Dessert - Sweet Wines

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Exactly which wines are considered dessert - sweet wines varies from country to country. Some countries break the classification into two categories, one for dessert wines and one for sweet wines. Others combine them into a single dessert - sweet wines category. The differences have more to do with individual countries' taxation laws than with how the wines are used.

The name, dessert wines, comes from the specific usage of sweet wines as an accompaniment to desserts, and by extension, the entire meal. While there are other sweet wines, such as the Sherry or other aperitif that is drunk before a meal, or the Port that is drunk on its own after a meal, the dessert - sweet wines are consumed in partnership with the meal.

The United States regulates the naming of dessert wines, limiting the usage of the term "dessert wine" to sweet wines of more than 14% alcohol content, although this is an arbitrary figure. Since the sugar in grapes provides both the wine's sweetness and its alcohol content, it is quite possible for naturally sweet wines to have an alcohol content well below 14%. At the time the regulation was enacted, dessert wines commonly had an alcohol content higher than 14%, but as the methods and processes of winemaking have improved with greater technological advances, that is no longer the case.

Where to buy dessert wines and where they come from?

The grapes from which wine are made contain varying amounts of sugar. When the grapes are fermented to produce wine, most of the sugar is converted into alcohol. Therefore, to make the dessert - sweet wines sweet, vintners must add more sugar or alcohol to the wine, or ensure that the grapes have higher-than-usual sugar content before fermentation begins.

Dessert wines you can buy in our wine store fall into four different types, based upon how they are made. The wines can be made with naturally sweet grape varietals. The grapes can have the ratio of sugar to water increased by air-drying (producing raisin wine), freezing (producing ice wine), or through the means of specific fungal infection (producing noble rot wine). The wines can have additional alcohol added before fermentation, often in the form of Brandy. Or the wines can have additional sweeteners, usually sugar, honey, or grape juice, added either before or after fermentation.

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Naturally sweet grape varietals used in dessert wines include the Huxelrebe, Muscat, and Ortega grapes. Grown according to standard practice, these grapes are naturally sweeter. However, to make them sweeter still, they can be grown by leaving them on the vine longer, or by harvesting some of the grapes very early in the season so that the remaining grapes have higher sugar content (a practice known as green harvesting). The historic Vin de Constance or Constantia wine from South Africa was a blended wine created from Muscat grapes sweetened in this way, until the vines were destroyed in the late 1800s. Currently, some of the German Auslese wines are the only ones sweetened in this manner.

Air-dried dessert - sweet wines tend to come from warm, arid climates such as the Mediterranean. Ice wines come from extremely cold climates, in some cases from grapes that have been specifically bred to thrive in the cold weather, since their defining characteristic is that the grapes must have been frozen while still on the vine. And in humid, temperate climes, leaving the grapes on the vine longer exposes them to noble rot, although if they get too wet, they suffer from grey rot instead, destroying the grapes.

Adding additional alcohol before or after fermentation is known as fortifying the wine. Common fortified wines are Sherry (to which alcohol is added after fermentation) and Port (to which alcohol is added before fermentation), as well as the wines made with the Vin Doux Naturel process, which adds alcohol during fermentation to stop it. Adding sugar or honey before fermentation is known as chaptalization, and most countries do not allow wines with chaptalization to be ranked as superior or quality wines, instead relegating them to the table wine category. Adding grape juice after fermentation is known as süssreserve (or "reserve of sweetness"), and allows wine to be made with extremely low sulfites, since sulfites do not need to be added to stop the fermentation and preserve the wine's sweetness.

Buying dessert - sweet wines

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The main consideration when you buy sweet wines is that the wine you choose needs to be sweeter than the dessert it will be paired with. Therefore, the wine that would be a good choice for a light and flaky pastry confection would not be a good choice for a much sweeter fruit-based dessert. Heavy chocolate desserts call for even stronger dessert - sweet wines, most likely red wines.

Aside from sweetness, you want to try and match the flavors of the dessert - sweet wines with the flavors of the dessert pairings. For example, the peach and apricot flavors of a white Vin Doux Naturel pairs well with a fruit-based dessert, while the honey and honeysuckle flavors of an Icewine pairs well with a sponge cake. Golden raisins soaked in PX, which has a raisin flavor, make a simple yet elegant dessert dish.

Don't feel as if you have to taste the sweet wines to try and uncover their subtle flavors before deciding which to pair with what desserts! You can find extensive lists of wine and dessert pairings online.

Dessert - sweet wines are available at a wide range of prices. You can buy the best wine online for your next desert at our wine shop. While you can buy a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem, considered to be the world's best dessert wine, will set you back by about $800, you can have a light and slightly fizzy bottle of Moscato d'Asti for as little as $10. Most common dessert - sweet wines run in the $20 - $50 range per bottle.

Popular dessert - sweet wines

Known as one of the sweetest wines in the world, PX (named for the Pedro Ximenez grapes from which it is produced) is a Spanish wine. It is a raisin wine, made by drying the Pedro Ximenez grapes under the hot Spanish sun. The wine tastes of raisins and molasses. Because it is so sweet, it can be used as a dessert topping and poured directly onto vanilla ice cream.

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Another of the popular dessert - sweet wines is Vin Santo, an Italian wine. An entire culture and legend has grown up around the harvest of these grapes, their drying, and even their drinking. Because the wine is so sweet, it is served with special crostini (a specific type of biscotti) that you dip into the wine, and then eat. When the crostini is gone, you drink the remaining wine.

One of the most famous dessert - sweet wines is the Sauternes from the Bordeaux region. This is the standard by which the noble rot wines are judged. Other popular noble rot wines are the Quarts de Chaume from the Loire region, the Hungarian Tokaji Aszu, and the rare but impressive German and Austrian Beerenauslese and Trockenneerenauslese. Lacking the pedigree of the older noble rot wines but still of very good or excellent quality are Australian or Californian Semillon and Riesling, or Coteaux du Layon from the Loire Valley.

There are a number of good white Muscat dessert - sweet wines being produced by the Vin Doux Naturel method in California, as well as the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval, Rivesaltes, and Minervois dessert - sweet wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France where the method was first invented in the 1200s.

The most popular red dessert - sweet wines produced by the Vin Doux Naturel method come from Banyuls and Maury, both in the Roussillon region of France, and are made from the Grenache grape.

The two most popular ice wines are the German Eiswein and the Canadian Icewine. Popular sparkling dessert - sweet wines include what is considered Italy's most famous dessert wine, the Moscato d'Asti.

One of the classic dessert - sweet wines that can be served either on its own or with a rich dessert is Port. Ports are available in a number of different grades such as tawny or ruby, as well as a designation of how many years the dessert - sweet wines aged.

Serving dessert wines

White dessert - sweet wines should be served chilled, but not cold. Start out by totally chilling the bottle, putting it into the refrigerator at least an hour and half before you intend to serve it. Then, you can take it out and let it start warming up about 20 minutes before serving. A good guideline is to take out the sweet white wines when you serve the first course.

Red dessert - sweet wines, on the other hand, should be served only slightly cooler than room temperature, or about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A good guideline is to put the sweet red wines into the refrigerator to cool at the same time as you serve the first course.

Dessert - sweet wines are often served in smaller glasses than regular wine glasses, although you can use regular wine glasses and simply not fill them as much. Instead, the size of each serving of dessert - sweet wines should be about 2-3 ounces.

If you are serving sparkling varieties of dessert - sweet wines, you should serve the dessert - sweet wines in fluted glasses. Again, the serving size should be about 2-3 ounces.