Four late summer dessert wines to savor now

With Labor Day right around the corner, summer is officially drawing to a close. But there are still lots of warm, languid evenings to look forward to before we say hello to fall. And while you've clearly figured out that porch pounders are the perfect early evening sipper on a lush summer night, we're betting that you're not as hip to what to savor after dinner at this time of year. Well, dessert wines need not be relegated to savor only when cooler temps arrive; in fact, they're an ideal (and refreshing) way to cap off a late summer meal. What better way to celebrate the end of season than to end your next meal with one of these four perfectly sweet wines?

Hogue Late Harvest Riesling 2009 ($8): Here's a juicy, apple cider-y riesling that completely deserves its rep for being one of the sweeter varietals. The term "late harvest" refers to a wine that's made using grapes picked long after they would typically be considered "ripe," allowing for the development of much higher sugar levels than what you'd find in a standard wine. (Imagine the different level of sweetness you can taste when eating a green banana vs. one that's covered with brown speckles and you'll know what we're talking about). The higher residual sugar content also coaxes forth the most delicious peach, pear, and honey flavors from the riesling, making this wine sublime when paired with a late summer dessert of peach compote topped with creamy vanilla ice cream or gelato.

Mission Hill Winery Reserve Vidal Icewine 2006 ($18): Right about now, we're guessing that you're wondering what the big difference is between late harvest wine and icewine? Actually, a pretty darn big one. Icewine is made using grapes that were allowed to freeze while still on the vine. When that happens, the water in the grapes freezes, causing the fruit to dehydrate and concentrate the sugars...and, well, to cut to the chase, magically evolve into a glass full of unctuously luscious wine. The perfect foil for this delectably sweet treat? Something that involves both fruit (which will highlight the wine's inherent sweetness) and pastry (to provide a buttery contrast). A prime example: pound cake scattered with grilled nectarines and plums, and then drizzled with caramel sauce.

Zucchi Lambrusco di Sorbara Rosato NV ($15): Knowing how much we adore pink bubbly, you can't be surprised to see that we've included one in our listing of perfect-for-summertime dessert wines, but what's likely blowing your mind is that it's a lambrusco. Aside from maybe Boone's Farm, it's tough to imagine a pink wine that has a worse rep; for decades this wine has been firmly lodged in the American wine drinker's lexicon as the Italian equivalent of Blue Nun. Thankfully, lambrusco's undergone quite the image overhaul in recent years and is now officially having a moment. This charmingly effervescent, gorgeously rosy wine is full of bright, tart, strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit, and not nearly as sweet as you're probably imagining it to be. That's why it's so brilliant when served alongside a classic berry crumble layered with crunchy streusel and a finished with a dollop of sweetened mascarpone cheese.

Château d'Arche Sauternes Grand Cru Classe 2003 ($20): Sauternes are the penultimate mack daddy of all dessert wines. These infamous Bordeaux white wines are a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle varietals that have been affected by something called the "noble rot," which believe it or not, is a fungal disease that affects wine grapes (in this case, that is a very, very good thing). Beloved by royal and commoner wine lovers alike for their deeply concentrated flavors of honey and peaches and seemingly endless finish, you will particularly adore this wine paired with a decidedly more Continental-style of summertime dessert: a deliciously complex Roquefort blue cheese and sliced figs.


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