The Basics of Dessert Wines

The properly selected dessert wine can be the perfect finish to a wonderful meal. Knowing which wine to select, however, can be tricky. Many people, even those who drink wine regularly, don't know enough about dessert wines to even attempt trying one after a meal.


Ports are some of the most well known. Port wines originally came from Oporto in Portugal. The British discovered the sweet, stronger wine when they landed on the beach in search of food items. Port quickly became o favorite of the British, and later, the colonies. Port wine is now Portugal's second biggest export.
  
In the beginning, Port's were dry when fermented. After fermentation, Brandy was added. Today, the brandy is added earlier in the process, producing a sweet flavored wine. There are two kinds of Port, Ruby Port and Tawny Port. Because Tawny Port is fermented in barrels for an extended time, it gains a softer brown color. Ruby Ports are made from a single year's harvest and are left to age in the bottle. Ports can last 100 years or more, but have a short shelf life once they are opened. Tawny Ports last a bit longer, up to six months. Look for the T-top cork on the bottle as this will tell you that the Port has an extended shelf life.
Madeira wines are another type of dessert wine. There are four taste styles available ranging from dry to sweet. The sweetest Madeira wine is fermented early in the wine making process and is either called Bual or Malmsey. The dry wines are Verdehlo and Sercial. Madeira wine is also heated during the process, which then caramelizes the sugar in the wine. Madeira is amber like in color and has an intense flavor.

Sherry is a popular dessert wine as well. There are many types of Sherry, but there are mainly two categories of Sherry. Fino is a light and dry type of Sherry with 15.5 % alcohol. The process for making this dessert wine ultimately creates a thinner, lighter wine that pairs well with seafood. Oloroso is stronger, with 18% alcohol. This wine is also dry until sweetened during fermentation.
If the traditional dessert wines are too strong in alcohol or flavor for your palette, try some of the sweeter wines from the regular wine list. These wines, although not traditional, work very well as an aperitif. Moscato d'asti, from Italy, has a refreshing light flavor. This wine can be paired with fruit salads or lighter desserts. Sauternes come from France, where Bordeaux wines are made. Sauternes are a blend of wines that become a concentrated, golden colored wine.

When in a restaurant, ask the waiter for their suggestions regarding dessert wines and aperitifs. By doing so, you get an opportunity to try something new and discover which dessert wines work for you. Wine tastings also often feature dessert wines as part of sampling and are a great place to get expert direction. Bon App├ętit!
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