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Dessert Wine 101

Posted on Jan 01, 2016 in Wine , Seaside Wine Project , January-February 2016

Top off the end of a wonderful meal with the perfect dessert wine By Karen Granger

The way to truly round out a wonderful meal is to enjoy a beautiful dessert wine. These tend to be ignored or forgotten, which is a travesty. Dessert wines are designed to complement, or entirely take the place of dessert. These are generally grouped into five major categories: sweet sparkling, lightly sweet, richly sweet, sweet red, and fortified. Here is the quick sip on dessert wines to help you make the perfect choice.

Sweet sparkling wines seem to dance on your tongue, and are a lively companion to fresh fruit or a lighter dessert. Prime examples are moscato d’ asti, or a demi-sec (off-dry) champagne. One to try is La Spinetta, moscato d’ asti from Italy.

Lightly sweet wines are still wines (no bubbles) that can include late harvest (leaving the grapes on the vine until they are overly ripe and extremely sweet), ice wine (grapes are harvested after a freeze resulting in higher sugar content), and noble rot (fruit affected by a desirable fungus that raisins the grapes on the vine). A region common for this type of dessert wine is sauternes in Bordeaux, France, where sauvignon blanc and semillon are affected with noble rot. Chevalier du Pastel is an excellent example.

Richly sweet dessert wines include wines that have been left out to dry in the sun which elicit candied fruit flavors alongside honey and nuttiness. Look for bottles with the label “vin de paille” French for straw wine, or “passito” in Italian.

Sweet reds are an interesting bunch, most commonly made in Italy, some having a sparkling aspect to them. These should be served well chilled and will beautifully accompany fresh berries, or fruit sorbets. If you find a Lambrusco or a brachetto d’ asti, I highly recommend giving them a try.

Fortified dessert wines are what dominate most wine lists, this category includes port, sherry and madeira to name a few. These wines are made by adding alcohol, usually brandy, to cease the fermentation process while there is still sugar in the wine. The result is a sweet wine that has higher alcohol content, and in turn these wines are more stable and have a longer shelf life. Sandeman Founders Reserve port is an excellent example of a fortified wine.

At the end of your next meal, I encourage you to try a new dessert wine. It is a great opportunity to enhance your dining experience. Cheers!