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All about Dessert Wine

Dessert wines offer decadent and delicious options to enhance and elevate the after-dinner drinking experience. When paired strategically – a dessert wine can turn a final course into unforgettable sips and splurges. Whether it is red, white, bubbly, still or fortified – a dessert wine is an ideal closer and will have characteristic sweetness and complexity. Surprisingly, dessert wines are often overlooked and exist outside of the range of even the most experienced and widely sampled wine enthusiasts. They are often underappreciated or even unfamiliar, leaving a missed opportunity to create a dynamic dish and dessert wine duo. While there is not an industry definition of what constitutes a dessert wine; among winemakers and experts, these wines are broadly regarded as sweet wines that most commonly pair with a dessert. Or that may be served as a final course to a meal that also measure at or above 14 percent alcohol content. These wines stand out in style, taste and antiquity as well as aesthetics. Dessert wines are commonly corked, caged or capped in specialty bottles that are often narrow, with long tapering necks to stand in a category all their own.

Tasting Notes

Ice wine

Dessert wines are vinified into hundreds of styles boasting a wide range of sweetness which allows for diverse pairing, enjoyment and graceful aging. Most dessert wines will fall into a lightly sweet, richly sweet, sweet red, sparkling or fortified category - like a sherry and port. Each expresses unique tasting notes, flavor profiles and drinking experiences. Our French and dessert wine expert Atanas Nechkov shares that a common misconception is that all sweet wines are dessert wines. He clarifies that a “…common mistake is to consider every sweet wine to be dessert wine. Only the most concentrated and full-bodied qualify as dessert wines.” The method of creating a dessert wine depends on the region, climate and winemaking practices.

There are three primary ways to make sweet wines including the late harvesting of grapes, the action of noble rot to raisinate the grapes or by adding brandy to stop fermentation and preserve the natural grape sugars that distinguish dessert wines. While each style will be distinctive in taste - shared qualities of dessert wines include intense and concentrated flavors, high levels of residual sugar and richness. Atanas adds that you should expect to enjoy, “…aromas and flavors of dried fruits, pineapple, golden raisins, apricot jam, passion fruit, acacia, honey and ginger notes for the whites and ripe, jammy aromas of currant, blackberry, plum, black cherry, cocoa bean and butterscotch for the reds.” There is also a wide selection of dessert wine glasses that are often as novel as the wines. Try a tulip, diamond, or flute shape to pour and serve chilled.

Read to taste? Browse our dessert wines.

Notable Regions

German Vineyard

Dessert wines are made around the world where the climate often lends to the winemaking technique used to create sweet wines. The most widely recognized and celebrated dessert wine countries include France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Portugal and Spain. In France, the Sauternes region of Bordeaux is prized for a stunning sweet white wine that features honied white fruit and butterscotch flavors as well as the Loire Valley’s Quarts de Chaume appellation where chenin blanc grapes are used to make a golden and gracious dessert wine. Germany’s contributions to sweet wines include Eiswein, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese – all styles that feature late or selected harvest grapes primarily from the Rhine region that are also desired for their bracing acidity. Italy gifts Vin Santo from Tuscany which expresses with caramel and hazelnut flavors, Recioto della Valpolicella - a sweet red made from dried grapes and Recioto di Soave, a sweet white made in the same style.

Suggested Pairings

Chocolate cake with white wine

Dessert wines, of course, are most often enjoyed after dinner with a dessert pairing. However, with so many styles and flavors they also make amazing aperitifs, fantastic cheese or savory pairings as well as stand-alone sippers. There are a few tips shared from our wine specialist that will help you to create brilliant pairings. Prior to serving, consider sweetness carefully to ensure that your dessert selection is not sweeter than the wine. A dessert that is sweeter than the wine can nullify the taste and flavor. The happiest match is a not-too-sweet dessert and a modestly sweet wine. Consider poached fruit, citrus or nut tarts or even crème brulée. A Spanish sherry with flan or a caramelly madeira with banana fosters will change your day. Additionally, there are tried-and-true pairings that are always worthy of plating and pouring- foie gras with a sauternes, a port and stilton blue cheese or pecan pie. Atanas also reminds that dessert wines are fantastic for aging, “All these classic dessert style wines have another very important feature in common, they are the longest-lived wines in the cellar.” This means you can collect and treasure these wines.

If you have already dabbled in dessert wines - we encourage you to continue to mix-and-match styles, flavors and dishes. For example, try pairing a Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest and a caramelized apple pie or dark chocolate.

From Our Guests

“We were pleasantly surprised by the taste and overall body of this ice wine [Snow Ridge Cabernet Franc Icewine]. Neither my husband nor I are an expert, but we’re huge fans of this wine!” – Brenda and Mark, ABC customers

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