Dessert Wines: A Sweet Alternative


At the end of a meal, nothing is better than something sweet to top off the night. Dessert wine paired with a sweet treat or alone could be just what is needed. Dessert wines, so called because of their sweet taste, can contain from 3 to 28 percent alcohol, but in the United States tend toward 14%. There are a few different types of dessert wine but the most common is late harvest. With late harvest wines, the grape is left on the vine longer than other wines to over-ripen (or raisin). This produces a much higher sugar level with a lower amount of juice. Late harvest wines especially, as is common with other sweet wines, are sold in half-bottles because they are so rich and sweet. Late Harvest Riesling like Messina Hof’s “Angel” can be paired with many desserts such as apple tart or a light piece of chocolate cake.

Another dessert wine that is often mistaken for late harvest is port. Port is a fortified wine which means that it has a low alcohol content but is still sweet with usually some sort of spirit added, usually brandy, to increase the alcohol content and halt fermentation. Due to fortification, this type of dessert wine usually possesses a higher alcohol content than most other wines, usually around 19.5% or 20%. Port can be paired with cheese cake and chocolate as well as other foods such as cheeses and nuts.

Another dessert wine to consider is Sherry, a wine that is usually fortified with brandy after fermentation, which can be paired nicely with ice cream.

In general, the rule is that the wine should be sweeter than the food with which it is served. The wines can often be enjoyed alone due to their excellent sweetness and heavy, rich flavors.