Courtesy of Dolce Wine

Drink Your Sweets: 10 California Dessert Wines We Love (Plus Pairings)

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No category of wine is as indulgent and yet as overlooked as dessert wine. Like a good piece of cake, it should be sweet without being saccharine. California wineries make a diverse array of after-dinner drinkers, inspired by Old World classics from Port to Sauternes. Here are our 10 homegrown favorites as well as sweets for pairing.



Dolce, Napa Valley Late Harvest Wine 2010 (Napa Valley)

Far Niente's Dolce is Napa Valley's answer to Bordeaux's famed dessert wine appellation Sauternes. Meticulously crafted, Dolce is a seamless, hedonistic experience for the drinker. Flavors of stone fruit, mostly apricot and peach, mingle with honeysuckle and the caramel character promised by the aroma. This wine is concentrated with fruit flavors but its youthful expression is expected to develop inviting bakery aromas over time—warm brioche and crème brûlée descriptors are becoming evident already. // $85 (375ml), shop.farniente.com



(Courtesy of Navarro Wine)

Navarro, Cluster Select, Late Harvest Riesling 2015 (Anderson Valley)

Coming from Mendocino's Anderson Valley, Navarro's Cluster Select riesling is drop-dead gorgeous. With flavors of green apple and peach, the crisp acidity keeps the wine bright and invigorating and perfectly complement a lighter fare. For a wine of this complexity, it's also a complete steal. // $20 (750 ml), navarrowine.com



(Courtesy of Frank Family Vineyard)

Frank Family, Late Harvest Chardonnay (Napa Valley)

Chardonnay is a crazy versatile grape—the foundation of the most delicate Champagnes, steely Chablis, and sumptuous California offerings. We don't often see chardonnay in its sweet form, but Frank Family does a fabulous job with their late harvest version. Decadent and languorous, the wine oozes with flavors of apple crisp, apricot jam, and pie crust. Pair with buttery desserts, bananas foster, or vanilla custard. // $100 (375 ml), frankfamilyvineyards.com


Wines from Grgich HillsPhoto from the Napa Wine Project

Grgich Hills, Violetta, Late Harvest 2013 (Napa Valley)

Named for the daughter of famed Napa vintner Miljenko Grgich, Violetta is a beautifully honeyed wine with a light and sensual viscosity. A field blend of riesling, sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer, it has the rich aromas of ripe pear, Mandarin orange and honeysuckle. Pair with a fruit tart, creme brulee, rich cheeses, or serve it all by itself to end a special meal. // $85 (375 ml), shop.grgich.com


The 2012 Martinelli's Jackass Hill Muscat of AlexandriaPhoto from fallingbrightwinemerchants.com

Martinelli Jackass Hill Muscat of Alexandria 2013 (Russian River Valley)

Martinelli Jackass Hill Vineyard is the source of one of the most sought-after zinfandels in the world. Interestingly, individual muscat plantings are scattered among the old vine zin. They yield a breathtakingly perfumed muscat, with fragrance of gardenia, dried lemon peel and honeysuckle and flavors of apricot, pineapple, and firm peach. Pair with peach cobbler or soft, lightly sweet cheeses like mascarpone. // $28 (375 ml), martinelliwinery.com



Wines from Quady, including ElysiumPhoto from wine.woot.com

Quady, Elysium 2015 (California)

In California's Central Valley, Quady specializes in all things dessert, producing a broad portfolio of wines, including muscats, sherry, and Port-style bottlings. Elysium is a black muscat, also known as muscat of Hamburg, one of the few red varieties in the muscat family of grapes. It is a great example of how a dessert wine can conjure not-so-sweet flavors: It attains a rose-like aroma with litchi and dark berry-like flavor. Pairs great with vanilla, dark chocolate, blue cheeses, and candlelight. // $15 (375 ml), store.quadywinery.com


Stony Hill, Semillon de Soleil 2014 (Napa Valley)

Stony Hill's Semillon de Soleil is a voluptuous and sticky late harvest Semillon with subtle dried floral notes and caramel on the nose and a dried apricot flavor on the palate. Pairs perfectly with apricot cheesecake with caramel sauce. // $30 (375 ml), stonyhillvineyard.com


Foxen, Barberena Vineyard Mission 2013 (Santa Maria Valley)

To sip Foxen's Barberena Vineyard Mission is to experience a bit of California history. Planted by Spanish missionaries across the state in the 18th Century, the mission grape was used to make a fortified, sweet wine called Angelica. Foxen's own fortified mission demonstrates an attractive freshness for a wine of this style. Not heavy or overwrought, the wine tastes of ripe blueberries, cranberries, and rose petals. It's a good option for those who want to enjoy a fortified wine on a hot day. Pair with fresh berries and whipped cream. // $30 (375ml), store.foxenvineyard.com


Somerston, Everest Fortified Red Wine 2009 (Napa Valley)

Somerston's Everest serves as testament to the power of using Portuguese grapes in Port-style wines. The wine has a striking cayenne spiciness to it that crescendos through the mid-palate, backdropped by notes of Mexican hot chocolate, espresso bean, gooey toffee, and dark plum. Pair with dark chocolate, brownies, or strong, hard cheeses. // $34 (375 ml), somerstonestate.com


Brown, Duppy Conqueror Petite Sirah Port-Style Dessert Wine (Napa Valley)

For a high-alcohol fortified wine, Brown's Duppy Conqueror is balanced by a beautiful mélange of cooling flavors. The nose entices with aromas of lavender, spearmint, and pine needles, followed by flavors of milk chocolate, Andes mints, black licorice, and spice cake. The wine is reminiscent of all the smells we associate with Christmas, making it perfect for cold winter enjoyment. Brown also makes a fortified cabernet sauvignon of note. Pair with anything chocolate-mint. // $48 (375 ml), brownestate.com

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