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Hitting the Sweet Spot
By Robert Whitley
Nov 4, 2015
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There is a widely quoted statistic that about 75 percent of all Champagne consumption in the United States occurs in the final two months of the year, over the prolonged holiday season.

But there is one other category of wine that is even more of a holiday novelty: dessert wine.

Americans don't give premium dessert wines, aka stickies, much love or respect until the season of elaborate feasts are upon us. The good news for those who produce top-notch dessert wines is that the sweet spot for stickies is just around the corner.

With that in mind, I can confidently recommend three of North America's finest dessert wines, including an unusual stickie from Virginia. That would be the Barboursville Vineyards Paxxito, a passito-style dessert wine made from the moscato ottonel and vidal grapes.

The passito method, which involves drying the harvested grapes on specially designed racks, is common in Italy but almost unheard of in the United States. The process of drying the grapes concentrates the sugars and produces remarkably intense aromas and flavors. The 2010 Barboursville Paxxito retails for $32 for a 375-milliliter bottle and is worth every penny. This is a wine that can be cellared for decades.

Dolce is America's answer to the fabled dessert wines of France's Sauternes and Barsac regions, areas of Bordeaux that routinely produce the botrytis mold, or "noble rot," that concentrates the sugars and gives Sauternes and Barsac their distinctive flavor profile of apricot, peach and honeycomb.

Dolce imitates the Sauternes and Barsac blend of sauvignon blanc and Semillon, but does not strive for botrytis, preferring a late-harvest style that is much more predictable from vintage to vintage. Dolce is America's finest dessert wine. The 2009 Dolce in 375-milliliter bottle retails for $85.

Dolce is rivaled in quality and intensity by the beautiful Icewine of Inniskillin, produced from frozen grapes grown in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, Canada. The process of making wine from frozen grapes originated in Germany but has become a specialty of the Canadian wine industry. Allowing the grapes to freeze before picking dehydrates the fruit and concentrates the sugars and flavors.

Inniskillin's 2013 Vidal Icewine in 375-milliliter bottle retails for $55 a bottle. The Inniskillin 2013 Gold Vidal Icewine is a hefty $85 for a 375-milliliter bottle.

What these three stickies have in common besides impressive concentration and sweetness is exquisite balance, each with enough acidity to keep the wines fresh and prevent them from developing the cloying character that puts many wine enthusiasts off sweet wines.