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Finding the right wine to pair with dessert can be tough. The richness of the finishing course can often overpower a wine while on the other end, a sugary treat can make dry wines taste bitter or unbalanced. Enter dessert wines. This broad category of sweet wines offers a fun way to match sweetness with sweetness and elevate the flavors of your favorite post-dinner bites.
Dessert wines are made all over the world, and when done properly, can be truly magical. These wines are made by concentrating the sugars of the grapes then cutting the fermentation process short before the yeast has a chance to consume all the concentrated fruit. Sometimes this process is natural where there is simply more sugar than the yeast can possibly convert. Other times, a strong neutral spirit or sulfur are added mid-fermentation to kill off the yeast. This leaves a higher level of residual sugar which results in a sweeter wine.
The ways to create this effect are so diverse it would be hard to mention them all, yet the most well-known is the result of a controlled fungus. Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that ordinarily could damage grapes but, under very specific conditions it concentrates the sugar in grapes by partially dehydrating them. This is called the “noble rot” and is used in some of the most sought-after wines like Sauternes, Tokaji and Trockenbeerenausleses from Germany and Austria.
Alvear NV Oloroso Asunción Pedro Ximénez (Montilla-Moriles); $30. Buy on Vivino. A burnished orange-meets-tawny color and lively aromas of caramel and apricot get this oloroso off to a fine start… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Castello di Amorosa 2019 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer (Anderson Valley); $45. Find on Wine-Searcher. Dripping with honey, apricot and poached pear flavors, this luscious and extremely sweet wine coats the palate and lingers for minutes on the finish… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Château Peybrun 2016 Cadillac; $32. Find on Vivino. In the de Loze family probably since the 16th century, this estate has an ideal south-facing exposure for producing ripe, sweet wines… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Inniskillin 2019 Sparkling Icewine Vidal Blanc (Niagara Peninsula); $90. Buy on Wine.com. This wine was harvested at 387g/L residual sugar and bottled at 215. Aromas of ripe pineapple… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Offley 2017 Late Bottled Vintage Port; $28. Find on Wine-Searcher. From one of the oldest Port houses, this wine is rich, generously textured and well poised between sweet and dry… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Robert Mondavi 2018 Sauvito Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon (Oakville); $65. A dessert wine made with the passito method of drying grapes on the vine, this is 78% Sauvignon Blanc and 22% Sémillon… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Royal Tokaji 2017 SZT. Tamás Single Vineyard 6 Puttonyos Aszú First Growth (Tokaji); $135. Find on Wine-Searcher. This wine comes from one of Tokaji’s most famous vineyards. It is light amber in color with heady aromas of honeysuckle, freesia, beeswax and honey… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Volpaia 2015 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico; $61. Find on Wine-Searcher. Made of 60% Trebbiano and 40% Malvasia, this opens with aromas of maple syrup, ripe apricot and vanilla… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Last Updated: June 6, 2023