Port and Sweet

Dessert wines are a great way to end a meal

Jan 16, 2002 at 4:00 am
Any man who eats dessert," Hemingway once quipped, "isn't drinking enough." But why choose between two terrific vices when you can order dessert wine? I Fratellini's menu includes a flight of three beauties: 2000 Saracco Moscato d'Asti, 1997 Forteto della Luja Piasa Rischei Moscato d'Asti and 1999 Colosi Malvasia. We had a ball comparing the frizzante (tingly finish) of one vino dolce with the honeyed mellowness of another. As we sipped, we got to thinking about wine lists and came up with a few principles. First, a well-rounded list should include dessert wines, sometimes called liqueurs or fortified wines. Featuring a small selection of cream sherries, ports, Sauternes or late-harvest Rieslings expands diners' options and boosts check averages for servers and owners. Second, the bottles chosen for the list should complement the restaurant's cuisine.

Manager Rich Zellich assembled I Fratellini's daring all-Italian wine list. It is a balanced, innovative collection of about 50 bottles, supplemented by a reserve list of rarer wines. The Barolos, Chiantis, Dolcettos and Barbarescos match the restaurant's food perfectly -- that's only natural, given that Italy's cuisine and viticulture evolved together over centuries. Most restaurants stick with popular varietals -- primarily Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and white Zinfandel -- from large producers in California and France, without regard to what's coming out of the kitchen.

Finally, offering descriptions of each wine encourages diners to experiment. Zellich's tasting notes are dripping with superlatives that reveal his enthusiasm. Powerful, intense and wonderful! Full-bodied and silky! Supreme structure! It's delicious to read tidbits such as these: "Strawberry notes with saddle leather, spice and cedar" and "Earth, chocolate and violets on a powerful frame." Such vivid language lets customers know exactly what to expect when the bottle is uncorked, turning wine drinkers into wine lovers.