Dessert wine

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Dessert wines (or pudding wines BrE, and nicknamed stickies in Australia[1]) are sweet wines typically served with dessert. Despite the name, they are often best appreciated alone, or with fruit or bakery sweets.

There is no simple definition of a dessert wine. In the UK, a dessert wine is considered to be any sweet wine drunk with a meal, as opposed to the white fortified wines (fino and amontillado sherry) drunk before the meal, and the red fortified wines (port and madeira) drunk after it. Thus most fortified wines are regarded as distinct from dessert wines, but some of the less strong fortified white wines, such as Pedro Ximénez sherry and Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, are regarded as honorary dessert wines. In the United States, by contrast, a dessert wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume, which includes all fortified wines - and is taxed more highly as a result. This dates back to a time when the US wine industry only made dessert wines by fortification, but such a classification is outdated now that modern yeast and viticulture can produce dry wines over 15% without fortification, yet German dessert wines can contain half that amount of alcohol.

Examples include Sauternes, Tokaji Aszú.

Contents

Methods of production

Makers of dessert wines want to produce a wine containing high levels of both sugar and alcohol, yet the alcohol is made from sugar. There are many ways to increase sugar levels in the final wine:

  • grow grapes so that they naturally have sugar to spare for both sweetness and alcohol.
  • add sugar, either:
    • before fermentation as sugar or honey (Chaptalization)
    • after fermentation as unfermented must (Süssreserve).
  • add alcohol (typically brandy) having not fermented all the natural sugar in the grape juice - this is called fortification, or 'mutage'.
  • remove water to concentrate the sugar:
    • In warm climates, by air drying the grapes to make raisin wine
    • In frosty climates, by freezing out some of the water to make ice wine
    • In damp temperate climates, by using a fungal infection, Botrytis cinerea, to desiccate the grapes with noble rot

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