Dessert wines, as the name suggests, are those made specifically to be enjoyed with dessert, and they come in a wide range of styles.
The most common include port, sherry, Madeira, and sweet reds and whites.
But there are many other types of dessert wine out there to discover.
Dessert wines tend to be quite sweet, but they can also have plenty of acidity to balance things out.
Most Popular Dessert Wines
Here is a quick profile on some of the most popular dessert wines –
Sherry wine is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain.
The name “sherry” is an Anglicization of Xeres (Jerez).
Sherry was originally a dry white wine that became popular in England and Ireland. It is now produced in a variety of styles, including dry, semi-dry, sweet, and cream.
The production of sherry wine begins with the harvesting of white grapes from the Pedro Ximénez or Palomino grape varieties.
The grapes are then crushed and fermented in large vats for up to two weeks. During fermentation, the must (grape juice) is regularly pumped over the skins to extract color and flavor compounds.
After fermentation, the young wine is transferred to barrels where it undergoes a process called “solera.” This involves blending wines of different ages together to create a consistent flavor profile.
The solera system can be thought of as a pyramid, with the youngest wines at the top and the oldest wines at the bottom.
As sherry ages in barrel, it undergoes a complex series of chemical reactions known as the “ oxidative aging process.”
This gives sherry its distinctive nutty flavor and amber color. After several years in barrel, the sherry is ready to be bottled and enjoyed!
Sauternais wine is a sweet, white wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that are affected by Botrytis cinerea.
The Sauternais region of France has a climate that is ideal for the growth of these grapes, and the wines produced here are some of the most sought-after in the world.
The Semillon grapes used in Sauternais wine are known for their high acidity, while the Sauvignon Blanc grapes add floral and citrus notes to the wine.
When affected by noble rot, these grapes produce a nectar-like juice that is incredibly sweet.
This juice is then fermented very slowly over the course of several months, allowing all of the complex flavors to develop.
Sauternais wine is often compared to dessert wines like Sauternes, but it actually has its own unique flavor profile that sets it apart.
The sweetness of this wine is balanced by fresh acidity, making it incredibly refreshing and easy to drink. It also has complex layers of flavor that make it interesting to explore.
If you’re looking for a special treat, Sauternais wine is definitely worth seeking out.
It’s perfect for enjoying on its own or with rich desserts, and it’s sure to impress any guests who are lucky enough to try it.
3. Ice wine
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine with characteristic sweetness, high acidity and low alcohol content.
Ice wine production is risky because the grapes must be picked at just the right time. If they are picked too early, they will not have enough sugar to produce a sweet wine.
If they are picked too late, they will freeze solid and be unusable.
In addition, the weather during harvest must be cold enough to ensure that the grapes freeze on the vine but not so cold that they are damaged by frost.
Because of these challenges, ice wine is typically made in small quantities and is therefore quite expensive. It is often enjoyed as a dessert wine or with fruit-based desserts such as peach pie or strawberry shortcake.
Madeira wine is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
The wine is produced in a variety of styles, ranging from dry wines which can be consumed immediately, to sweet wines which are often aged for decades.
Madeira wine has a long history and was once a very popular drink in Europe. Today, it remains an important part of Portuguese culture and is enjoyed by many around the world.
The climate of Madeira is ideal for growing grapes, and the island has been home to vineyards for centuries.
Marsala wine is a fortified wine made from grapes grown in the Marsala region of Sicily, Italy.
The wine has a long history, dating back to the 18th century when British merchants began using it to make a type of port wine.
Marsala became popular in the United States in the 19th century, when it was used as a cooking wine.
Today, Marsala is still used as a cooking wine, but it is also drunk on its own and used in cocktails.
Marsala wine is made from red or white grapes. The red grapes are usually Nero d’Avola or Corvina, while the white grapes are usually Grillo or Catarratto.
The wines are typically dry, although sweet and semi-sweet versions are also made. Marsala wines can be found in different colors, ranging from pale straw to deep amber.
The flavor of Marsala wine depends on its age and type. Younger wines tend to be fruity and light-bodied, while older wines are more complex and full-bodied.
Sweet Marsala wines have flavors of honey and dried fruits, while dry Marsala wines have flavors of nuts and chocolate.
6. Moscatel de Setúbal
Moscatel de Setúbal is a Portuguese wine made from the Moscatel Roxo grape. The wine is produced in the Setúbal Peninsula, south of Lisbon.
Moscatel de Setúbal is a sweet wine, with an alcohol content of around 20%. It is often served as a dessert wine, or as an after-dinner drink.
The Moscatel Roxo grape is native to the Setúbal Peninsula, and has been grown there for centuries. The climate of the region is perfect for growing this grape variety, and the soil is rich in minerals.
The grapes are hand-picked and then fermented in oak barrels. The fermentation process takes several months, and the wine is then aged in barrels for at least two years.
Moscatel de Setúbal has a deep golden color, and a complex flavor profile. The wine has aromas of orange blossom, honey, and nuts.
On the palate, it is sweet and luscious, with flavors of apricot, peach, and vanilla.
Moscatel de Setúbal pairs well with desserts that have similar flavors, such as peach cobbler or crème brûlée. It can also be enjoyed on its own as an after-dinner drink
7. Vin Santo
Vin Santo is a dessert wine made from white grapes that are dried on racks for several months. The resulting wine is a deep golden color with a rich, sweet flavor.
It is often served with biscotti or other desserts.
8. Muscat of Alexandria
Muscat of Alexandria is a white wine grape grown in many regions around the world including Australia, South Africa, and California.
The flavor profile of Muscat of Alexandria wines can vary depending on where they are grown, but they typically have aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, jasmine, citrus fruits, and apricots.
These wines are often off-dry to sweet, and have moderate acidity levels.
Muscat of Alexandria wines is best enjoyed young and fresh, and pair well with fruit-based desserts or dishes.
9. Port Wine
Port wine is a fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It is typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine.
Port is also produced in white and rosé styles.
The history of port wine dates back to the 18th century when British traders began shipping wine from the Portuguese port of Oporto.
The British liked the wines they found there but found them too weak. To make them more robust, the British added brandy to the wines before shipping them.
This fortification made the wines more stable and prevented them from spoiling during long voyages.
The British named this fortified wine “port,” after the city of Oporto. The name stuck, and today port is still produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley using traditional methods.
Grapes for port are grown on terraced hillsides in the Douro Valley and are hand-picked to ensure quality.
After fermentation, the wines are transferred to barrels where they age for two to three years before being bottled. Some ports are aged even longer, up to 40 years or more!
Port wines are classified according to their sweetness: dry (sec), medium-dry (semi-sec), or sweet (doux).
The most common type of port is ruby port, which is a blend of young and old wines that has been aged for two to three years in oak barrels.
Tawny port is another popular type of port; it is made from red grapes that have been aged for four to six years in oak barrels, resulting in a brownish color and nutty flavor.
Vintage Port is a special type of port made from only the best grapes of a single year; it must be aged for at least two years in oak barrels before being bottled and can continue to improve with age for decades thereafter.
How to Pair Dessert Wines with Food
Many are also high in alcohol, which can make them a bit tricky to pair with food.
But when done right, the combination of sweetness, acidity, and alcohol can be truly magical.
There are a few things to keep in mind when pairing dessert wines with food.
First, it’s important to find a balance between the sweetness of the wine and the sweetness of the dish.
Too much sweetness can be overwhelming, so it’s important to find a wine that is either less sweet than the dish or has enough acidity to cut through the sweetness.
Second, it’s important to consider the weight of the wine. Heavier dessert wines like port or sherry can be too much for lighter desserts like fruit tarts or mousses.
On the other hand, lighter dessert wines like Moscato d’Asti can get lost beneath heartier dishes like chocolate cake or pudding.
Finally, it’s important to think about how the wine will interact with any other flavors in the dish. If a dish has strong flavors like citrus or spices, it’s important to find a wine that will complement those flavors rather than compete with them.
With all that said, here are a few general tips for pairing different types of dessert wine with food:
- Port pairs well with chocolate desserts or dishes with strong flavors like coffee or spice.
- Sherry is a great choice for nutty desserts or those featuring caramel or vanilla flavors.
- Madeira works well with fruit-based desserts or anything featuring mushrooms or truffles.