ALL ABOUT DESSERT WINE
Dessert wines make excellent after dinner treats. This broad category includes sparkling, lightly sweet, richly sweet, sweet red, and fortified varieties. They pair excellently with desserts and cheeses, but many dessert wines taste delicious on their own. Because of their sweet nature, many drinks mask their high ABV (alcohol by volume levels) contents. On the low end, many test around 10%, but other varieties can reach levels between 15 and 22%!
Dessert wines have a rich and varied history that dates back centuries. These sweet and luscious wines were first created by leaving grapes on the vine to ripen longer than usual, allowing the sugars to concentrate. The ancient Greeks and Romans were known to enjoy sweet wines, and the technique of sun-drying grapes to create raisins was also used to make dessert wine. In the Middle Ages, dessert wines became popular in Europe and were often enjoyed after meals as a digestive aid. In the 17th and 18th centuries, fortified dessert wines such as port and sherry became popular in England, while sweet wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji were produced in France and Hungary. Today, dessert wines are enjoyed around the world and can be made from a variety of grapes and methods, from late harvest to botrytis-affected grapes to ice wine.
How Dessert Wine is Made
Dessert wines are made by using grapes that have been allowed to ripen longer than usual, resulting in higher sugar content. There are several methods used to create dessert wines, each with its unique process and flavor profile.
One method involves allowing grapes to dry on the vine or on mats after being harvested, a process known as "passerillage." This causes the water in the grape to evaporate, concentrating the sugars, flavors, and aromas. This method is commonly used in the production of Amarone in Italy.
Another method involves allowing grapes to be affected by a beneficial fungus called botrytis cinerea or "noble rot," which causes the grapes to shrivel and concentrate the sugars, resulting in a sweet wine with a distinct flavor profile. This method is commonly used to produce wines such as Sauternes in France and Tokaji in Hungary.
Late harvest grapes are also commonly used to make dessert wines. These grapes are left on the vine longer than usual, allowing them to become overripe and develop higher sugar content. These grapes are then harvested and pressed to produce sweet and rich wines.
In some cases, dessert wines are also made by fortifying the wine with brandy or another spirit. This stops the fermentation process and leaves behind residual sugar, resulting in a sweet and fortified wine such as Port in Portugal and Sherry in Spain.
Overall, the method used to make dessert wine depends on the region and the desired flavor profile, but all involve using grapes with higher sugar content to produce a rich and sweet wine.
- Sauternes - A sweet white wine made from grapes affected by noble rot, producing a rich and complex flavor profile.
- Port - A fortified wine made from a blend of grapes from the Douro Valley in Portugal, resulting in a rich and sweet wine with a high alcohol content.
- Sherry - A fortified wine made in the Jerez region of Spain, with a wide range of styles, from dry to sweet, depending on the production method.
- Ice wine - Ice wine is a sweet wine made from grapes that have been left to freeze on the vine, producing a concentrated and intense flavor profile.
- Tokaji - It is a sweet white wine made in Hungary from grapes affected by noble rot, resulting in a rich and honeyed flavor profile.
- Madeira - A fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of Madeira, with a range of styles from dry to sweet, and a unique flavor profile that develops through the aging process.
- Muscat - Muscat is a wine made from the Muscat grape, with a floral and fruity flavor profile.