Challenge of the week: Convince drinkers looking for yet another $10 everyday red wine to consider instead a dessert wine. And vermouth and port. From California.

I accept the challenge because I met Andrew Quady, who has focused his off-kilter creativity and considerable wine making powers on such unconventional beverages since 1975.

You should have a dessert wine or two in your life. Almost everyone likes sweetness, and there’s no more civilized or interesting way to consume sweetness than from a well-balanced sweet wine. Although they’re usually mentioned as the ideal accompaniment to dessert, I almost always feel — even with good ones — that such a combination becomes a sugar-on-sugar pile-on; it leaves me macerated.

Instead, think of dessert wines as dessert itself: a different way to deliver the sweetness (rather than calories) you’re seeking to cap off a meal.

Quady’s wines — from the best-known Essensia made from Orange Muscat grapes, to the bracing aromatic-plant-infused Deviation that he calls a “love potion” — are exhilaratingly unique. They’re for sipping slowly. They’re for widening your notion of what wine can do and can be; super-fun but fit for contemplation as well.

In this way, they’re like the craft beers of the wine world: not-quite-wine liquids that can transport, tantalize, tickle and transcend in ways we conventionally expect only of exalted dry table wines.

Before 1975, Quady worked in pyrotechnics. Sounds cooler than it was, apparently, since the company he worked for focused on military applications, and as Quady says, “I just wanted to be in the country, live an alternative lifestyle, and make a product that made people happy.”

So he studied enology at UC Davis, and “was into the smaller-winery, romantic kind of thing. I wanted to make the wines I liked: Unique dry table wines.”

But California had plenty of young guys looking to make a splash, and Quady saw he’d have a better chance for success if he pushed into a niche no one else had an eye on.

Unlike with a lot of dessert wines or cocktail mixers, every beverage Quady makes promotes the vibrancy and cleanliness of the base fruit. These are, first and foremost, wines. They have the acidity and balance — and purity of flavor — that we seek in all our wines.

Start with the Essensia ($14/$19, 375/750 ml). It brims with marmalade and apricots, cut with lemon peel. The Elysium ($14/$24, 375/750 ml) is from Black Muscat grapes, and has a Beaujolais nose but presents like a ruby port. The flavors are black cherry, lychee and roses.

Then you’re ready for the Deviation ($25, 375 ml), a bracingly herbal, dark wine with a fascinating gentian bitterness. Quady said the idea for it came in a dream he had after he’d been “smoking and experimenting with a Oaxacan aphrodisiacal herb.” In the dream, he was a great sage “helping people get romantic, y’see.” Yes, I see. I also see the little romantic bunnies bordering the label of the wine. Yes, I see.

Quady also makes several Moscatos and the Batch 88 Starboard ($35), a beautiful ruby port wine. He came up with the name because while he uses traditional Portuguese grapes, he didn’t want to infringe on the traditional Portuguese port-makers. Get the pun?

On the front end of the meal there’s vermouth, usually thought of as the spirit that dare not speak its name, the shameful shadow in a martini. A vermouth like Quady’s Vya will completely recalibrate your appreciation for what this botanical wonder can be.

And now’s the time. Quady told me that while he’s been producing the vermouths since 1999, it’s only in the past five years as the “craft cocktail” movement and an emphasis on all things artisinal have rocketed in popularity that they’ve really taken off.

Increasingly discerning mixologists are looking for clarity and character in every aspect of their drinks, and have grown impatient with the bland, afterthought-like quality of standard mixers. (The French vermouths of Boissiere, $11 from SoPo, are an exception to this.)

“People are looking for new ingredients,” Quady said, “new perspectives.”

The Extra Dry Vya Vermouth ($21), a fortified blend of Colombard and Orange Muscat grapes infused with 20 different flowers and leaves, is like a roll in a secluded spring meadow. It’s as fresh and gravity-immune as a young child, bursting with that herb-garden vitality that makes you breathe deeper and smile more. Because of the above-ground plant profile, it’s ideal for whetting the taste buds while you cook.

Don’t add vodka or gin, philistine; just splash it over ice cubes or tonic water. Whatever you don’t drink will last in the fridge for a month at least.

The Sweet Vya Vermouth ($21) comes from the other end of the plant. Tinto Roriz grapes (indigenous to Portugal but planted in Quady’s vineyards) are infused with the roots, seeds and bark of botanicals. The bitterness from those parts balances the sweetness of the wine, suggesting poached orange peel and cinnamon. In front of a fireplace on a cold night, this is what you want in your hand.

All Quady wines are distributed in Maine by Pine State.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]


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