There are many ways to make sweet or dessert wines, and one of the most colorful and traditional is the classic Italian method called “passito.” If you haven’t tried one – or tried one recently – you may want to add them to your wine-drinking repertoire.
There are variations, of course, but most passitos are made by picking grapes near ripeness but that still have high acidity. After harvesting, they are dried for the grapes to sweeten as they lose water. Some winemakers still do the drying outdoors, but usually, the grapes are dried for weeks, even months, indoors on shelves in rooms with open ventilation.
The grapes are then crushed and allowed to ferment slowly – again, weeks or months – then racked and allowed more aging in barrels or tanks and then in bottles. As a result, they are much sweeter than table wines and have slightly more alcohol in most cases.
We tried a couple recently, but you can find additional examples at most fine wine stores.
NV Feudo Montoni Terre Siciliane Passito Rosso (375 ml/$33). Very smooth yet vibrant, with perfumed cherry fruitiness and walnutty tannins.
2017 Scacciadiavoli Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito (750 ml/$106). Lightly spiced cherry flavors, but with loads of Sagrantino’s legendary tannins – do a long decant, and save another bottle for a dozen years or so to mellow out a bit.
Continuing with The Dozen, the following are ten interesting table wines:
2020 S. Pratsch Niederösterreich Grüner Veltliner ($14). Moderate weight on the palate, with lots of green fruits and a crisp finish.
2020 Esporão “Esporão” Alentejano Branco Colheita ($19). Spicy, fruity nose and flavors, somewhat piquant, a little tangy but with a dollop of honeyed sweetness in the finish.
2020 Esporão Alentejo Branco Reserva ($28). Stone fruit flavors; the blend is similar in its savory fruitiness to a Southern Rhone white.
2018 Esporão Alentejano Red Wine ($16). Lots of jammy, purple fruit but with a bit of a tang in the finish.
2019 Josh Cellars “Josh” California Cabernet Sauvignon ($16). Josh wines are known for their fruit forwardness and affordability, and this one is the fruitiest – a veritable fruit bomb – of the three tasted here.
2019 Josh Cellars “Josh” North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). The leanest of the three and the most disciplined in structure, but still lots of black raspberries to go with the dusty tannins.
2019 Josh Cellars “Josh” Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). Very fragrant, with lots of black raspberries and some creaminess in the finish.
2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva ($20). Very enjoyable – like many Rioja reds, it could be mistaken for a quality Left Bank Bordeaux with its ripe but tart fruit, excellent oak flavors that come with barrel age, and chewy tannins around the edges.
2018 Esporão “Esporão” Alentejo Reserva ($22). Warm and generous red fruit with a hint of savory spiciness – cumin? – in the finish.
2016 Feudo Montoni “Vrucara” Sicilia Nero d’Avola ($57). Very savory and very fruity – the juniper jumps out at you, as do the buttery-like cherry preserves fruitiness – quite intriguing.
Prices listed are generally SRP or from wine-searcher.com. As more wineries are now shipping direct-to-consumer, check the winery website if you can’t find a bottle in your retail store.
Photo credit: Scacciadiavoli