What Are Dessert Wines?
Dessert wines (or pudding wines, and nicknamed stickies in Australia) are sweet wines typically served with dessert.
We personally think that dessert wines are best drank on there own without any accompaniment but this is just our personal preference.
Plus, if you are here to increase your knowledge on dessert wines so you can sell more… Then the obvious upsell is with an actual dessert.
Further Reading: Upselling: The Complete Guide
Right so what is a dessert wine actually defined as?
Well, there is no simple definition of a dessert wine.
In the UK, a dessert wine is considered to be any sweet wine drunk with a meal, as opposed to the white fortified wines (fino and amontillado sherry) drunk before the meal (Aperitif), and the red fortified wines (port and Madeira) drunk after it (Digestif).
The powers that be then have decided most fortified wines are regarded as separate from dessert wines, but some of the less strong fortified white wines, such as Pedro Ximénez sherry and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, are regarded as honorary dessert wines.
Yeah things get a little confusing in the UK when we talk about dessert wines
In the United States, by contrast, a dessert wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% ABV, which includes all fortified wines – and is taxed more highly as a result.
This dates back to a time when the US wine industry only made dessert wines by fortification, but such a classification is outdated now that modern yeast and viticulture can produce dry wines over 15% without fortification, yet German dessert wines can contain half that amount of alcohol (just add some more confusion to the subject.
For us; We should just think of a dessert wine as a sweet wine that would go well with something that has been baked or a fruit dessert.
Let’s keep it nice and simple for our purposes of being able to sell more.
How Are Dessert Wines Produced?
Makers of dessert wines want to produce a wine containing high levels of both sugar and alcohol.
However, the quick-minded of you out there will be thinking. But isn’t Alcohol made from the sugar in the first place so how do we get both at high levels?
There are many ways to increase sugar levels in the final wine…
*grow grapes so that they naturally have sugar to spare for both sweetness and alcohol.
*add sugar, either:
*before fermentation as sugar or honey (Chaptalization)
*after fermentation as unfermented must (Süssreserve).
*add alcohol (typically brandy) having not fermented all the natural sugar in the grape juice – this is called fortification, or ‘mutage’.
*remove water to concentrate the sugar:
*In warm climates, by air-drying the grapes to make raisin wine
*In frosty climates, by freezing out some of the water to make ice wine
Dessert Wines That Use Natural Sweetness
In the absence of other techniques, makers of dessert wine have to produce their sugar in the vineyard.
Some would say that this tends to be at the expense of flavour compounds, so the wine is sweet but boring. Though this is not our actual opinion. People should enjoy what they like.
Environmental conditions have a big effect on ultimate sugar levels – the wine-maker can help this happen by leaving the grapes on the vine until they are fully ripe, and by green harvesting and pruning to expose the young grapes to the sun.
Green harvesting reduces the number of bunches on a vine early in the summer so that the sugar production of the leaves is divided between fewer bunches.
Unfortunately, they can’t control the sun, but a sunny year can help sugar levels a lot.
Noble Rot Dessert Wines
But not just any mould – Botrytis cinerea sucks water out of the grape whilst imparting new flavours of honey and apricot to the future wine.
However, it may also release metabolites that can really mess up the fermentation process – in fact, Recioto Della Valpolicella from Italy relies on a premature stop to fermentation to keep it sweet, otherwise it becomes the dry wine Amarone.
Unfortunately, the fungus is very fussy about the conditions required for such ‘noble rot’, if it is too damp the same fungus causes the destructive ‘grey rot’. So winemakers walk a fine line between maximising the amount of noble rot and losing the whole crop to grey rot.
Typically noble rot forms best in conditions where morning mist from a nearby lake or the sea gets burnt off during the day by the hot sun. That is such a wine ‘thing’ isn’t it…
No doubt the first noble rot wines were created by accident – both the Hungarians and the Germans have similar stories of how the harvest was delayed for some reason, but the mouldy grapes were used anyway and then found to be delicious.
Serving Dessert Wines
A general rule is that the wine should be sweeter than the food it is served with – a perfectly ripe peach has been described as the ideal partner for many dessert wines, whereas it makes sense not to drink wine at all with many chocolate- and toffee-based dishes.
Red dessert wines like Recioto Della Valpolicella and fortified wines like the vin doux naturel muscats are the best matches for such challenging desserts.
Quite often the wine itself can be a dessert, but bakery sweets can make a good match, particularly with a little bitterness.
White dessert wines are generally served somewhat chilled but can be easily served too cold.
Red dessert wine is served at room temperature or slightly chilled.
So, dessert wines we now know, are wines that are sweet and high in alcohol to some degree.
We should be upselling these wines with desserts of course. The clue is in the name! But armed with this extra knowledge we can now serve a different wine with our different desserts. This is where you come in.
Let us know below what dessert wines you serve at your venue then tell us what you are going to pair it with?
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