Serious Grape: Sweet Wines for Your Sweetie

On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, what to swill on Valentine's Day.

Admit it.

You're already trying to figure out what you're going to give your sweetie for Valentine's Day.

Most of us reach for Champagne or some other sparkling wine, and that's a wonderful, traditional choice.

But if it's romance you're looking for, why not consider a bottle of dessert wine instead? They come in white, red, and rosé versions, and one will pair perfectly with your plans for dessert.

Dessert wines are some of the least understood wines on the market. In part that stems from the mystery of how they're made. Dessert wines can be produced in a number of ways: by letting the grapes hang on the vines until they develop a fungus known as "noble rot"; by harvesting the grapes late, so that the sugar builds in the flesh and juice; by permitting the grapes to freeze, thus concentrating their sugars; and even by picking the grapes and letting them dry in the sun to concentrate their flavors.

No matter the method, dessert wines should never be cloyingly sweet. They should always have enough acidity in the wine to keep the sweetness in check. And, as a general rule, your wine should always be more sweet than the dessert.

Here are my picks for dessert wines perfect for Valentine's Day, with some pairing suggestions. Please note, most dessert wines are sold in 375ml bottles (a good size for sharing with the one you love).

2005 Dry Creek Vineyard Soleil Late Harvest ($25, 375 ml): A golden wine with delicious aromas of crushed rose petals, apricots, and honey. Flavors of apricot crumble, with a fresh finish. Not cloying or overly sweet, there is good acidity relative to the sugar. Pair with fruit crumbles and ice cream, or fruit pie. (find this wine)

2005 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille ($65, 375 ml): Amazing aromas of nectar, honey, and white peach, followed by applesauce, cream, honey, and peach jam flavors. Wonderful acidity keeps it from being cloying. Made with Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Viognier. Pair with blue cheese and pears, or a poached pear with chocolate sauce. (find this wine)

2003 Castelnau de Suduiraut ($13-$26, 375ml): An extremely good and affordable Sauternes, this wine had aromas of pineapple, coconut, and honey. The flavors were reminiscent of pineapple dipped in honey, and the flavors deepened as the wine was exposed to air. Get some vanilla cupcakes with coconut icing to go with this. (find this wine)

2005 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge" ($45, 375ml): Made with 100% Mourvedre, this wine knocks you over with its dark chocolate and cocoa nib aromas. Then the flavors of chocolate extract and cherry follow, leaving a dusty, cocoa powder finish. Perfect with raspberry or dark chocolate desserts. (find this wine)

2004 Core Wine Company Candy Core ($18, 375ml): Made from late harvest Grenache, there are herbal notes in the aromas and flavors, and a sweet plum center. Sweet, but not over the top. Good with molten chocolate cake, Black Forest cake. (find this wine)

2008 Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato ($10-$17, 375ml): This great dessert wine has a little spritz, it's sweet, and it's all too drinkable. The beautiful pink color hints at the aromas of peach and strawberry which are echoed in the flavors. Good with dark chocolate, fruit desserts, or simple cookies such as madeleines. (find this wine)

Full disclosure: I received the Dry Creek Vineyard and Castelnau de Suduiraut wines as samples.