We do talk quite a lot about how to pair different wines with your main meal or even your pre-dinner snacks, but what about pairing wine with something sweeter?
Dessert wines can make the guilty pleasure of dessert that much more decadent. There are a few different dessert wines out there, so we’ll take a look at what makes them different from each other: how can you tell them apart? And, which types of dessert pair best with them?
How are sweeter wines made?
Most people when they first start drinking wine are attracted to sweeter drops. Once your palate is developed however, we tend to move towards the different varieties and drier flavours of whites, reds, and others. Have you ever tried a grape straight off the vine around harvest time? They are extremely sweet. If you haven't, you’ll be surprised to find out that they don’t really taste anything like the grapes you would buy at a supermarket or nibble on when you want a snack. Wine grapes are said to have the highest sugar content of any fruit, which is exactly what makes them so great for producing wine: sugar acts as an excellent food source for yeast, which is eventually converted into alcohol during the winemaking process.
One method of making sweet wines is to interrupt fermentation by removing the yeast, which transfers sugar into alcohol, by using a fine filter to ensure that no yeast remains in the wine. With no yeast to ‘eat’ the sugar, it remains in the liquid, ultimately creating a lower alcohol, sweeter wine. Many of the popular off-dry wines are made in this way. Of course, not all grapes are equal, and different types of dessert wine are made differently as some have a higher sugar content than others.
5 main types of dessert wines
Sparkling dessert wine
A good sparkling dessert wine has a sensation of bubbles and high acidity, which has the effect of making them taste less sweet than they actually are. As you taste different varieties of sparkling dessert wines, you’ll notice certain grape varieties smell sweeter and taste sweeter than others. The acidity in sparkling wine makes it a great match for a cheese plate, and you should be sure to include a triple cream brie, cheddar, goat’s cheese, blue cheese or even a gouda, and serve with water crackers or toasted bread rounds.
Lightly sweet dessert wine
A lightly sweet wine is refreshing and great to have on a hot day. Expect these wines to have amazing fruit flavours; they are particularly well-suited to vanilla and fruit-based desserts. Many of these wines also pair well with spicy foods like Southeast Asian or Indian cuisine. Light sweet wines are usually drunk straight from the vineyard whilst still young, but an exception to this rule is a drop like Riesling which ages well.
Richly sweet dessert wine
These wines are made with the highest quality grapes. Many of these wines age well and can be kept for 50+ years (!) due to the acidity and sweetness which preserves their fresh flavours. There are many ways to produce richly sweet wines, such as late harvest, noble rot, straw mat and our favourite, ice wine. True ice wine is extremely rare and expensive for two reasons: firstly, it can only be produced when a vineyard freezes, and secondly, ice wine must be harvested and pressed while the grapes are actually still frozen. Richly sweet wines work well with delicately flavoured ice creams, sponge cake or fruit-based desserts.
Sweet red wine
Production of sweet reds is on the decline, and cheap commercial wine production seems to be dominating. However there are still some amazing well-made interesting sweet reds out there worth trying. The majority of them are from Italy and use quite unusual or uncommon grape varietals. Food pairing ideas are a bit deeper, similar to how we would pair reds with a main dish. This means the deeper richer flavours of chocolate cake and mousse would be a great match; these wines can handle the sweetness in sauces and marinade that might make lighter wines taste thin or ‘weedy’.
Look out for the following sweet reds:
Most fortified wines are higher in alcohol content, and as the alcohol acts like a preservative, they tend to have a longer shelf-life, especially so after they are opened. Fortified wines are made when grape brandy is added to a wine, which can either be dry or sweet. Different examples of fortified wines are port, sherry, Madeira, and Vin Doux Naturel (VDN). Port and sherry are the most common in the fortified family. Port-style wine (a fortified wine) is the traditional match for cigars (not edible, obviously!) but also is perfectly complemented by French vanilla bean ice cream. Go even more decadent and top the ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce.
There you have it! A breakdown into the world of dessert wines. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter to keep up-to-date as we breakdown the barriers of the wonderful world of wine.
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