Best of the Best 2008: International Sparkling & Dessert Wines

The legendary Dom Pérignon thought he was drinking stars when he first tasted sparkling wine, and Champagne lovers have echoed his joy with each new release of Moët & Chandon’s prestige cuvée. The Moët & Chandon 1999 Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon (www.domperignon?.com, $155) is elegant and complex on its own, but also superb with food: The wine seems to adjust to cuisine as each flavor unlocks a dramatic new dimension from its depths. Its fine, pearlescent bubbles rise through a liquid the color of beaten gold. On the palate, it delivers full, elegant flavors of ripe fruit and spice. The stars have rarely tasted so delicious.

Château d’Yquem has managed to retain its legendary stature despite the lengthy and acrimonious change of ownership several years ago. Pierre Lurton is now in charge (at Cheval Blanc, as well) under the LVMH regime, and is proving himself more than capable of administering the affairs of this notoriously detail-oriented estate, where the painstaking passes through the vineyard during harvest can take many weeks. The Château d’Yquem 2001 Sauternes (www.yquem.fr, $1,000) is perfection: elegant and racy, with resonant flavors and deep purity. Although powerful and very complex (the word amplitude comes to mind), this silky, bright beauty shows amazing balance and style.

The long, temperate growing season of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region brings intense ripeness to Riesling grown in Selbach-Oster’s south-facing vineyards, where rocky slate soils help retain heat. In contrast to this producer’s general practice of using only old wood, the Selbach-Oster 2006 Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (www.selbach-oster.de, $128 for a half bottle) was fermented in a new Fuder (the traditional Mosel 1,000-liter cask) and then racked into stainless steel, which gives the wine a modern bent. Although this Riesling can serve as an ideal “meditation wine,” pairing it with a cheese course is an essay in synergy that transforms both the food and the wine.


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