Although purists consider that dessert wines are dessert themselves, their nuances are best revealed when accompanied by dessert at the end of a savoring meal. Sweet dessert wines are rich and higher in alcohol content than conventional wines. In the United States, for instance, a dessert wine is legally defined as one with more than 14 percent of alcohol content in comparison to other table wines. Even if you think you are champ and know all the wine types and their characteristic features, selecting the right dessert wine to end your meal can still be a perplexing task. Drinking wine is a multi-faceted taste experience altogether. All dessert wines possess the characteristic sweet taste and high alcohol content. Some dessert wines are bright and citrusy in taste, while there are others that contain a tinge of jam or berry flavor and yet others that taste like rich caramels. However, each has an individual flavor and texture and the taste is solely acquired. While few love dessert wine, others can never develop a taste for it. Remember, there is absolutely no scope for middle ground.
The Two Categories
Dessert wines fall into two basic categories. The first is the fortified wine category which derives its flavor with the addition of spirits, like brandy after the fermentation process ends, in order to shoot up the alcohol content as well as its sweetness. The unfortified wines, however, raise their level of alcohol and sweetness by concentrating on the not-yet-fermented juice by various methods. Another difference lies in the temperature at which they are served. While fortified wines taste best when served at room temperature or slightly chilled, unfortified ones should be served thoroughly chilled. It must be recalled that sweet wines require more time to grow, ferment and even their aging period is longer than their main-course counterparts. Besides, the high alcohol content incurs more tax. At the time of selecting your wine, make sure you do it with optimum care. Here’s a list of few sought-after fortified as well as unfortified wines for you to choose from.
Originating in the Douro Valley of Portugal, this fortified wine is a typical sweet red wine, available in dry, semi-dry or white texture. Like all wines, it is produced from grapes and fortified by adding a neutral grape spirit called aguardente, which, in turn, boosts up its sweetness as well as the alcohol content. Port is the most well-known among the fortified genre and comes in several styles. Ruby port is the youngest, cheapest and extensively produced type of port. Tawny ports are made out of red grapes and when allowed to age being exposed to oxidation and evaporation, they mellow to a darker hue and acquire a nutty taste. They are sweet and medium-dry and typically consumed as dessert wines. Vintage ports are both rare and expensive. Such wines need to mature for at least for a decade or more to allow their flavor to reach the peak. Even though the variety is the most renowned from the revenue point of view, vintage ports account for only 2 percent of the total port production in a year.
This robust fortified wine type traces its origin from the Madeira Islands of Portugal. Its texture ranges from dry wine which can be consumed on its own to sweet wine that is accompanied with a dessert. Madeira is noted for its unique wine-making process, which requires heating the wine up to a temperature of 60 degree Celsius for an extended time period and later exposing it to various levels of oxidation. The process in turn accounts for its stability and when properly sealed, Madeira is known to be one of the most longest-surviving wines.
Cultivated near Jerez town of Spain, this fortified wine type made from white grapes is written off by wine writers as a neglected wine treasure. The word sherry is nothing, but the Anglicization of Jerez itself. Sherry is a protected designation of origin and therefore, all wines labeled as “sherry” legally needs to belong to the sherry triangle. After the fermentation is done, the wine is fortified with brandy. Sherry does not benefit from aging and it is advisable to consume it immediately.
This unfortified dessert wine is cultivated mostly in Germany and Canada. It is produced from grapes that have been artificially frozen, while they are still not picked. While the sugars and dissolved solids do not freeze, the water content freezes, imparting a concentrated sweet taste to the wine. The freezing process takes place before the fermentation itself. The ice wine making process is labor intensive as well as risky. As such, lesser quantity of wine is produced as compared to its other counterparts, making it is more expensive in the market.
This is an unfortified sweet white wine originating in the Bordeaux region of France. It is made out of grapes that have been infected by a beneficial mold known as botrytis cinerea or noble rot. They cause the grapes to shrivel, leaving behind a concentrated, sweet taste. The best Sauternes come from vines that are hand picked to ensure that grapes have reached just the perfect degree of ripeness required to process this wine. It is characterized by a balance of sweetness, along with an acidic zing. The most common flavors available are peach, honey and apricots.