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What is Dessert Wine?

What is Dessert Wine?

What is Dessert Wine?

Dessert wine is a sweet, luscious wine that's usually enjoyed at the end of a meal. Unlike regular table wines, dessert wines are specifically made to be sweeter and more indulgent. The sweetness in dessert wines comes from the natural sugars in grapes, which are left unfermented, resulting in a higher residual sugar content than standard wines. Like the name suggest, dessert wines are usually served with desserts, but they also make a great treat on their own. We go everything there is to know about dessert wines below. 

How Does Dessert Wine Differ from Other Wine?

Dessert wines stand apart from other wines primarily due to their sweetness. While dry wines ferment all the grape sugars into alcohol, dessert wines stop the fermentation process early, which leaves more natural sugars intact. Dessert wines also often have higher alcohol content, especially when they are fortified. Their production methods, such as late harvest or the use of noble rot, also differentiates them from regular red or white wines.

Types of Dessert Wines

Ice Wine

Ice wine is made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine. This freezing process concentrates the sugars and flavors in the grapes, resulting in a sweet, vibrant wine with balanced acidity. Ice wine is usually produced in colder climates like Canada and Germany. Ice wine offers intense fruit flavors and a refreshing finish.

Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are made by adding a distilled spirit, usually brandy, to the wine. This process increases the alcohol content and preserves the sweetness. Common types of fortified dessert wines include Port, Madeira, and Sherry. Each of these have distinct characteristics depending on their production methods and regions.


Originating from Spain, Sherry is a fortified wine that comes in various styles, ranging from dry to sweet. The sweeter varieties, such as Cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez, are renowned for their rich, nutty flavors and deep, amber hues. Sherry is versatile and can be enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert wine.


Madeira is a fortified wine from the Portuguese island of Madeira. Known for its longevity and unique aging process involving heat, Madeira features a range of styles from dry to sweet. Sweet Madeira wines, like Malmsey, are known for their caramel, nutty, and dried fruit notes.


Hailing from the Bordeaux region of France, Sauternes is a luxurious dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). This fungus concentrates the sugars and flavors. It might sound kind of gross, but this process results in a wine with honeyed sweetness, vibrant acidity, and complex layers of apricot, citrus, and floral notes. 

Late Harvest

Late harvest wines are produced from grapes that are left on the vine longer than usual, allowing them to ripen fully and concentrate their sugars. These wines are typically sweet and rich, with strong fruit flavors. They can be made from various grape varieties.


Tokaji, or Tokay, is a popular Hungarian dessert wine made from grapes affected by noble rot (similar to Sauternes). It's known for its golden color and rich, honeyed flavors. Tokaji has been enjoyed for centuries and is considered one of the world's best sweet wines. It offers a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, with flavors of apricot, citrus, and spice.

Notable Regions That Produce Dessert Wine

Several regions around the world are known for producing amazing dessert wines, below are some of the most popular regions. 

  • Canada and Germany for Ice Wine.
  • Portugal for Port and Madeira.
  • Spain for Sherry.
  • France's Bordeaux region for Sauternes.
  • Hungary for Tokaji.
  • California for a variety of late harvest wines.

What Food Do You Pair with Dessert Wine?

Port wine with chocolate

Pairing dessert wine with food is all about finding a balance between the sweetness of the wine and the flavors of the dish. Here are some of our suggestions.

  • Ice Wine: Enjoy with blue cheese, fresh fruit, or a light fruit tart.
  • Port: Pairs beautifully with dark chocolate, Stilton cheese, or a rich berry dessert.
  • Sherry: Cream Sherry complements caramel or nut-based desserts, while Pedro Ximénez is excellent with chocolate or dried fruits.
  • Madeira: Sweet Madeira goes well with caramel desserts, fruitcakes, and strong cheeses.
  • Sauternes: Pairs well with foie gras, fruit-based desserts, or creamy cheeses like Roquefort.
  • Late Harvest: Perfect with a variety of desserts, including apple pie, cheesecake, or crème brûlée.
  • Tokaji: Enjoy with fruit tarts, creamy desserts, or foie gras.

Contributed by Ray Ibanez, E-Commerce Manager for Plume Ridge Bottle Shop.

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