If you love wine and you love sweets, boy, do I have a treat for you…dessert wine! Are you the type of person that feels like a meal just isn’t quite complete without that eagerly anticipated and always satisfying sweet ending? Then may I recommend experiencing the delight and sweet nectar that is… dessert wine. I have always felt that dessert wines are far too often flying under the radar and are not being appreciated like they could be, especially in restaurants. Sweet style wines can occasionally be viewed as unsophisticated by some, but that notion could not be farther from the truth in the glorious world of wine. When I dine out, I usually prefer to drink my dessert; it is definitely less filling and still satisfies that small urge for a hint of sweetness at the end of a good meal. Dessert wines are much sweeter and richer than table wines and are typically served in three to four ounce pours.
Dessert wines come in many different shapes and sizes, as far as, how they are produced, where they are produced, and the different styles of the end product. Generally speaking, wines taste sweet or dry depending on the amount of residual sugar present in the wine. Of course, there are other important factors that lend a hand to what you are actually tasting and feeling on the palate, such as, levels of acidity, tannins, alcohol, carbon dioxide and even the temperature of the wine when it is served. There are several production methods involved in making a sweet wine and there are a host of different regulations worldwide concerning those methods.
Port and Sherry are perhaps the most well known of the dessert wines, these are fortified wines, also Marsala and Madeira. Fortification is the addition of brandy or a neutral spirit in order to raise the wine’s alcohol content. This process also arrests fermentation and leaves plenty of sugar and sweetness in the wine. These wines generally have between 17-21 percent alcohol. Other methods of production include concentrating the sugars in the grapes (wine made via this method is my favorite). This can be done by removing water from the process to concentrate sugars, such as drying grapes, freezing grapes or encouraging a fungus called botrytis cinerea, in its noble form, to attack the grapes. Botrytis cinerea or “noble rot” can produce some of the most stunning wines in the world, like Sauternes. This fungus causes the grapes on the vine to shrivel, concentrating and intensifying both sugar and flavor. The grape’s acid levels remain high, resulting in a wine that is not cloyingly sweet. These are very elegant, full-flavored wines, I call them “liquid gold”. My other favorite dessert wine is Eiswein (or ice wine). This is a special style of wine and requires very cold temperatures to produce. Ice wine is made by picking grapes that are frozen on the vine, and pressed before they thaw. Because most of the water in the grapes is frozen the resulting juice is concentrated and rich, high in sugar and acidity.
Dessert wines (like ice wine and botrytis wine) can command a hefty price tag due in part to the difficult production methods, but, there are plenty of affordable, delicious sweet wines on the market, made with several different grape varieties from around the world. Sweet, luscious wines can be enjoyed by them selves or paired with cheese, dried fruits and nuts. To achieve the ultimate thrill of food and wine pairing, try a glass of Sauternes with foie gras, or a rich glass of port with stilton cheese. Quite the experience!