★★★Exceptional ★★Excellent ★Very Good
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Because of the time and effort involved in making vin santo, the wines are expensive. And because dessert wines in general are special occasion splurges (in money and calories), they tend to be found primarily in restaurants. Here are a few to try. To provide a contrast, I’m including a Greek dessert wine made from muscat grapes in a late-harvest, fortified style.
Tuscany, Italy, $65 (375 millliliters)
Very expensive and very fine, it is concentrated from long barrel aging and has almost a mahogany color from its time in oak and exposure to oxygen. Its aromas and flavors are of roasted cashews, exotic spices and dried bitter orange peel. Alcohol by volume: 16 percent.
Winebow: On the list in the District at Fiola.
Virginia, $35 (375 ml)
Barboursville’s winemaker air-dries muscat ottonel and vidal blanc grapes for four months before pressing them. Fermentation takes six months, and the resulting wine is aged for 18 more months in old barrels to achieve a remarkable concentration and richness. Barboursville first made this wine in the 2001 vintage; I’ve tasted several, and the 2008 is the best yet. ABV: 13.9 percent.
★★1 / 2
Tuscany, Italy, $45 (375 ml)
Mellow, adding some cream to balance the sour note from the citrus peel and giving a sweeter sensation to the long finish. ABV: 15.5 percent.
Country Vintner: Available in Maryland at the Perfect Pour in Elkridge. Available in Virginia at Oakton Wine Shop, Swirl & Sip in Fairfax; on the list at Vermilion in Alexandria.
★★1 / 2
Tuscany, Italy, $32 (375 ml)
Brighter in color and flavor than other examples because it spends less time in the barrel, this wine reminds me of a nice amontillado sherry, with flavors of toasted hazelnut and orange peel. ABV: 16 percent.
Winebow: On the list in the District at Campono, Obelisk.
Samos, Greece, $13 (500 ml)
This wine is made from muscat grapes grown on the Greek island of Samos. The grapes are picked late to enhance sweetness, but they are not air-dried as they are for vin santo. The wine is lightly fortified with neutral grape spirits, which makes it closer in style to a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from southern France. The color is light gold rather than amber, and the flavors are more of orange blossom than dried peel. It’s delicious by itself or with a fruit salad or berry tart. ABV: 15 percent.