Looking for a special kind of sweet treat for your favorite Valentine? A dessert wine can be just the ticket if you want to skip commonplace chocolate.
And if you want a bit of chocolate with your wine, we have a solution for that, too.
People tend to have a sweet tooth, and that translates to wine. Here's our primer on sweet wines you can try, along with Northwest wineries that specialize in them.
Late-harvest wines: A late-harvest wine is just that -- it is harvested later than most other grapes. In the case of a late-harvest Riesling, it might be harvested in November instead of October. This gives the grapes time to dehydrate a bit and concentrate their sugars.
Hogue Cellars, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Kiona Vineyards Winery make late-harvest Rieslings that are superb, broadly distributed and inexpensive (typically around $10).
If you're looking for a special treat, Koenig Winery in Idaho's Snake River Valley makes a wine styled after a German trockenbeerenauslese -- and it's a lot easier to pronounce. The 2010 Botrytis Single Berry Select Late Harvest Riesling is one of the greatest dessert wines in the Northwest, and it sells for $30 per half-bottle.
Fortified wines: This style of wine originated in Portugal and is called a Port there. Basically, brandy or another spirit is added to the wine partway through fermentation. The result is a sweet, high-alcohol wine that often ages beautifully. Many Northwest wineries make fortified wines, and one of our favorites is Maison de Padgett in the Yakima Valley. David Padgett makes no fewer than six fortified wines, including an amazing wine using coffee beans.
In the Bellingham area, Samson Estates Winery makes a stunning fortified wine called Oro that uses hazelnuts.
Other Northwest fortified producers to check out: Abacela, Barnard Griffin, Ded.reckoning, Hinzerling, LaFrenz and Thurston Wolfe.
Ice wines: Ice wines are a real specialty, and some of the best in the world are made in British Columbia. Basically, wineries wait until the grapes freeze on the vine, then they go out (typically in the middle of the night) and harvest the grapes, squeeze out the sweet nectar, then slowly ferment it. The result is a honey-like wine that's high in sugar and low in alcohol.
In British Columbia, law dictates when icewine harvest can begin. For the 2012 vintage, it didn't begin until last month, when temperatures finally dipped below about 17 degrees.
Icewines are expensive in British Columbia, costing from $40 to $100 for a half-bottle. Few are sold in the United States, so there's the added expense of driving to Canada to get them.
A few wineries in the Northwest also make ice wines (though they don't need to follow the same rules as Canadians). Kiona Vineyards Winery makes a superb ice wine from Chenin Blanc that sells for about $25. Other Northwest wineries that make ice wine include Argyle, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Horizon's Edge, Koenig and Waterbrook.
Fruit wines: While some fruit wines are finished dry, many are on the sweeter side. Raspberry wines are especially enchanting because they smell and taste like, well, fresh raspberries. Making fruit wine is a specialty, and we've tasted a lot of lousy examples, so we know making a delicious one can be difficult.
A few wineries in the Northwest specialize in fruit wines, including Cranberry Road, Heymann, Samson and Westport. Oak Knoll in Oregon makes one of the best raspberry wines we've tasted.
Chocolate wines: Chocolate wines are made by combining red wine with chocolate. Precept Wines in Seattle launched Chocolate Shop, a successful line of chocolate-flavored wines, and it even has a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. It makes five wines, including a sparkling chocolate red wine. Precept also has developed a product with Brown & Haley in Tacoma called Almond Roca Cream.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. For more information, go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.