Dessert wines come in all kinds of forms. From white to red and from slightly dry, semi-sweet to super sweet, there is a type of dessert wine to fit everyone’s needs.
Dessert wines in general, seem to have a bit of a bad rap. The overall consensus is usually that dessert wines are overly sweet and generally, not very good quality. But this isn’t always the case, there are some incredibly high quality and delicious dessert wines on the market that deserve trying!
Join us as we address all the most important things you need to know about dessert wine.
What is Dessert Wine?
Dessert wine is a large genre of sweet wines that are supposed to be served at the end of your meal, usually accompanied by a sweet dessert.
Dessert wine is usually sweet and generally has a higher alcohol content than most other wines. These wines can be paired with desserts, sweets, fruits and cheeses to really bring out the supportive flavours present.
There are three different harvesting and winemaking methods that directly affect the characteristics and the sweetness of dessert wine:
- Late harvest: When grapes are left on the vine, after their harvest date, they get sweeter and riper. This is one of the ways to ensure more sweetness in the wine, is to leave the grapes for the picking, past their due harvest date.
- Fortification: a fortified wine means that there is a spirit present in the wine, such as brandy. This process stops the fermentation of the wine in its tracks and increases the alcohol content of the beverage.
- Noble rot: this is when the grapes are left to “rot” in an intentional way. There is a type of fungus called Botrytis Cinerea. When it gets hold of a grape, it sucks out all the moisture, and what is left is the intense sweetness of the fruit, therefore creating a very sweet wine during fermentation.
Types of Dessert Wines
Here is a list of the 6 most popular and delicious types of dessert wines to look out for, as well as some of their characteristics:
- Meaning “ice wine”
- Unfortified sweet wine from Germany and Austria
- Sweet and acidic
- Meaning “berry selection” in German
- Grapes left for Noble Rot in Germany and Austria
- Semi-sweet to very sweet
- Unfortified, Italian, dried-grape wine
- Higher alcohol content
- Fortified wine from Madeira in Portugal
- Intentionally oxidized during creation for nutty/caramel notes
- Dry to semi-sweet
- Fortified wine from Porto, Portugal
- Made from both white and red wine grapes
- Sweetness depends on how long it’s been aged, can age anything from two to forty years or more.
- Fortified wine from Jerez region of Spain
- Made from Palomino, Muscat, or Pedro Ximénez grapes
- Dry to very sweet
Port wine is a fortified wine from the terraced vineyards in the Douro River Valley, in Portugal. Port is most often made from the local grape Touriga Nacional, as well as other local grapes too, depending on the desired outcome the winemaker is looking for.
Port is a large genre of wine that comes in various styles, tastes and categories. Port is usually more on the sweet side, and more often than not it comes in the form of a red wine. The sweetest and fruitiest style of Port are the Ruby Ports. If you are wanting to enjoy a nuttier Port taste full of toffee/caramel flavour, then a Tawny Port is the way to go.
Madeira wine is a deep, rich fortified wine made in the sunny and hot climate of Madeira in Portugal. It ages beautifully and the longer it sits in the bottle, the more delicious and rich it becomes. There are four types of grapes typically used to make Madeira wine: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey.
Madeira’s tastes can be dry to quite sweet depending on which grapes get used, and how long it has been left to age.
Madeira has a nutty flavour, which is often accompanied by smoky notes of honey, fruit and toffee. It is an acidic wine that can last for centuries and does not need to be corked or refrigerated to preserve its freshness.
What to Look for in a Dessert Wine
What to consider when choosing a dessert wine is pretty simple. Look for a wine that is sweeter than the dessert, sweet, fruit or cheese you are pairing it with, otherwise, you run the risk of making your food choice taste bitter and it may be a bit off-putting.
How do you Serve Dessert Wine?
When serving a dessert wine, it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way. You often only need small sips due to the richness and sweetness of the wine. Finding dessert wine or sherry glasses is a great way to serve dessert wine as they only hold small amounts of liquid.
How to Drink Dessert Wine?
Drinking dessert wine, as we have said above, should be done with a dessert, food, fruit or cheese that is slightly less sweet than the wine you have chosen to pair it with. Something to keep in mind is that the wine itself can often serve the purpose of the dessert at the end of a meal. If you are choosing to replace a dessert or cheese plate after a meal with a dessert wine, then choosing something high up on the sweet scale is a great idea.
White dessert wines should be served slightly chilled, but not too cold. Keeping the wine in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes before serving is enough time to chill it appropriately. Red dessert wines, however, should be served at room temperature or on some occasions, ever so slightly chilled.
Why is Dessert Wine Expensive?
Dessert wines are expensive to make, incredibly time-consuming, and require massive amounts of skill and knowledge to get perfectly right. These factors are what determine the price and often push the price tag up. You are paying for quality, experience, time and expertise.
What is a Good Dessert Wine for Beginners?
A great dessert wine for beginners is Fuleky Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest. It’s produced in Hungary and is a delightful introduction to the world of dessert wines. It hails from the Tokaj grape and has a lovely balance between sweet and acidic.
Fuleky Pallas Tokaji Late Harvest has an alcohol content of 10.5% bottle and is soothing for the tummy after a heavy meal, or just before you go to bed. It goes beautifully with fruity desserts and strong tasting cheeses.
What’s the Difference Between Sweet Wine and Dessert Wine?
Sweet wines and dessert wines have many unexpected differences and are in totally different genres to each other.
Sweet wines are usually made from the same types of grapes that make dry wine and are either sweetened during fermentation or have sweeteners added to them later on.
Whereas, dessert wines are often a more fortified wine and the end result taste, texture and colour are considered much earlier on in the process than an off-the-shelf sweet wine.
A wonderful addition to the end of any meal, or just to sip on its own, dessert wine belongs in your wine rack for sure!