Dessert wines are a luxurious indulgence that many people reserve for special occasions. They are, however, so much more than just an after-dinner drink. Unveiling the fascinating world of dessert wines is an invitation to explore the depth and complexity of these wines, from their rich and sweet flavours to their production process; as with other wines, the geography, climate, and soil have a significant impact on the flavours and aroma of dessert wine. From the internationally recognized Sauternes of Bordeaux, France, to the lesser-known late-harvest wines of the United States, a wide variety of dessert wines is waiting to be discovered. This article will delve deeper into the types of dessert wines, their production, food pairing, and serving suggestions to help you appreciate the diversity of this fascinating world and inspire you to explore beyond your usual glass of wine.
Dessert wines are a type of wine that are often overlooked but offer a unique and intriguing experience for those who try them. These wines are created from specific grape varieties and are characterized by their sweetness and richness, making them the perfect complement to decadent desserts or cheese plates. The world of dessert wines is vast and diverse, with various styles and regions producing their own unique flavours and aromas. From Sauternes to Port and Sherry, each dessert wine is crafted using distinct techniques that highlight the distinct characteristics of the grape and the region. With their intricate flavours and alluring aromas, dessert wines are a fascinating subject, and exploring the world of these sweet indulgences is a true treat for any wine lover.
Serving temperatures for dessert wines are generally cooler than other wines, around 10-15°C/50-60°F, to balance the sweetness and acidity.
Dessert wines are often high in sugar and alcohol, making their storage more complicated than other wines. Here are some tips for storing your dessert wine properly:
Dessert wines are best stored at a cool and consistent temperature, usually between 7-13°C/45-55°F. Avoid exposing the wine to extreme temperature fluctuations, which can negatively impact its taste and aroma. Choose a cool, dark location in your home, such as a wine cellar or a cool closet, to store the bottles. Avoid storing dessert wines in the refrigerator, as temperature fluctuations can affect the taste and quality of the wine.
Maintaining proper humidity levels is also crucial for storing dessert wine. Aim for a humidity level between 50% and 80%. Too much humidity may lead to mould growth, while too little can dry out the cork, potentially causing oxidation—ideally, store dessert wine in a slightly more humid environment than regular table wines.
Dessert wines, like other wines, should be protected from light exposure. UV rays can degrade the wine and affect its flavours over time. Keep the bottles away from direct sunlight and consider storing them in a dark place or using UV-filtering wine storage options.
It is generally recommended to store dessert wines horizontally, especially if they use natural corks. Storing them on their side keeps the cork in contact with the wine, helping to prevent it from drying out and allowing unwanted oxygen to enter the bottle. However, if your dessert wine has a screw cap or synthetic cork, storing it upright is also acceptable.
Minimize any vibrations or disturbances that can agitate the wine. Constant movement or shaking can disrupt the sediment in older dessert wines and impact their quality. Avoid storing bottles near appliances or areas with frequent activity.
While some dessert wines can benefit from aging, not all varieties do. Some are meant to be enjoyed young and fresh. Before storing dessert wine for long periods, consider researching its aging potential and recommended drinking window to ascertain the best time to consume it.
Storing opened bottle
Once a bottle of dessert wine has been opened, it’s essential to store it correctly to preserve its taste and aroma.
The first step is to recork the bottle tightly or replace it with a wine stopper to create an airtight seal. This will help minimize air contact and slow oxidation, preserving the wine’s sweetness and aromas. Utilizing a wine preserver, which typically uses inert gases like argon, can help displace the oxygen in the bottle, thereby extending the freshness of the wine. Alternatively, a vacuum pump can remove air from the bottle before resealing it.
Dessert wines are best stored in a cool, dark, and dry location, away from direct sunlight and heat. If you plan on consuming the wine in the next few days, storing it in the refrigerator is an excellent option. However, suppose you want to store it for more extended periods. In that case, a wine fridge or cellar is preferable to maintain its quality. The cooler temperature helps slow down oxidation and preserves the wine’s freshness. Be aware that chilling the wine too much may mute some of its flavours, so allow it to warm up slightly before serving.
Dessert wines are often delicate and can absorb odours from their surroundings. Store the opened bottle away from strong-smelling substances, such as spices, cleaning agents, or other aromatic foods, which can potentially impact the wine’s flavours.
Try to consume the opened bottle of dessert wine within a few days, as extended exposure to air will gradually degrade its flavours. Consider transferring any remaining wine into a smaller bottle or container that minimizes the amount of headspace, reducing the wine’s exposure to oxygen.
Remember, once opened, dessert wines may not retain their optimal freshness indefinitely. Enjoying them within a reasonable time frame is best to experience their full range of delightful flavours.
While these guidelines provide general recommendations, it’s important to note that individual wines may vary. Some dessert wines may have specific storage instructions provided by the producer, so always refer to the wine’s label or seek expert advice when in doubt.
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The legendary dessert wines everyone should know
Dessert wines can be made using various methods and grape varieties, resulting in a wide range of styles.
Here are a few common types and characteristics of dessert wines:
Late-harvest wines are made from grapes left on the vine for an extended period, allowing them to develop higher levels of sweetness and richness. These wines often have intense fruity flavours and a luscious, honeyed texture. It is usually enjoyed as a dessert accompaniment after a meal, pairing well with fruit-based desserts and creamy cheeses.
Ice wine is a type of dessert wine made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. This wine-making process requires the grapes to be harvested while frozen, typically at -8°C or below, concentrating the sugars and flavours in the grapes while leaving behind the frozen water content. The resulting wine is known for its intense sweetness, acidity, and complex flavour profile. Ice wine is produced mainly in colder climates such as Canada, Germany, and Austria, where freezing temperatures are consistent during the grape harvest season. This wine is typically served chilled and paired with desserts or strong cheeses to balance out its sweetness. Due to the labour-intensive process and limited yield, ice wine can be expensive and is considered a specialty wine for special occasions.
Botrytized wines, also known as noble rot wines, are made from grapes affected by the beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea. This fungus partially dehydrates the grapes, concentrating their sugars and flavours. The result is a sweet wine with complex aromas, often displaying honey, apricot, and floral notes.
Fortified wines, such as Port, Madeira, or Sherry, are made by adding grape spirit (brandy) to a wine either during or after fermentation, depending on whether the winemaker desires the finished wine to be dry or sweet. The addition of alcohol stops fermentation by killing the yeast, leaving behind residual, unfermented sugar from the grapes. This prevents the yeast from fully converting all the grape sugars into alcohol, resulting in a sweet wine with higher alcohol content and a range of sweetness levels. The result is a sweet wine with an alcohol content of 15 to 20 percent. Suppose a wine is fortified before fermentation is completed. In that case, the wine will be sweet, as sugar will still be left, whereas a wine fortified after fermentation will be dry. Fortified dessert wines exhibit a wide range of flavours, from rich and sweet to nutty and caramelized.
Muscat/Moscato wine is made predominantly from Muscat grapes. This style of wine can vary in taste from floral and delicate to bold and fruity. The wine’s sweetness results from its high residual sugar content, achieved through the fermentation process being halted before all the grape sugars are converted to alcohol. Due to its natural sweetness, this wine pairs excellently with fruit-based desserts and certain cheeses like Roquefort or Gorgonzola. Its lower alcohol content than other wines makes it an ideal aperitif, and its sweet taste can also balance spicy dishes or cut through salty flavours. Muscat/Moscato wine can be enjoyed on its own, as it is a flavorful drink and suitable for special occasions.
The classic wine categories include sparkling, white (light, medium and full-bodied), rosé, red (light, medium and full-bodied) and dessert wine.
Sparkling wine is known for its effervescence, with carbon dioxide bubbles naturally forming during fermentation. White (light, medium and full-bodied) wine is usually produced from lighter-coloured grapes with a lighter body and a more delicate flavour. Rosé wine is a pink-coloured wine made from red grapes with a refreshing taste and versatile food pairings. Red (light, medium and full-bodied) wine is typically made from dark-coloured grapes, giving it a deeper colour and bold flavour profile. Dessert wine is a type of wine that is sweet and often served after a meal or paired with desserts.
These classic wine categories are the foundation of the wine industry and the starting point for exploring the many variations and complexities within each category.
This article is part of “How to plan an unforgettable wine & cheese party”
These tips are from my own experience;
I’m neither a party organizer, a sommelier, nor a turophile (a cheese connoisseur).
I just love cheese, wine and spending time with family and friends.
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