Following the upswell of interest in digestifs, a growing number of sommeliers are looking to supplement the after-dinner drink with dessert and ice wines.
Looking beyond the typical port, Madeira and Sauternes, sommeliers in the know are looking further afield for more unique and atypical vintages. With the increase in technology and logistics making it financially more viable for winemakers to export, the UK is an obvious choice since most of the world’s wine writers and top restaurants are based here. In addition, London is one of the most accessible cities for luxury goods of which dessert wines tend to be.
The expense of fine dessert wines is caused by the challenge in production and incredibly low yields. Unlike table wine, many dessert wines and every ice wine harvest can only be produced in ideal years, which means they come at a higher cost than most table wines. For ice wine specifically, each frozen grape produces just a drop of liquid compared to table wine which produces 10 drops per grape. By volume alone you would anticipate ice wine to be at least 10x more expensive; however, it is typically only 4-5x – making it more cost effective based on level of investment and yield for a consumer.
The increased cost and the challenge of wine enthusiasts to ‘get behind’ ordering dessert wines makes it a challenge for not only the winemaker, but the sommeliers who are hoping to impress their clientele. Methods many sommeliers have been using to generate intrigue is to offer dessert wines at a lower margin by the glass in the hope that their love of discovery will see them ordering bottles the next time they make a reservation. Other sommeliers are gifting glasses to VIPs and including them as a menu recommendation with unique food pairings to spark interest.
Those foodies in the UK are already aware that the finest in both ice and dessert wines have vibrant acidity to counterbalance the sugar, so they are not overly sweet. This new wine experience is what is missing from the UK’s current dining experience; but by 2019, restaurateurs and sommeliers anticipate an increase in replacing the boozy after-dinner cocktail or whiskey for the softer, more nuanced and complex experience that ice wine provides.