost salty, it was clearly made for pairing with Walnut, Blue Cheese & Cranberry Cookies.

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