As a health-conscious world, we're sure you might naturally respond to dessert wine with horror. But the truth is, dessert wines can be enjoyed in small amounts and saved for special occasions. So, instead of coiling back in revulsion, let's give these delicious sweet wines a try when the occasion presents itself! Life is all about balance, right? So, here's everything you need to know about good dessert wine!
What Is Dessert Wine?
Dessert wines got their name because they are wines that are enjoyed during or after dessert. To make a dessert wine, winemakers stop the fermentation process before yeast converts all of the grape sugar into alcohol. What's left is a rich wine that is deliciously sweetened with natural grape sugars from all different grape varieties!
What Makes It “Dessert Wine”?
On a technical side, dessert wines contain more than 14% alcohol, a relatively high alcohol content.
The Five Main Types
Today, there are hundreds of dessert wines. But still, there are five best known; these include sparkling dessert wine, lightly sweet dessert wine, richly sweet dessert wine, sweet red wine, and fortified wine. And, of course, each of these wine styles has styles within the classes.
Sparkling Dessert Wine
We're pretty sure you know what makes this wine special, but in case you're scratching your head, it's the 'sparkling' component. Apparently, the most technical wine globally, sparkling dessert wine goes through two fermentations: the second fermentation creates the wine's iconic bubbles.
A variety of sparkling wines, demi-sec wines such as Demi-Sec Champagne have up to 50 grams per liter of residual sugar. For example, a sparkling Moscato d’Asti wine from the Muscat grape might be labeled like a demi-sec or commonly found demi-sec wines from the Loire Valley.
Another sparkling wine, doux wine, is the sweetest type of champagne you can find. While most Champagnes are Brut, which is extra dry in style, it can be made in both a doux variety or a Brut Zero (bone dry with no added dosage) variety.
Applies to sweet wines, which comprise less natural residual sugar. A french term, Moelleux can also describe a dry wine whose body dominates its acidity.
Italian for "friendly" or "amicable," Amabile wine describes the wine as sweet.
Refreshing and sweet, lightly sweet wines are packed with fruit flavors. Riesling is arguably the best known lightly sweet dessert wine and has intense fruity aromas of orchard fruits, like apple and pear.
With just a taste of residual sugar, Gewürztraminer is full-bodied with low acidity. This wine, frequently produced in Germany, has a sharp finish and is frequently spritzed.
A white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France, Chennin Blanc is an aromatic and zippy sweet white wine with high acidity. However, it can also be an incredibly bland and neutral wine if the vine's natural vitality is not adequately controlled. Made to match desserts or balance out creamy, pungent cheeses, Chenin Blanc is the ultimate wine pairing with charcuterie boards.
A white grape variety, Viognier is the only sanctioned grape for the French Condrieu in the Rhône Valley. Viognier is an incredibly aromatic wine, full-bodied, rich, and the perfect match for a fruity salad course.
Another wine with just a slightly noticeable touch of residual sugar, Riesling, is slightly sweet and very aromatic. With primary fruit aromas of orchard fruits like apricot, apple, pear, and nectarine.
Sweet & Rich
Made with the highest quality grapes, sweet and rich dessert wines are the most highly concentrated and have intense dried pear, vanilla, and orange aromas.
Applied to wines from the Tokaj region in northeastern Hungary, Tokaji is lusciously sweet. Although dry wines are created here, the area is best known for its sweet and rich variety. The sweet wines of Tokaji are arguably some of the world's most extraordinary.
French sweet wine from the region of Sauternais, Sauternes wine is produced from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have been affected by noble rot. To create a noble rot wine, a spore, Botrytis cinerea, eats fruits and veggies. In doing so, flavors like ginger, saffron, and honey are imparted into the wine.
A scarce variety of wine, ice wines can only be made when the wine grapes freeze. Therefore, these are often made in Germany and Canada. Ice wines are also made in Austria, Australia, the United States, and various other countries in smaller batches.
Straw wines like Vin Santo in Italy are created from grapes that have been dried to make a concentrated juice. The wines are similar to ice wines but in a warmer climate alternative.
Sweetness and red wine are a thing! Very different than your typical dry red wine, sweet wines are best enjoyed chilled. To create sweet red wine, most winemakers use esoteric grapes.
Known for its medium to high acidity, low to medium tannins, and light to medium body, Lambrusco is an Italian wine with a 10.5% - 11.5% ABV. Its fruit flavors include Rhubarb, Sour Cherry, Wild Strawberry, Boysenberry, and Blueberry.
Late-Harvest Red Wines
Richly sweet and filled with intense aromas of pear, vanilla, and orange, late harvest wines are produced by allowing the grapes to stay on the vine for longer. Doing so allows the grapes to become sweeter and more raisinated, thus, creating a wine with a highly concentrated sweetness.
Intended to be experienced before or after dinner, fortified wines are meant for sipping. Because they are often not distilled, fortified wine is occasionally mistaken as liquor. Additionally, due to their distinguished sweetness, fortified wines are commonly utilized to flavor other cocktails.
Fortified wines are made when grape brandy is added to a wine. Because these wines are highly alcoholic with the added alcohol content, they have a long shelf life. Port wine from Portugal is likely the most famous example of this. Tawny Port—which are almost exclusively vintage ports—or Ruby Port are the best dessert wines to eat with sweet treats like chocolate cake, as their sweetness is strong enough to avoid being overpowered.
Amontillado sherry is a fortified wine made with white grapes grown on the coast of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain.
Another fortified wine, Madeira, is produced on the Portuguese Madeira Islands, off Africa's coast. Madeira can serve as an aperitif or a dessert wine because it is made in various styles, from dry to sweet.
Vin Doux Naturel (VDN)
A wine with natural sweetness, VDN is produced through light fortification with brandy (or another spirit) added to the wine before the fermentation process finishes. Then, through a process known as mutage, this wine gets its natural sweetness.