With the holiday sales season underway, it’s an appropriate time to review a selection of dessert wines, those sweeter, fortified wines that are great complements to the many home entertaining occasions that are common this time of year. These are typically the best wines to consume following a main course, and often can be paired with a wide range of desserts. The most popular examples of fortified wines are port, sherry and madeira, but sauternes and late harvest/ice wines are also excellent after dinner or with dessert.

The next two months are clearly the time for retailers to feature all kinds of dessert wines in a variety of promotions and cross-promotions.

Besides selecting dozens of interesting dessert wines, the Beverage & Food Dynamics National Retailer Wine Panel also recommended a selection of red wines that retail for less than $12. Several of these good-quality, value-priced wines are fairly well-known; however, as usually happens in our Retailer Wine Selections feature, a number of “undiscovered” wines that appear are well worth pursuing.

As always, each recommended wine includes a rating, a brief description and the suggested retail price (which varies from market to market).

— Richard Brandes


Rating System

***** Five Stars (92-100)
A top-flight wine. Superior
in taste and character and
providing an outstanding price/value relationship.

**** Four Stars (86-91)
A very good wine and an
excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.

*** Three Stars (80-85)
An above-average wine, at a
reasonable price point, which many customers will enjoy.

** Two Stars (70-79)
An average wine.

* One Star (50-69)
A below-average wine.


Dessert Wines


***** (96) 1992 Vinicola Savese Primitivo di Manduria (Dolce) (Italy). This late harvest wine is inky black in color with glorious scents of blackberries, raisins and plums and rich viscous flavors that coat your mouth with velvety lushness; underlying spiciness and a finish that goes on and on. ($34)

*****(96) Rosenblum 1996 Black Muscat (California). A fresh burst of concentrated fruit, like biting into a juicy plum or peach; an explosion of flavor; fabulous with blueberries and/or chocolate. ($10, 375 ml)

***** (95) Chateau Ste. Michelle 1995 Ice Wine (Washington State). Peach and vanilla flavors and sweet honey; beautiful fruit character and a finish that won’t stop. ($28, 375 ml)

***** (95) Cossart 15 Year Bual Madeira (Madeira, Portugal). Astonishing grace and elegance in this sweeter-style of madeira; notes of honey, spice, peach, dried apricots and caramel linger on. ($40)

***** (95) Lolonis 1993 “Eugenia” Late Harvest Chardonnay (California). Fantastic organic dessert wine packed with ripe peach, apricot and honey; long-lasting finish; superb quality. ($23, 375 ml)

***** (94) 1994 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Porto (Portugal). This quiet little gem ranks with the best of them; very aromatic bouquet with deep, concentrated flavors; luscious sweetness with a firm backbone and hearty core. ($35)

***** (94) Columbia Crest Columbia Valley 1995 Reserve Ice Wine (Washington State). Rich and aromatic, with apricot and peach flavors; aftertaste has a high concentration of fruity acidity and a sweetness that is not overpowering; a real intensity. ($26, 375 ml)

***** (94) Lindemans Griffith 1987 Late Harvest Botrytis Semillon (Australia). Rich with intensely concentrated fruit flavors; sweet fruit on the mid-palate before finishing with balanced, crisp acidity, which gives the wine a clean yet complex finish. ($13, 375 ml)

***** (93) 1996 St. Croix Vineyards Raspberry Infusion (Minnesota). A Minnesota wine that has the texture of a pinot and a rich raspberry flavor. ($10, 375 ml)

***** (93) Chambers Rosewood Muscat (Australia). Deep, dark color; a lively nose; rich and thick with a very long finish. ($13, 375 ml)

***** (92) Quady 1994 Elysium (California). Black muscat grape wine; raspberry and blackberry fruit; luscious with chocolate. ($9.50, 375 ml)

***** (92) Michele Chiarlo Nivole 1996 (Italy). Delectable, fragrant moscato d’asti with delightful, perfumed fruit, moderate sweetness and refreshing sparkle. ($10, 375 ml)

***** (92) Robert Pecota 1996 Muscato D’Andrea (California). An opulent, rich wine tasting of apricots, pears and honey; a stellar after-dinner treat. ($10, 375 ml)

***** (92) 1993 Wagner Ravat Ice Wine (Finger Lakes, NY). A mouth-filling medley of peach, apricot, golden raisin and honey; all finishing with a crisp tang. ($10, 375 ml)

***** (92) Ca’ Togni 1991 (California). Wonderful wine, with chocolate, black currant, cassis, jammy flavors; caramel and walnut finish. ($26, 375 ml)

***** (92) Yalumba Clocktower Port (Australia). A rich, mellow, tawny port packed with flavors of fruit and wood; rich sweetness; soft lingering finish. ($12)

***** (92) Domaine de Coyeaux Muscat Beaumes de Venise 1994 (France). Excellent balance between the sweetness, which is not overwhelming, and the structure; soft, subtle pear and apricot undertones with a hint of vanilla; aftertaste of fruit lingers. ($12, 375 ml)

***** (92) Bonny Doon 1995 Muscat Vin De Glaciere (California). Sweet concentration, with aromas of apricot that lead to flavors of nectarine and apricot that explode on the palate; 18% residual sugar; rich with a long finish; styled after German eiswein, but at a fraction of the price. ($17, 375 ml)

***** (92) 1995 Domaine De La Rectorie Banyuls (France). The French equivalent of vintage port; 100% grenache with layers of complexity; rose, berry with a dry finish. ($24)


**** (91) Osborne 1994 Vintage Port (Portugal). A young port full of sweet character; intense and rich with a hint of pepper and spice; full-bodied with a long finish. ($23)

****(91) Woodbridge 1992 Portocino (California). A first attempt by Mondavi at making a port-type wine, and they’ve done a great job; a fair amount of character; good bottle to cellar. ($23)

****(91) Far Niente 1993 Late Harvest Dolce (California). Light gold color; flavors of apricot and peaches; 20% residual sugar; a really fine wine but a bit pricey. ($50, 375 ml)

**** (91) Osborne Ruby Port (Portugal). A delicious ruby port overflowing with bright cherry flavors that yield just the right touch of sweetness; exceptionally well-balanced. ($10)

****(91) Hardy’s Whisker’s Blake Tawny Port (Australia). Lots of mouth-filling toasted walnut and coffee flavors; very pleasing and a great value. ($13)

**** (90) Deco California Port with Natural Chocolate NV (California). A ruby-red port that carries the scent of bittersweet chocolate blended with ripe cherries. ($17)

**** (90) 1994 Presidential Port (Portugal). Rich, fat and super-ripe, with huge quantities of blackberry, plum and anise flavors; quite smooth and drinkable. ($25)

**** (90) Quady 1995 Electra (California). Light, refreshing orange muscat; heavily perfumed wine; crisp and delicate. ($9, 375 ml)

**** (90) Washington Hills 1996 Late Harvest White Riesling (Washington State). Aromas of orange blossoms and gardenias give way to luscious flavors of juicy ripe peaches; the crisp acidity perfectly complements the succulent explosion of fruit on the palate. ($9)

****(90) Yalumba Botrytis 1996 Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc (Australia). A luscious, rich wine, 100% botrytis-affected fruit; sweet and smooth; honey, caramel, apricot and tobacco; beautifully balanced with a long, vibrant finish. ($13, 375 ml)

****(90) Silvan Ridge 1995 Early Muscat Semi-Sparkling (Oregon). The initial scent explodes with essences of peach, mandarin orange and classic floral muscat varietal aromas; flavors mirror the aromas; very clean and refreshing with a nice spritz. ($13)

**** (89) Robert Mondavi 1996 Moscato d’Oro (California). Luscious aromas and flavors of ripe pear, peach, melon and honeysuckle make this wine delightful to sip; great with desserts. ($14, 375 ml)

**** (89) 1995 Eola Hills Ultra Late Harvest Gewürztraminer “Vin D’Epice” (Oregon). Amazing finesse belies the 24% residual sugar of this rare Oregon dessert wine; spicy but not overdone, the texture and finish are world class. ($18, 375 ml)

**** (89) 1993 Il Podere Dell’Oliovos Aleatico (California). Deep, pink color; strawberry fragrance; concentrated but not massive; the head of the Santa Maria Valley provides great ripeness while good winemaking provides the balance of sweetness and fruit. ($12, 500 ml)

**** (88) Columbia Crest 1995 Late Harvest Semillon (Washington State). Rich and sweet with flavors of honeysuckle and oak, from its aging. ($18, 375 ml)

****(88) Konrad 1991 Petite Sirah “Admiral’s Selection” (California). Plum, prune, wine-soaked raisins with nice notes of wood, pepper, vanilla and chocolate; moderate mouth weight with well-developed prune, chocolate, pepper and wood flavors; long, balanced finish that does show tannin; could use a little time in the bottle. ($18, 500 ml)

****(88) Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage 1991 Port (Portugal). Smooth and rich with a nice balance between fruit and spice; a great aperitif to drink now. ($14)

****(87) Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage 1991 Port (Portugal). Rich, red maroon coloring; prune and ripe plum aromas; moderately heavy feel on the palate with fruit dictating the flavors; some wood and pepper notes on the back of the palate and in the long, balanced finish. ($18)

****(87) Seppelt Tawny Port (Australia). This tawny port is a wonderful value; drinking great right now. ($14)

**** (87) Ochoa Vins Dulce de Moscatel (Navarra, Spain). Perfumy, sweet and rich, with orange, butterscotch and tangerine flavors. ($12, 500 ml)

****(86) Dow’s 10 Year Tawny Port (Portugal). Rich, golden hue; somewhat round flavors of prunes, dried fruit and wood on the palate; notes of honey toward the long, balanced close; the wine is much improved with a few minutes of air time in the glass. ($25)

**** (86) Fetzer 1993 Mendocino Port (California). Unique blend of zinfandel and petite sirah; blackberry fruit and semi-sweet chocolate flavors. ($13)

**** (86) Carmenet 1994 Zinfandel Port (California). Spicy and exploding with peppery sweetness. ($18, 500 ml)

**** (86) 1995 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti (Italy). Slightly effervescent, with refreshing flavors of tangerine, melon and apricot, finishing with a crisp, elegant style. ($12)

Red Wines Under $12


*****(95) 1995 Domaine de L’Ameillaud Cotes du Rhone Villages (France). An explosive wine unlike most Cotes du Rhones; scents of raspberries and vanilla; bold and bountiful with layers of zesty flavors; a great finish. ($10.50)

***** (95) Viño de Eyzaguirre San Francesco de Mostazal Reserve 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile). A rich and juicy Chilean cab; ruby red with enticing scents of berries and cocoa; smooth and well-structured, displaying depth and length; a superb wine and an incredible value. ($6.50)

***** (92) Trentadue Old Patch Red 1993 (California). Deep ruby color; spicy, peppery, full-bodied flavors; nice long finish. ($12)

***** (92) Pierre Andre Bourgogne 1994 Reserve Pinot Noir (France). A deeply-colored, wonderfully-extracted wine that possesses an intense berry fruit bouquet; supple and silky pinot noir fruit glides across the palate and finishes with light tannins. ($11)

*****(92) 1995 Illuminati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italy). Lovely ruby red color; hints of berries and cedar in the nose; rich, chewy flavors that explode in the mouth; depth, complexity and a finish that is quite long; an outstanding value. ($8).

***** (92) Penfolds 1996 Shiraz/Grenache (Australia). A perfectly balanced everyday red; juicy cherries and berries; an outstanding value. ($9)

*****(92) Berberano Crianza 1994 (Spain). Great fruit up front; 100% tempranillo; one year in oak, from Rioja; a finish that lingers with a touch of oak. ($9)

*****(92) Taurino 1994 Salice Salentino (Italy). Rich, black cherries, smoke and complex spices; possibly the best Taurino of the decade of great everyday wines; enough grip for another six to eight years. ($9)


**** (91) Fleur de Carneros 1995 Pinot Noir (California). The ’95 vintage is unfiltered, giving this wine great structure and a long finish; strawberry fruit with a nice touch of spice. ($12)

**** (91) Silver Ridge 1996 Barrel Select Merlot (California). A wonderful and exciting discovery packed with fruit; great length of finish; an exceptional merlot that will improve with age. ($10)

**** (90) 1996 Toad Hollow Apropos (California). A great wine for entertaining; a smooth even flavor, low in tannins; very enjoyable. ($10)

****(90) Trumpeter 1995 Merlot (Argentina). Bright, fruity and fresh with a nice, soft tannin; the best this winery has ever produced. ($10)

**** (90) 1995 Sierra Cantabria Rioja Codice (Spain). Smooth and harmonious, boasting an explosive display of spicy oak; well-rounded and full; an exceptional value. ($6)

**** (90) 1996 Agricola De Borja Borsao (Spain). A delicious Spanish blend of tempranillo and grenache, briefly aged in oak; polished, smooth and spicy, it goes with nearly everything. ($6)

**** (89) 1995 Faustino Vll Rioja Bodegas Faustino Martinez (Spain). Clean, with cherry, spice tastes; well-balanced; a great food wine. ($10)

**** (89) Forest Glen 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon (California). Rich, spicy cherry fruit; slight vanilla character; medium-bodied; some richness; a lingering finish. ($10)

**** (89) Seghesio 1995 Zinfandel (California). A well-balanced zin that combines wonderful ripe fruit flavors with a silky texture and impeccable finesse. ($10)

****(89) Casa Gualda La Mancha 1994 (Spain). Ripe, generous, full-bodied, offering nice plum, cherry, toast and spice; great value. ($9)

**** (89) Chateau Bel Eveque Corbieres 1994 (France). Black raspberry and herb nose; gobs of mouth-filling black fruit and herbs de Provence flavors with a healthy dose of pepper and good, soft tannins. ($10)

**** (89) Sausal 1995 Zinfandel (California). Classic Alexander Valley zinfandel of spicy berries and hints of black pepper in a clean and easy style, but still with depth; a long finish. ($12)

**** (88) David Bruce 1994 Vintner’s Select Zinfandel (California). This ruby red zin has loads of fruit up front, especially wild berry; a great mouthfeel; a dash of oak in the finish. ($11)

****(88) Lyeth 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon (California). Dark ruby color; good nose with an aroma of black cherry and berries; medium-full body with a deep aftertaste. ($10)

**** (88) Cline Cellars 1995 California Zinfandel (California). A delicious everyday zinfandel, loaded with bright fruit, spice and a touch of black pepper; a real bargain for a wine this concentrated. ($10)

**** (88) Chateau Julien 1995 Merlot (California). A light-bodied, dry red wine with berry and plum aromas and a hint of vanilla; a soft wine with a lasting aftertaste. ($9)

**** (88) Glen Ellen 1995 Gamay Beaujolais (California). Pleasant, fruity, easy-drinking red; ripe, red cherry flavors; a crowd-pleaser. ($5)

**** (88) Monty Ory 1993 Crianza (Navarra, Spain). Very fragrant; great berry fruit; hearty and complex spicy finish. ($10)

**** (88) Rabbit Ridge Barrel Cuvée 1995 Zinfandel (California). Purple-red color; ripe berry fruit and surprising richness; light and fresh. ($9)

**** (88) Rosemount Estate 1996 Shiraz (Australia). Consistently delicious wine, vintage after vintage, packed with fruit; medium-bodied; excellent with a variety of foods. ($12)

**** (87) Villa Puccini 1994 (Italy). A reasonable “super Tuscan” wine; 90% sangiovese and 10% merlot; great up-front fruit with a cherry flavor and velvety finish. ($10)

**** (87) Taft 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon (California). Cassis-scented nose; medium-bodied, soft and round; black fruits, vanilla and spice. ($11)

**** (87) Wyndham Estate Bin 555 1995 Shiraz (Australia). Light, fruity, spicy flavors with a soft raspberry jam finish; a good value. ($10)

**** (87) Monticillo 1989 Red Rioja (Spain). A stunning, mature wine with a ruby-brick color; fragrant bouquet of tobacco, cedar and smoky oak; fat, supple fruitiness on the palate. ($11)

**** (86) J. Lohr 1995 Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon (California). An intense cabernet with aromas of blackberry and cherry; hints of vanilla and toasted oak; rich, velvety finish. ($12)


  • ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
    Orlando, FL
    Brad Lewis
    Director of Wine Sales
  • Aida’s World of Liquors
    Staten Island, NY
    Ross Levin
    Alex B. Williams
    Wine Consultant
  • Beachner
    Retail Liquor
    Overland Park, KS
    Debra Lucke-Beachner
  • Ben’s Discount
    Reno, NV
    Tad Saunders
    Wine Manager
  • Berbiglia Wines & Spirits
    Kansas City, MO
    Ralph J. Bondon
    Vice President/Owner
  • Beverages, and more!
    Pleasant Hill, CA
    Wilfred Wong
    Wine Buyer
  • Bottle King Liquors
    Livingston, NJ
    Larry LaScola
    Managing Partner/ General Manager
  • Brown Derby Stores
    Springfield, MO
    Gary Franklin
    Sales Manager
  • Buy-Rite Corp.
    Brick, NJ
    John Donohue
    Director of
  • Byerly’s
    Chanhassen, MN
    John Wiggins
    Store Manager
  • Byron’s Wines
    & Spirits
    Oklahoma City, OK
    Chris Putnam
    Wine Manager
  • Centennial Liquors
    Dallas, TX
    Roger H. Voss
    Executive VP, Buyer
  • College Station Liquors
    Richmond, KY
    Michael W. Parker
  • Crown Wine Merchants
    Coral Gables, FL
    Chip Cassidy
    Wine Director
  • Don’s & Ben’s
    Liquor Barn
    San Antonio, TX
    Bob Smith
    Wine Consultant
  • Foremost
    Sunset Corners
    Miami, FL
    Michael Bittel
  • Frank’s Union Liquor Mart
    Wilmington, DE
    Frank Pagliaro
  • Frugal MacDoogal’s
    Beverage Warehouse
    Nashville, TN
    Russell DeVore
    Wine Manager
  • Giles Liquors
    Medford, MA
    Larry McDonnell
  • Gold Standard
    Skokie, IL
    Barbara Hermann
    Wine Buyer
  • Grand Wine and Liquor
    Queens, NY
    Kim Ginsberg
    General Manager
  • Happy Harry’s
    Bottle Shop
    Grand Forks, ND
    Todd Jacobson
    General Manager
  • Haskell’s
    Minnetonka, MN
    Daniel A. Manning
    Vice President
  • Huntington Wine & Spirits
    San Marino, CA
    Bruce Hotra
  • The Jug Shop
    San Francisco, CA
    Chuck Hayward
    Wine Buyer
  • Liquorama Wine Cellar
    Hyde Park, NY
    Maggie Gephard
    VP/General Manager
  • Liquor Mart
    Boulder, CO
    Doug Caskey
    Wine Manager
    D. Scott Cordova
    Wine Consultant
  • Liquor World
    Claymont, DE
    Michael Mulderig
    Wine Buyer
  • Martin Wine Cellar
    New Orleans, LA
    Ric Hopper
    Wine Manager
  • Marty’s
    Dallas, TX
    Jasper Russo
    General Manager
  • Max’s Package Store
    East Lyme, CT
    Alan Wilensky
    VP, Manager
  • Mel & Rose Wine Liquor Deli
    Los Angeles, CA
    Shawn Banayan
    Wine Buyer/Owner
  • Morrell & Co.
    New York, NY
    Peter Morrell
  • The Party Source
    Louisville, KY
    Anne Joseph
    Wine Buyer
  • Plaza Fine Wine & Spirits
    Highland Village, TX
    Sara Wesson
    Wine Buyer
  • Pommons
    Tower Market
    San Francisco, CA
    Kimberly Selby
    Wine/Spirits Manager
  • Pop’s Wine & Spirits
    Island Park, NY
    Jerry Martellaro
    Vice President
  • Premier Group
    Buffalo, NY
    Lydia Tremble
    Senior Wine Consultant
  • Premium Wine & Spirits
    Buffalo, NY
    Jeff Vignaux
    General Manager
  • Raymond Fong
    Retail Wine & Spirits
    San Francisco, CA
  • Red Carpet
    Wine & Spirits
    Glendale, CA
    Allen Ralston,
    Wine Buyer
  • Sam’s Wine Warehouse
    Chicago, IL
    Tom LaChine
    California Wine Buyer
  • Schaefer’s Wines,
    Foods & Spirits
    Skokie, IL
    George Schaefer
    Sterling Pratt
    Wine Director
  • Sherlock’s Beer &
    Wine Warehouse
    Marietta, GA
    W. Edwin True
    Wine Director
  • Shop-Rite Liquors
    Cliffside Park, NJ
    Tom Najarian
  • Sigel’s Beverages
    Dallas, TX
    John Rector
    VP, Marketing
  • Steve’s Liquor Store
    Newtown, CT
    Stephen Small
  • St. Helena
    Wine Merchants
    St. Helena, CA
    Stephen Blateric
    Wine Buyer/Manager
  • Summit Liquor
    White Bear Lake, MN
    Kurt Hegland
    Wine Consultant
  • Sunset Food Mart
    Lake Forest, IL
    Stanley Post
  • Sutton Place Gourmet
    Alexandria, VA
    Jeff Wallingford
    Wine Manager/Buyer
  • Town Center Liquors
    Brewster, NY
    Joseph A. Chianese
    Wine Buyer
  • Town Wine & Spirits
    Rumsford, RI
    Nick Zeiser, Wine Director
  • Traverso’s
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Bill Traverso
    Co-Owner/Wine Buyer
  • The Wine Cellar
    Cinnaminson, NJ
    Bill Hendrickson, Owner
  • The Wine & Spirits Emporium
    Bronxville, NY
    Alfredo Cruz, President
  • Yankee Spirits
    Sturbridge, MA
    Paul E. Provost
    Vice President,
    Wine Director
  • Zachy’s
    Wine & Liquor
    Scarsdale, NY
    Harvey Savadsky
    Wine Buyer


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