Dessert wines, known for their rich and indulgent flavours, have long been associated with luxury and sophistication. From the deep, nutty flavours of port to the bright, fruity notes of sweet champagne, dessert wines offer a wide range of tastes and aromas that are sure to impress. But beyond their decadent taste, these wines also carry a deep history and cultural significance. Some have been produced for centuries in specific regions, using techniques and ingredients passed down through generations. Others have developed a reputation for excellence and exclusivity, fetching high prices and earning a place in the world of fine dining. So whether you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur or just looking to expand your palate, there are certain dessert wines that everyone should know and try at least once in their lifetime.
Dessert wines are sweet wines that are typically served as a dessert course. They are made from grape varieties that are high in sugar content, such as Muscat and Riesling. The sweetness level of dessert wines can vary from slightly sweet to extremely sweet, with a range of flavour profiles that include notes of honey, caramel, and dried fruits. The most common types of dessert wines include port, sherry, ice wine, and late-harvest wine. These wines pair well with various desserts, including fruit tarts, pies, and cheese platters, and are sometimes enjoyed on their own as a luxurious after-dinner treat.
Late Harvest Riesling
AKA: Riesling – Johannisberger Riesling – Rhine Riesling – White Riesling -Riesling Renano (Italy)
Late Harvest Riesling wines are made from Riesling grapes left on the vine until they reach a high level of ripeness and sweetness. These wines can range from off-dry (Kabinett and Spatlese) with a small but perceptible amount of sugar and fresh, delicate fruit flavours to lusciously sweet (Auslese) with more concentration, vibrant acidity, richer fruit flavours, and a broader mouthfeel. Late Harvest Riesling often exhibits honey, apricot, peach, and citrus flavours.
Riesling wine can be classified as a dessert wine, but it can also be enjoyed as a standalone wine. Riesling typically has a characteristic sweetness, making it a popular choice for pairing with desserts. It is known for its vibrant acidity, aromatic profile, and range of flavours, including fruity, floral, and honey notes. These characteristics make it a versatile wine that pairs well with various sweet dishes, such as fruit tarts, cheesecake, and crème brûlée. However, Riesling’s sweetness can vary depending on the region and winemaking style, ranging from bone-dry to sweet.
Serve whites chilled 8ºC/47ºF.
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Here are some other common types of Late Harvest dessert wines
Late Harvest Gewürztraminer
Late Harvest Gewürztraminer wines are made from aromatic and flamboyant Gewürztraminer white wine grapes that have undergone extended ripening. The natural sugars in the grapes are not always fermented fully, resulting in residual sugar that sweetness the wine. These wines tend to be full-bodied, fragrant, and richly sweet. They offer lychee, rose petals, tropical fruits, and spices flavours. Gewürztraminer’s natural sweetness and complexity make it a popular choice for dessert wine enthusiasts.
Late Harvest Chenin Blanc
Late Harvest Chenin Blanc wines are produced from Chenin Blanc grapes left on the vine to accumulate sugars and flavours. These wines can showcase both sweetness and acidity, with flavours of honey, pineapple, pear, and floral notes.
Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes that have been allowed to ripen on the vine fully. These wines can range from off-dry to intensely sweet, with tropical fruits, citrus, grass, and herbs flavours.
Late Harvest Semillon
Late Harvest Semillon wines are produced from Semillon grapes that have reached high sugar levels on the vine. These wines are often full-bodied, with flavours of honey, ripe stone fruits, and sometimes a touch of nuttiness.
These are some of the most common Late Harvest dessert wines, known for their sweetness and concentrated flavours. They offer delightful options for those seeking a sweet and indulgent wine experience.
AKA: Icewine – Eiswein (Germany and Austria) – Vin de Glace – Vin de Glacière – Vin Glace
Ice wine is typically made from white grape varieties such as Riesling or Vidal Blanc. However, red grape varieties can also be used.
Eiswein (ice wine) has as much sugar as botrytized Rieslings but with cleaner fruit flavours. Canada is producing some delicious Riesling ice wine.
Ice wine is a unique and exquisite type of wine that is produced from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. This process concentrates the sugars and flavours in the grapes, resulting in a sweet and intense wine. Ice wines are typically very sweet, with vibrant acidity. Icewine flavours often include honey, tropical ripe fruits, citrus, and floral notes.
The grapes are left on the vine until they freeze, and then they are harvested. Workers then race to pick the frozen grapes and press them carefully to separate the water content (as ice) from the sweet nectar that will become the wine. They are then pressed while still frozen. The juice extracted is exceptionally sweet and undergoes a slow fermentation process to develop its unique characteristics.
Making wine this way is risky. Though vines are typically covered with nets to protect them, warm weather, rot, hungry birds and animals, and stormy weather can result in little to no harvest. Because grape yields are so low, labour-intensive and risky, authentic ice wine is rare and more expensive than other types of wine.
Ice wine should be served chilled, between 7-10°C/45-50°F.
|Typical from white grapes||full||high but perceived medium||sweet||low to medium|
|Typical from red grapes||full||Acidity||sweet||medium|
AKA: Barsac – Cérons – Sainte-Croix-du-Mont – Cadillac – Loupiac – Premières Côtes de Bordeaux – Côtes de Bordeaux Saint-Macaire
Sauternes is a renowned Botrytized dessert wine produced in the Sauternes region of Bordeaux, France.
Sauternes is typically made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes affected by noble rot. This type of fungus affects the grapes, causing them to dehydrate and intensify their sugars. As a result, the wine produced from these grapes has a rich honey-like sweetness with notes of apricot, peach, and tropical fruits. Sauternes wines are known for their luscious sweetness and complex flavours of honey, apricot, peach, caramel and botrytis-affected fruit. These sweet wines are perfect for pairing with various desserts, such as crème brûlée, fruit tarts, blue cheeses and sometimes chocolate. It is widely renowned for its unique and complex flavours, making it a popular choice among wine enthusiasts. Sauternes qualifies as a very sweet wine, with anywhere from 120–220 g/L of residual sugar (for comparison’s sake, coke has 113 g/L).
Serve at 6-10 ºC/42-50 ºF.
Here are some other common types of Botrytized dessert wines
Tokaji Aszú is a Hungarian sweet wine produced in the Tokaj region. It is made from Furmint, Hárslevelű, and Muscat grapes affected by noble rot, a beneficial form of botrytis cinerea fungus that concentrates the flavours and sugars in the grapes. This unique process gives Tokaji wine its distinctive taste and sweetness. Tokaji Aszú wines are known for their rich sweetness, honey, apricot, orange peel, and marmalade flavours. The wine’s sweetness is measured using the “buttons” system, ranging from 3 to 6 or more putts.
These wines are very sweet and perfect for pairing with dessert and sometimes chocolate.
The history of Tokaji wine dates back centuries, and it has been regarded as one of the world’s finest dessert wines for generations. It gained international fame when Louis XIV of France called it the “Wine of Kings, King of Wines.”
TBA is a German dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. It is produced in various German wine regions, such as Mosel, Rheingau, and Rheinhessen. TBA wines are ultra-sweet and concentrated, with flavours of honey, tropical fruits, and botrytis-affected characteristics. They are made from individually selected overripe or botrytized grapes.
Fully botrytized wines (Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese) are lusciously sweet, orange blossom-like, with honeyed richness.
Aszú eszencia is an incredibly sweet and rare Hungarian wine. It is made from the juice of botrytized grapes and has an extremely high sugar concentration. Aszú essential wines are known for their intense sweetness, low alcohol content, and flavours of honey, dried fruits, and spices.
Quarts de Chaume
Quarts de Chaume is a prestigious sweet wine produced in the Loire Valley, France. This Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine is made from Chenin Blanc grapes affected by noble rot. Quarts de Chaume offers a range of sweetness levels and exhibits honey, ripe stone fruits, and citrus flavours.
These are some of the most common and well-known Botrytized dessert wines. Each has its own unique character, showcasing the remarkable influence of the noble rot on the grapes and resulting in exquisite, sweet wines highly sought after by wine enthusiasts.
AKA: Muscat – Moscato or Muscat Canelli (California) – Moscato di Asti (sparkling wine)– Asti or Fior d’Arancio (Italy) – Vin Doux Natural – Muscat de Beaumes-de- Venise (France) – Liquor di Muscat (Australia) – Muskateller (Germany) – Muscatel (Portugal) – Muscat Blanc – Muscat Canelli – Moscato Bianco – Muscat de Frontignan – Muscat de Lunel – Muscat d’Alsace – Muskateller – Moscatel de Grano Menudo
Moscatel Rosé and Sárgamuskotály Varieties: Muscat of Alexandria – Muscat Ottonel – Muscat Fleur d’Oranger
Moscato is a sweet, fragrant white wine that originates from Italy. It is made from Muscat grapes and is known for its lightness and fruity flavours, with peach, apricot, orange blossom, lemon zest notes, and aromatic flavours. It usually identifies the off-dry and sweet wine versions made from that grape. Moscato is typically light-bodied, low in alcohol, generally around 5-7%, and has a slightly fizzy texture, which makes it a perfect option for those who prefer a lighter, sweeter wine. It is categorized as a dessert wine due to its natural sweetness.
This wine is typically served chilled and is often paired with desserts or spicy dishes. Moscato pairs well with desserts such as fruit tarts, cheesecake, and chocolate.
Due to its sweet nature, Moscato has gained popularity among younger wine drinkers and has become a popular choice for celebrations, brunches, and summer gatherings. Overall, Moscato is a delicious, easy-to-drink wine perfect for those who enjoy sweeter wines or are new to wine tasting.
Moscato is best enjoyed chilled, usually between 4-10°C/40-50°F. This helps to highlight its refreshing and vibrant flavours.
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These temperature ranges are meant as a starting point; you can adjust them based on your taste preferences. It’s always a good idea to let the wine warm up a bit in the glass if it’s initially served cooler to enjoy its aromas and flavours fully.
Feel free to experiment and adjust the temperature based on your own taste preferences.
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).
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