In the world of fine wines, dessert wines hold a special place. These wines are enjoyed for their ability to complement a wide range of sweet treats, from dark chocolates to decadent cakes, making them a must-have for full-course meals. Here we explore the different types of dessert wines and their recommended pairings. Discover the regions that are known for producing dessert wines and learn some fascinating wine facts with us.
While dessert wines are mainly thought of as sweet wines, there is an often-overlooked variety in this category. These are five prominent types of dessert wines that should be in the arsenal of every wine connoisseur and host:
Sparkling wines, often associated with celebratory toasts, can make for a splendid accompaniment to desserts. These wines are characterized by their effervescence, which adds a touch of liveliness to the sweet experience. Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling white wine from Italy, is renowned for its fragrant aromas of peach, apricot, and orange blossom. Its light bubbles and sweetness make it a perfect partner for fruity and citrusy desserts. Similarly, Brachetto d’Acqui, another Italian sparkling wine, offers notes of red berries and roses, making it an excellent choice for pairing with chocolate-based sweets.
Lightly Sweet Wines: Riesling
Riesling, known for its versatility, is a quintessential choice when it comes to pairing with desserts. German Rieslings, in particular, are celebrated for their elegant sweetness and bright acidity. These wines range from bone-dry to lusciously sweet, allowing them to complement a wide array of desserts. The crisp acidity of a German Riesling harmonizes beautifully with the sweetness of desserts, creating a balanced and refreshing contrast. Try a late-harvest Riesling with apple pie or a spätlese Riesling with a slice of cheesecake.
Richly Sweet Wines
Richly sweet wines, often referred to as ‘liquid gold’, weigh on the indulgent side. Sauternes, hailing from the Bordeaux region of France, is a classic example. This noble wine is made from grapes affected by the “noble rot” (Botrytis cinerea), which concentrates the sugars and flavours, resulting in a luscious, honeyed nectar. Sauternes pairs impeccably with desserts featuring caramel, crème brûlée, or foie gras. Incidentally, a premium dessert wine like a Château d’Yquem can be enjoyed with dinner, not just dessert.
Tokaji Aszú, a Hungarian gem, is another richly sweet wine with a history dating back centuries. Its complexity and flavours of apricot, honey, and spice make it an elegant companion for desserts like bread pudding or almond torte.
Sweet Red Wines
While red wines are often associated with savoury dishes, sweet red wines offer a delightful contrast. Ruby Port from Portugal’s Douro Valley, is a prime example of a sweet red wine as well as a fortified wine (see next). With its dark, fruity flavours, hints of chocolate, and a touch of spice, it’s an ideal partner for rich chocolate desserts, such as flourless chocolate cake or chocolate mousse. The depth and sweetness of Ruby Port provide a harmonious balance to the intensity of chocolate.
Fortified wines, which have been strengthened with the addition of spirits, are a diverse category that includes a range of sweet styles. Sherry, originating from the sunny hills of Andalusia, Spain, offers a variety of sweet options, including Cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez. Cream Sherry, with its velvety texture and notes of toffee and nuts, is a fantastic match for pecan pie or crème caramel. Pedro Ximénez, on the other hand, features the sweet flavours of dried fruits, caramel, and molasses, making it an excellent choice for drizzling over vanilla ice cream.
Key regions that produce dessert wines:
Bordeaux, France: Bordeaux, especially the Sauternes subregion, is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest sweet wines. The unique climate and terroir of this region create ideal conditions for the development of noble rot, which is essential for crafting Sauternes.
Germany: German Rieslings are celebrated for their purity, balance, and ability to age gracefully. The country’s cool climate and steep vineyards along the Mosel and Rhine rivers contribute to the unique character of these wines.
Hungary: Tokaji Aszú, often referred to as the ‘Wine of Kings, King of Wines’, is a symbol of Hungarian winemaking excellence. The Tokaj region’s volcanic soils and indigenous grape varieties help nurture this elegant dessert wine.
Portugal: The Douro Valley in Portugal is the birthplace of Port wine, including Ruby Port. The region’s terraced vineyards and traditional winemaking methods contribute to the complexity and richness of these fortified wines.
Spain: Spain’s Jerez region is famous for Sherry production, offering an array of styles from bone-dry Fino to lusciously sweet Pedro Ximénez. Sherry is aged using a unique solera system, which imparts distinctive flavours and character to the wines.
Fascinating facts about dessert wines:
– Dessert wines are age-worthy treasures!
Many dessert wines, particularly Sauternes and German Rieslings, have exceptional ageing potential. Some vintages can continue to evolve and improve for several decades, becoming even more exquisite over time.
– The natural sweetness of dessert wines.
Some dessert wines, like ice wines and late-harvest wines, achieve their sweetness naturally, as they are made from grapes that have been left on the vine to concentrate sugars and flavours.
– The magic of noble rot.
The development of noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea, is a crucial factor in the production of many sweet wines. This benign fungus punctures grape skins, allowing water to evaporate and sugars to concentrate, resulting in intense sweetness and complex flavours.
– Dessert wines offer versatility in food pairings.
Dessert wines are not limited to dessert pairings alone. They can also be enjoyed with savoury dishes, such as foie gras, blue cheese, creamy tortellini, or spicy cuisine, for unique taste combinations.
The world of dessert wines is a pleasant tapestry of flavours, styles, and histories. Each type of dessert wine brings its own distinctive charm to the table, whether it is the effervescence of sparkling wines, the complexity of fortified wines or the sheer elegance of Riesling.
The next time you indulge your sweet cravings or end a meal with a customary dessert, consider elevating your experience with the perfect dessert wine pairing and raise a toast to the sweet moments in life!