Now that it’s officially the holidays, the party invitations are starting to roll in. As a retailer, I’m seeing lots more people come into the store and request a wine that’s great for a dinner party and its very often that dessert wines are completely ignored. Generally, people turn their noses up to sweet or fortified wines however, I find that funny because we (most of us) love drinking milk, and soda, and coffee with baileys, which are incredibly sweet beverages.
Dessert wine, by definition is a wine with more than 14% alcohol. Now this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because many wines have more than 14% alcohol and are not sweet. The term ‘dessert wine” is the legal US term for wines these wines because generally these wines are sweet and enjoyed after dinner. (Go figure). So there you have it. In Europe these wines are called liqueur wines because it gives the same sense of sweetness but you can also use fortified, which suggests that the wine has been dabbled with to make it stronger.
As previously mentioned there are a couple of different types of dessert wines out there.
There are the fortified wines such as Port and Madeira , both coming from Southern Europe. These wines start out in the same way other wines do but once the wine is made it’s then “fortified” with brandy typically. This addition stops the fermentation process and leaves residual sugar that in turn boosts the alcohol content, making a strong, rich, sweeter wine with licorice and tobacco notes.
Another way to make sweet wine is to just leave the grapes on the vine until they essentially rot. The rot produces lots of sugar by sucking out the water from the grape and thus you have sweet wines. This method is called Noble Rot because of the famous wines it produces including Chateau d’Yquem from Sauternes. This method is more famous in northern European countries such as Austria, Hungary, and Germany and makes wines with lots of honey and exotic flavors.
Raisinated wines, such as Recioto and Passito can also make for a great dessert wine. The grapes are picked and left to dry on mats making the grapes raisins making the wines much more concentrated and sweet. These wines tend to be rich, and sweet and tastes a lot like a raisin.
Lastly, I’d like to touch on Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui . Both wines are from the Piedmont region and have effervescence or small bubbles to them. I love these wines. They’re light, crisp and refreshing. They tend to taste more of fruit than of syrupy sugar, which can be nice after a big dinner.
There are many other dessert wines that I didn’t get to touch upon, but I wanted to give you an idea of what else is out there. The rule of thumb here is to have these wines with food less sweet than the wine, such as biscotti, or plain fruit, so that their not overpowered. You could even try something slightly salty with these wines, like certain cheeses. All in all, they are certainly not to be overlooked as they are some of the best and most valued wines to be had.
Callie Exas has just launched her wine career at New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!
What's for dessert?
- Reply by John Andrews, Dec 4, 2008.
Hey Callie ... have you had or sell ice wines? To me some of the best are close in quality to Sauternes.
- Reply by oceank8, Dec 5, 2008.
@Callie- this thread is right up my alley. All our big meals end with a cheese and fruit plate and a dessert wine.
@HondaJohn- Ooh yeah, love ice wines! Any great suggestions on cheaper ones, I find that some are getting pretty pricey these days.
- Reply by John Andrews, Dec 8, 2008.
@OceanK ... the prices should be going down now that the US dollar is regaining some strength. I always recommend Peller Estate or Inniskillin. Stratus is also very good.