A dessert wine is a sweet wine that is typically served with dessert. They can also be enjoyed alone or accompanied by fruit or bakery sweets. There is not a simple definition of a dessert wine. In the UK a dessert wine is any sweet wine that is drunk with a meal, as opposed to white fortified wines that are drunk before a meal, and red fortified wines that are drunk after a meal. Most fortified wines are regarded as distinct from dessert wines. In the United States a dessert wine is defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume, which includes all fortified wines.
Dessert winemakers want to produce a wine that contains both high levels of sugar and alcohol, yet the alcohol is made from sugar. There are a few different methods to increase sugar level to produce dessert wines. The first method is to grow grapes so that they naturally have a high level of sugar. The grapes winemakers use that have the highest level of sugar are usually Muscat, Ortega, and Huxerebe. This ensures that there is enough sugar for sweetness and alcohol. Another method is to add sugar either before or after fermentation. Thirdly the winemaker can add alcohol, brandy is typically used, when not all of the natural sugar of the grape juice has fermented (this is called fortification). The last method is to remove water from the grape to concentrate the sugar. In warmer climates this is easy to do by air drying the grapes to create raisin wine. In cold, frosty climates winemakers can freeze out some of the grape’s water to make an ice wine. Lastly in damp temperatures, winemakers can use something called noble rot to desiccate the grapes.
When serving dessert wines the general rule of thumb is that the wine being served should be sweeter than the food it is served with. Many people find that a perfectly ripe peach can be an ideal partner for a lot of dessert wines. Red dessert wines and fortified wines are great matches for chocolate and toffee-based desserts. Often the dessert wine itself can be considered a dessert, but when paired with bakery sweets they can be greatly enhanced. Dessert wines can be served cold. White Dessert wines are generally served chilled while Red dessert wines can be served at room temperature or slightly chilled.