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Dessert Wines for the Holidays


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I humbly admit it. Of the readily available US dessert wines, I have many uses for the Bonny Doon Framboise (raspberry dessert wine). The Vin de Glaciere, which I'm sure will be discussed later, is lovely but expensive for many people. The Framboise half-bottle is an explosion of pure raspberry flavor. After an exhausting, foot-swelling wine festival I've been known to bypass every other wine and pour an aperitif glass (in my case, a vodka glass) of chilled Framboise, put up said feet, and just breathe for 10 minutes.

For the holidays, Framboise with fresh, pitted dates stuffed with a fingerful of cream cheese, topped with a raspberry and tiny slivers of toasted almond, drizzled with Framboise.

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Mary Baker

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There are lots of excellent options out there... My recent sticky purchases are

2002 J.J. Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Eiswein

2002 Dr. Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Eiswein

2001 Chateau Rieussec

2000 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Rotenberg SGN

1999 Chateau Rieussec

1999 Chatuea d'Yquem

1999 Von Schubert Maximin Grunhaus Abtsberg Riesling Beerenauslese

1996 Chateau Tirecul Monbazillac La Gravieres

1996 Zind-Humbrect Gewurtzraminer Heimbourg VT

Most domestic dessert wines don't have enough acidity to balance their sweetness and an awful lot of them taste grapey. Phelps, Kiona, and Clos du Bois all make dessert wines I like, but with 99 Rieussec at $22/375ml, 96 Tirecul Monbazillac at $20/500ml it's hard to justify buying the domestic offerings. Even the 99 d'Yquem is going for $68/375ml with delivery in the fall/winter.

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I've recently been buying the 2003 McCrea Late Harvest Viognier, WA. I like the lighter sweetness of this one.

Also I just tried but haven't been able to locate a bottle of 1998 Chateau la Grave Sainte Croix du Mont which had a sweet/herby taste. mmmmm!

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Ok, I'll broach the Bonny Doon bit. This particular wine, in the form of the 1998 vintage, was my first ever introduction to wine. I had just turned 21, and was walking around Costco for a good wine for my introduction. THe Vin de Glaciere, at close to $20 for a half bottle seemed the way to go. After all, it seemed expensive enough for me to escape the plonk range (how little did I know, though I was certainly safe with this choice), figuring that it managed to remain in my price range because it was a half bottle (I was still in college at the time). Being completely unfamilar with alchohol, the fact that there was a sign saying that this wine had received 90 some points from someone (wine specatator maybe?) also led me to believe that I would not fail with this wine. So I took this bottle back to the dorm, and chilled. That afternoon, following my last class of the day, I borrowed a corkscrew from a hallmate, and proceeded to fill a water goblet with half the bottle. I sat in front of my computer, listening to NPR and lifted the glass to take my first sip.

Whoah! Frst the alchohol took my breath away! Then the boutique of the wine kept it away. Th wine was so sweet it was like drinking alchoholic syrup. But it was damn good alcholic syrup. My first thought was that this stuff was like fine perfume, made to imbibed rather than be worn. I took a second sip, and wished it wasn't quite so sweet, but decided that taken by small sips, I definitely liked this stuff. I didn't have any developed taste vocabulary through which to recognize flavor profiles in the wine, but in my mind we were talking seriously large fields of flowers condensed into one little bottle. Wishing to share my discovery with someone else, I poured a little into a glass, and took it down the hall to a friend I knew had a much more educated palate than my own. He took the glass, sniffed the wine, sipped, and then declared to my enjoyment, "This is some damned good wine!" I don't recall the rest of the story with that particular bottle, but I do know that it was sufficient to keep me enamored enough with wine that it was a full year before I even sampled beer or liquor. I went out with friends and merely smiled as they poked at me for ordering and slowly savoring a glass of wine while they downed beers and cocktails. Of course I've never had a wine sweeter than the Vin de Glacier, and it took me a while to get adjusted to dryer flavors, But for some time, a nice wine was definitely my drink of choice, all begun by one beautiful little bottle of an amazing dessert.

Unfortunately, while tastings of later vintages of Bonny Doon's Vin de Glaciere proved just as sweet as my first, none of them have proved to contain that first mind-boggling complexity and perfume. I can only hope for another bottle like my first to lay in the future.

Edited to say that I'm not so certain of the vintage as when I first posted. The wine was purchased Fall 2001.

Edited by donk79 (log)
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if you like the doon framboise, keep your eyes open for their "bouteille call", a syrah port fortified with framboise.  it cries out for a chocolate raspberry tart.

Turley Zinfandel and a chocolate tart isn't a bad thing either...

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J Fritz makes a nice Late Harvest Zinfandel (most years, I think). Also great with chocolate truffles, etc.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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A friend brought a 1/2 of '01 La Tour Blanche to a recent gathering, and it reinforced my preference for young Sauternes. For many, they're glorious when aged, but the freshness of the fruit paired with the cleansing acidity made it ideal for me. Widely available for about US$30.

Kriss Reed

Long Beach, CA

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I spent a week in Tokaj this summer

One trend I noticed different from last year was the profusion of "late harvest" or "cuvee" -style wines. Basically everyone's trying to cash in on the harvest early rather than leaving these things lying around in the cellers for a couple of years.

General style was 50-100g residual sugar, fruity, young, drinkable, some varietal wines also and very reasonably priced vs. traditional Tokaj wines. Given the explosion of wines available I'm pretty sure these will be hitting the US/int'l market at some point in the near future...

Look out for them

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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Donk79, thanks for sharing your notes on the Vin de Glacier. You're right, some vintages have been better than others!

GrandCru, I think it will be my turn to host our "ladies' book club :wink: " in February, and I'm thinking of a dessert wine gathering, with baklava and other sweet, and savory, snacks that might go with white dessert wines and champagne. For a light pairing, what's your favorite with Sauternes?

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Mary Baker

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Late harvest rieslings from Ontario's Château des Charmes and Cave Spring ("Indian Summer") are perennial faves around here. Vidal ice wines can be a treat; too bad about the price.

A bottle of Maculan's affordable 2002 Dinderello, a sweet but not sticky muscat, opened at our annual méchoui at Rites Berbères had the entire table swooning, including a couple of diners who said they didn't normally care for sweet wines. The same producer's Torcolato is another winner, in a richer, heavier, more Sauternes-like style.

The best sweet wine I've had in ages was hand-imported by friends from France in August: a 2000 Côtes du Jura vin de paille by Alain Labet. Exquisite on its own, it also made an amazing match with a couple of hand-imported chocolates specially crafted to marry with Jura's sweet wines: green cardamom ganache with Espelette pepper nougatine, and a barely sweetened almond and walnut paste with curry. Made by Arbois-based confectioner Hirsinger, the chocolates were perhaps the finest I've ever tasted.

little ms foodie, I agree that Sainte Croix du Mont is producing some great sweet wines these days. Outstanding QPR but also a freshness often lacking in Sauternes. Keep an eye peeled for Château la Rame, Réserve du Château.

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GrandCru, I think it will be my turn to host our "ladies' book club  :wink: "  in February, and I'm thinking of a dessert wine gathering, with baklava and other sweet, and savory, snacks that might go with white dessert wines and champagne.  For a light pairing, what's your favorite with Sauternes?

Though I was skeptical at first, as I am picky in how sweet and savory flavors are mixed, foie gras does indeed have an affinity with Sauternes. Lightly seared, served on toast points or tartlets, and you have yourself a winner that will produce a pairing epiphany for some, if not most, of your guests. Since you only need hors d'oeuvres-sized portions, a little lobe will go a long way. :wink:

Kriss Reed

Long Beach, CA

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For a light pairing, what's your favorite with Sauternes?

Foie, yes. Also, sheep's milk cheese including Roquefort. Duck with orange (could it be adapted into a canapé?). Vol-au-vents filled with sweetbreads in cream sauce. Certain Thai and Indian chicken, seafood and noodle dishes. In the dessert department: pithiviers, Paris-Brest, tarte Tatin made with apples or peaches, langue de chat cookies.

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I am a self-avowed lover of "sweet wines and wines that foam" but have finally been tasting enough (I think) to develop a more discerning palate. In the beginning, I liked anything that was sweet -- now I'm realizing how much I liked ONLY because it was sweet and not because there was depth or character.

In the beginning, I enjoyed Folie à Deux's late-harvest/ice Gewürztraminer. They don't make it anymore (ever since they were purchased by Trinchero). I also enjoyed Freemark Abbey's Edelwein Gold . Then I discovered Far Niente's Dolce which is a deep, rich botrysied late harvest. Also in the Napa Valley, is Prager Portworks -- while not quite the caliber of a classic Portuguese sweet wine, their white offerings, Madeline and Sweet Claire are not to be missed.

Just outside the Napa, I have long been a fan of Renwood's Amador Ice Zinfandel. Almost the same heightened raspberry nose that Bonny Doon's has, except that it is subtle and hidden as it isn't really a raspberry wine, but the odd sensation that many Amador county Zins have raspberry notes really comes through on this sweet wine.

From outside the country, I buy and drink a lot of sauterne (my favorite dessert is sauterne with Boucheron cheese) as well Banyuls. Also, Wolfert just introduced me to Pineau de Charentes and this Grand Marnier site has more information about its production.

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In the beginning, I enjoyed Folie à Deux's late-harvest/ice Gewürztraminer. They don't make it anymore (ever since they were purchased by Trinchero). I also enjoyed Freemark Abbey's Edelwein Gold . Then I discovered Far Niente's Dolce which is a deep, rich botrysied late harvest.

Dolce is a clumsy wine that would sell for $20/375ml if it were made anywhere other than here, but since it's from Napa they charge $60. It's a not that it isn't a pleasant wine, but it doesn't have enough acidity to support the sugar. It's a far cry in quality from Rieussec $25/375ml, and for $9 more than a 375ml of Dolce you can buy 1999 d'Yquem :wacko:

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There is no doubt that Germany, all in all, does perhaps the most stellar job across the board with sweet wines. Wines that are wonderful for desert and stand up to food as well. French Sauternes too can be exquisite though you can find many French Sauternes that aren't worth the time of day. Unfortunately to this point I've not had any Austrailian desert wines so I can't speak of those. When it comes to Ports how can one not like ones from Oporto? As to domestic sweet wines? They'll stack up with the best of them, though with being able to find so many there certainly will be some, or even a fair number that don't measure up. To imply that "most' domestics don't measure up I think is a rather shallow statement at best.

Without getting into Ports, I've found plenty of top notch California sweet wines. On a higher end Grgich Hills Violeta which is 60% Chard-40% Reisling is excellent. While I think this is a good example of a fine LH wine I think there are some good values to be found. Personally I also enjoy pairing sweet wines with savory dishes and incorporating the wines in the dishes.

While I thinkit is out of stock at this time, Rosenblum had a Muscat de Glacier (not a late harvest) that was absolutely unctuous. I've used this wine when cooking thin slices of chicken scaloppini with slices of orange and fishing the sauce off with heavy cream.

Price and quality wise, for the combo, Concannon's 98 Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling ($18 per half bottle) is excellent. For an appetizer I like to parboil Lobster tails. Then halve them lengthwise. Melt butter with a touch of almond oil (or no almond oil if not handy) and saute the tails lightly, add the L.H. Riesling and continue until the desired doneness is reached (it won't take long). Remove and set aside the Lobster, add heavy cream and reduce the sauce to a desired consitency. Sauce the plates, add the lobster, drizzle a little more sauce on them and garnish with slivered almonds. I serve this as a first course along with glasses of the L.H. Riesling.

Both Rosenblum and Concannon also have L.H. Viogniers as well that are nice and moderately priced. It's too bad Rieussec isn't made over here or we could probably get it at Trader Joes for under $10 a bottle.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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On a higher end Grgich Hills Violeta which is 60% Chard-40% Reisling is excellent.

    While I thinkit is out of stock at this time,  Rosenblum had a Muscat de Glacier (not a late harvest) that was absolutely unctuous.  I've used this wine when cooking thin slices of chicken scaloppini with slices of orange and fishing the sauce off with heavy cream.

I forgot about the Grgich! When I had to miss the NoCal event at Boulevard, I had dinner with the Grgich rep at PassionFish in Monterey and after tasting the Violeta, she gave me a bottle which is still in my fridge! I also tasted the Rosenblum offerings at that Monterey pouring and I was not overly impressed, however it was hot and I had been drinking a lot of other tastings so I may have had a shot palate.

Also, at my local Trader Joe's are two worth looking for... half-bottles of 2002 Deinhard Beerenauslese and 1996 Chateau Pineau du Rey Sauterne for $7.99 and $6.99 respectively. I like the Beerenauslese considerably more than the Sauterne, but for the price, that Sauterne is great to have around for cooking. In the winter, I like to poach pears in Sauterne and when even the cheapest version starts at $40.00 a large bottle, that is an expensive dessert... This makes it far more affordable.

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After several bottles at The Harvest Vine in Seattle, including Finca Sandoval (made by a Spanish E gulletor whose name escapes me) we had a bottle of Ochoa Moscatel (spelling?). It seemed brilliant to me. Very fresh reminiscent of a good Muscat de Beaume. Anyone know the name of the winemaker at Sandoval.

Edited by Coop (log)

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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After several bottles at The Harvest Vine in Seattle, including Finca Sandoval (made by a Spanish E gulletor whose name escapes me) we had a bottle of Ochoa Moscatel (spelling?). It seemed brilliant to me. Very fresh reminiscent of a good Muscat de Beaume. Anyone know the name of the winemaker at Sandoval.

From Robert Parker on the Finca:

This deep, impressively saturated ruby/purple-colored 2002 smells like a top classified Bordeaux 2000. While still young, it offers impressive notes of white chocolate, creme de cassis, blackberries, and hints of vanilla and lead pencil shavings. In the mouth, one gets the feel of naturalness in this fleshy, full-bodied red that is both powerful and elegant. Beautiful integration of sweet tannin, acidity, and wood give it accessibility, but it will be even better in 2-3 years. It should evolve for 12+ years. Hopefully, this is a harbinger of what is possible from the appellation of Manchuela. 92 Points.

This is the second vintage of this 93% Syrah and 7% Mourvedre blend made by the well-known Spanish journalist and bon vivant, Victor de la Serna. Given the fact that la Serna is a highly respected wine taster and writer, one would expect impeccable attention to detail. The 2001 debut vintage was a revelation for a wine from such young vines, and the 2002 builds impressively on that release. There are 500 cases for the USA market."

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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There is no doubt that Germany, all in all, does perhaps the most stellar job across the board with sweet wines.  Wines that are wonderful for desert and stand up to food as well.  French Sauternes too can be exquisite  though you can find many French Sauternes that aren't worth the time of day.  Unfortunately to this point I've not had any Austrailian desert wines so I can't speak of those.  When it comes to Ports how can one not like ones from Oporto?  As to domestic sweet wines?  They'll stack up with the best of them, though with being able to find so many there certainly will be some, or even a fair number that don't measure up.  To imply that "most' domestics don't measure up I think is a rather shallow statement at best. 

California specifically doesn't measure up to the old world regions. The weather here during the growing season is far warmer and the grapes are almost always harvested with lower acid levels than you get in Sauternes, Vouvray, Alsace, Germany, Austria, etc, etc, etc. A fair number of the CA dessert wines are made through all sorts of contrived methods:

Beringer Nightingale ($30/375ml) - Botrytised Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc, Napa: Beringer harvests the grapes as any other and inoculates them in the winery with botrytis. It's not bad, but not worth seeking out.

Phelps Eisrebe ($30/375ml) - Scheurebe (a hybrid of Sylvaner and Riesling), California: Grapes are harvested, tossed in a freezer, and pressed once frozen (since we're a bit short of winter here). This is one of my favorite domestic dessert wines; it, unlike a lot of it's peers isn't cloying, and has sufficient acidity to balance the sugar. It's not as complex as a good German/Austrian eiswein, but it's good for what it is.

Far Niente Dolce ($75/375ml) - Botrytised Semillon & Savignon Blanc, Napa: Grown in the traditional Sauternes style, the grapes are infected with botrytis naturally and harvested by hand in multiple passes. It's an expensive way to make wine - the price shows that - I just don't think the end result shows well against others at this price. It's certainly worth drinking, just not worth buying :smile:

    Without getting into Ports, I've found plenty of top notch California sweet wines.  On a higher end Grgich Hills Violeta which is 60% Chard-40% Reisling is excellent.  While I think this is a good example of a fine LH wine I think there are some good values to be found.  Personally I also enjoy pairing sweet wines with savory dishes and incorporating the wines in the dishes. 

Violeta is in the same boat as Dolce - nice to drink, but only worth buying if your idea of a good time is parking your H2 at Opus One and picking up a few cases of 1998 Opus. As far as good value goes, you can find all sorts of drinkable plonk from all over the world and the cheapest thing is often going to be what is made locally. Look at a wine list in any reasonable restaurant in Sydney - you have your choice of a half-dozen Australian made dessert wines by the glass. Rarely do they cost more than a few dollars. Most are bad but they sure are cheap.

    While I thinkit is out of stock at this time,  Rosenblum had a Muscat de Glacier (not a late harvest) that was absolutely unctuous.  I've used this wine when cooking thin slices of chicken scaloppini with slices of orange and fishing the sauce off with heavy cream.

    Price and quality wise, for the combo, Concannon's 98 Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling ($18 per half bottle) is excellent.    For an appetizer I like to parboil  Lobster tails.  Then halve them lengthwise.  Melt butter with a touch of almond oil (or no almond oil if not handy) and saute the tails lightly, add the L.H. Riesling and continue until the desired doneness is reached (it won't take long).  Remove and set aside the Lobster, add heavy cream  and reduce the sauce to a desired consitency.  Sauce the plates,  add the lobster, drizzle a little more sauce  on them and garnish with slivered almonds.  I serve this as a first course along with glasses of the L.H. Riesling. 

    Both Rosenblum and Concannon also have L.H. Viogniers as well that are nice and moderately priced.  It's too bad Rieussec isn't made over here or we could probably get it at Trader Joes for under $10 a bottle.

I disagree that California producers are on the whole making world-class dessert wines. There are a few examples where that is the case but they are the exception rather than the rule. Domestic dessert wine is very much like domestic sparkling wine: most of it is made in places with the wrong climate and massaged in the winery to make the product closest to what the winemaker wants. Don't get me wrong, I buy and enjoy a fair amount of domestic dessert wines, but I don't pretend they are spectacular. Their strength is that they are as ready to drink when they are put in the cellar where as yquem takes a minimum of 20 years to peak.

There is no shortage of people producing dessert wine that far exceeds anything being made in California. I suspect the only way to argue that CA is on par with the likes of Kracher, Zind-Humbrecht, Ch d'Yquem, JJ Prum, JJ Christoffel and Huet among others is to have only tried their domestic counterparts.

Let me know when you want to argue the relative merits of Krug/Egly-Ouriet/Jean Milan/Turgy/Paul Bara/Salon vs Domaine Carneros/Domaine Chandon/Schramsberg/Mumm Napa.

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Also, at my local Trader Joe's are two worth looking for... half-bottles of 2002 Deinhard Beerenauslese and 1996 Chateau Pineau du Rey Sauterne for $7.99 and $6.99 respectively. I like the Beerenauslese considerably more than the Sauterne, but for the price, that Sauterne is great to have around for cooking. In the winter, I like to poach pears in Sauterne and when even the cheapest version starts at $40.00 a large bottle, that is an expensive dessert... This makes it far more affordable.

If you are just cooking with it check out Loupiac-Gaudiet at Sam's in Chicago, it's even cheaper than what TJ's is selling.

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"California specifically doesn't measure up to the old world regions. " -- In your opinion it does not.

"Violeta is in the same boat as Dolce - nice to drink, but only worth buying if your idea of a good time is parking your H2 at Opus One and picking up a few cases of 1998 Opus." ----- I won't buy a case of Opus One, probably not a bottle and I'd likely pull up (ona practical day) in my Volvo. On a fun day pehaps in the Benz with the top down. (I'm sure that will fit your old world values better.)

As to discussing the merits of California Champagne (intentional choice of words) versus French Champagne you got the Schramsberg right but I'll take Iron Horse and Gloria Ferrer to go along with them. For a good value French Champagne I prefer Alfred Gratien.

Then again you didn't say discuss you said 'argue' and I'm sure that is what it would be. I can appreciate all of the wines you mentioned and have enjoyed many of them. It is not that California wines don't have the proper acid, they don't have it in your opinion. Taste is a subjective matter. Opinions are individual. Talking down other peoples tastes in a condescending manner is not speaking from a position of knowledge but a display of aloofness, shallowness, and an over inflated sense of self-importance. As they say, conceit is an imperfection that affects everyone except the person who has it.

In sales the weakest position is bashing the competition. You want to convince me otherwise sell me on the merits of your choices but don't go in a condescending manner against the California sparklers, California sweets, sparkling Shiraz's, or even White Zins with these unilateral condmnations do nothing to further your viewpoint but do serve to get underneath peoples skin. I think you can do better than that. Give me the pro-views and I'll listen. Bash and then.. well, like you see I'll say something. :rolleyes:

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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      6-8 tablespoons of sugar
      2-3 tablespoons of potato flour

      Wash the cranberries and put them with the cinnamon and cloves in a pan. Pour in 500ml of water and boil until the fruit is soft. Remove the cinnamon and cloves and blend the rest. Add the sugar and mix it until it has dissolved. Sieve the cranberry mousse to make a smooth texture. Mix the potato flour with a bit of cold water. Boil the cranberry mousse and add the mixed potato flour, stirring constantly so it is not lumpy. Boil for a while. Pour the kissel into some glasses.

      Enjoy your meal!

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