Dessert wines are growing in popularity in America, especially around the holidays. Uncorking a good one is sure to bring smiles to the faces of your guests, but you don’t want to rush out and buy dessert wines without knowing a little bit about them. Experimenting with them before knowing what you’re getting is a good way to lose money on an expensive bottle of wine!
Dessert wines are known for their noticeable sweetness. Most of them are as sweet or sweeter than a typical Riesling — one of the sweeter white wines you’ll find served with a main course (typically chicken or fish). This is because dessert wines typically have a lot of sugar in them, due to the way they are made.
A good general rule is to serve a wine with dessert that is slightly sweeter than the dish itself. Since some dessert wines also have liquor in them (These are called “fortified wines.”), they are typically served in a smaller glass. This also helps direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm the drinker.
Types of Dessert Wines
There are a few basic types of dessert wines. They come from different regions and are produced in different ways. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the most common types of dessert wine.
Sweet White Wines
As mentioned above, common white wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer can be very sweet. These sweet wines can range from a dry sweetness to a syrupy sweetness.
Sweet Red Wines
Just as with the whites, red wines you’ll encounter outside of the “dessert wine” section in the liquor store may be sweet enough to serve with dessert.
These fortified wines typically have some distilled liquor (usually brandy) in them as well. The liquor can add sweetness, but these wines also typically stop fermenting when the liquor is added, making them even sweeter.
As with the Sherry’s, Ports are fortified with liquor. Ports always come from Portugal, though there are wines made in the Port tradition in other parts of the world as well.
Noble Rot Wines
Noble Rot wines are called such for a reason. The grapes they’re made of are picked after they begin to go bad. Don’t worry though. They’re always made with a special fungus called Botrytis Cinera, which removes water from the grapes so the sugars are more concentrated.
Raisin wines, also called “Straw wines,” are made from grapes that are dried before fermentation. That means less water and more sugar when fermentation starts. Among the sweetest wines, Raisins are often better paired with very sweet deserts and chocolates.
Originating in Germany, Ice wines are made from grapes picked and pressed at temperatures below freezing. When the grapes freeze, some of the water escapes, leaving all the sugar behind. Also typically very sweet, these can be among the more expensive dessert wines because they are made in such small batches.
The ideal conditions for storing dessert wines are dark and remain roughly 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Like other wines, dessert wines should be stored on the side or with the cork pointing down at a slight angle. This is because when the wine inside the bottle is against the cork, it’s less likely for air to get in and spoil the wine.
What are your favorite dessert wines? How do you choose them?