In my first post, among other topics, I referred to Dessert wines.

The description I gave was that “a dessert wine is basically a sweet wine that is mainly served with… dessert”.

However, I did not make any reference to the way Dessert wines are made nor to any wines that belong to this category.

I bet you did not know that Madeira, Port and Château d’Yquem are Dessert wines!

The truth is…some of you might!

But how about we take a more into depth ride in Dessert wines? Care to join me?

Hop on people!

So, an interesting fact about these wines is that they contain high levels of sugar but of alcohol as well. Some of them contain even up to 18% alcohol in volume.

Another interesting fact is that they can be produced in 4 methods and…

These 4 methods are:

  1. Growth of grapes with natural sugar: the natural sugar makes up for both sugar and alcohol. After all, alcohol is made out of sugar.
  2. Addition of Sugar: before the fermentation as sugar or honey, a process called Chaptalization, or after fermentation as unfermented must, a process called Süssreserve.
  3. Fortification: alcohol is added, usually a distilled spirit like brandy, before all the sugar is fermented.
  4. Removal of water to achieve concentration of sugar: this process is followed for Raisin wines, Ice wines and Noble rot wines.

dessert wines-99wines

How about we check their types as well though?

Well…Dessert wines can be divided into 4 types:

  1. Fortified wines
  2. Raisin wines or straw wines
  3. Ice wines or Eiswein and
  4. Noble rot wines

Should we take a closer look?


  1. Fortified wines:

Fortified wines are Dessert wines, to which a distilled spirit, usually brandy, has been added during the fermentation. Some of the most famous fortified wines are:

  • Sherry
  • Port or Porto
  • Madeira
  • Marsala
  • Vermouth

But let’s elaborate a bit more on them

  • Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes and it comes from Andalusia, Spain. It is mainly created from the grape variety Palomino, but it may also come from the grape varieties Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel. Quite known Sherry wines are Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Palo Cortado and Oloroso.
  • Port or Porto is a fortified wine that is only produced in Douro Valley in northern Portugal. Port wine is a red sweet wine that is usually used as a dessert wine. However, there are a lot of styles of Port wine that range from red, white, rosé to Vintage and Late-Bottled Vintage.

dessert wines

Basically, there are 2 main categories of Port wine:

  • Wines matured in sealed glass bottles and
  • Wines matured in wooden barrel

We also have:

Tawny Ports are wines that come from red grapes and belong to the wood aged category of Ports. They can be sweet or semi-dry and they spend at least 2 years in the wooden barrels. They are blends of older vintage wines and the age indicated on the label can be 10, 20, 30 or above 40 years. However, these indications do not refer to the age of the blend itself in the barrel, but to the average age of the various vintages used for the blend. Colheita is a famous tawny port created from a single vintage.

White Ports are wines made from white grapes and they belong to the wood aging category of Ports. Their styles can range from very dry to very sweet and they are characterized as Extra Seco, Seco, Doce and Lágrima. They can be a great base for cocktails while they can be served chilled on their own. A very common drink in Porto region is sweet white Port wine with Tonic.

Ruby Ports are red ports and they are the most extensive type of port wine as they are very cheap. They are made from both grapes and vintages as well and they are intended to be drunk young.

Rosé Ports are wines relatively new as they were first introduced to the market in 2008.They are basically red ports with a slight distinction during the fermentation, in order for the rosé color to emerge.

dessert wines

Port wines can also be defined as Vintages, Late Bottled Vintages (LBV) and Crusted.

Vintages are blends of grapes of the same vintage year.

Late Bottled Vintages are made from grapes of a single vintage and it has aged 4 to 6 years in oak before they are bottled.

Crusted are blends of several vintages and they are bottled after 3 to 4 years of aging in the wooden barrels. They are called crusted as these wines develop a ‘crust ‘in the walls of the bottle.

  • Madeira is a fortified wine that is made in the Portuguese island of Madeira. Its styles can range from dry, a version served as an aperitif, to sweet which can be served as a dessert wine. Madeira wines undergo a very special procedure for their creation as they have to be heated in high temperatures such as 60° to wine up.

There are 4 main grape varieties used for Madeira wines according to which, their style is defined: Sercial grape variety (Dry), Verdelho grape variety (Dry), Bual grape variety (Sweet), Malmsey or Malvasia grape variety (Sweet). These varieties are also called Noble Varieties.

There are also certain aging distinctions used for Madeira wines:

  • Finest – at least 3 years aged
  • Reserve – 5 years aged
  • 10 and 15 years – 10 or 15 years aged
  • Vintage – dated for a specific year
  • Marsala is a fortified wine that is produced in the region that surrounds the city of Marsala in Sicily of Italy. Marsala wines can be sweet or dry and their levels of sweetness are defined are Secco, Semi-Secco and sweet. The white grape varieties that can be used for this wine are: Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia and Damaschino. The dark grape varieties that can be used for this wine are: Pignatello, Calabrese, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. 

Its age is defined as:

  • Fine: less than a year of age
  • Superiore: at least 2 years of age
  • Superiore Riserva: at least 4 years of age
  • Vergine / Soleras: at least 5 years of age
  • Vergine / Soleras Stravecchio and Vergine / Soleras Riserva: at least 10 years of age

Marsala wine contains 15-20% alcohol and it is used quite often in cooking, both its dry and sweet variations.

dessert wines

  • Vermouth is a fortified aromatized wine as it is flavored with different botanicals such as roots, flowers, herbs and spices. While it was used for medicinal purposes, it is served as an aperitif in quite some cafes in Turin, Italy. Turin is Vermouth’s origin city where it was first produced in the late 18th

Vermouth is now mostly used as an ingredient of famous cocktails such as Martini, Manhattan, etc. It is also used for cooking, especially its dry version in sauces that accompany fish or as a marinade in for different kinds of meat.

  1. Raisin or Straw Wines

Raisin or Straw wines are Dessert wines, according to which the grapes are laid out on straw mats to dry in the sun before they are pressed into wine. In some regions, the grapes are laid on roofs or even hang up to dry on the vines. Northern Italy, Greece and the French Alps are the main regions of production for Straw wines. Straw wines are basically white sweet wines. Some of the most famous Raisin/Straw wines are:

  • Vin Santo –Italy
  • Recioto di Soave
  • Red Recioto Della Valpolicella
  • Commandaria
  • Vinsanto– Greece
  • Vin de Paille

A bit more info, please?

  • Italian Vin Santo wine, which means ’holy wine’, is an Italian dessert wine which originates in Tuscany. Although it can be produced all throughout Italy, its main production comes from Tuscany. This wine is usually made from the white grape varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia and it can be very sweet or dry. 
  • Recioto di Soave wine is a sweet white dessert wine and it originates in Soave in north-east Italy. It comes from the grape varieties Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave. 
  • Red Recioto Della Valpolicella wine is a sweet red dessert wine and is made in Veneto in north-eastern Italy and it is one of the most special wines in the region. Red Recioto Della Valpolicella can be made from anywhere within the zone of Valpolicella.

dessert wines

  • Commandaria wine is an amber-colored dessert wine that comes from the region Commandaria of Cyprus on the foothills of Troödos Mountains.
  • Greek Vin Santo wine is a Greek dessert wine that comes from the island of Santorini in Greece. It is labeled as “Vinsanto” to be distinguished from the Italian Vin Santo. Vinsanto is made from the grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani and some other local white ones. Assyrtiko holds 51% of the wine while the Athiri, Aidani, etc. hold the rest 49% of the wine.
  • Vin de Paille wine is a French straw wine made only from the ripest vintages. It is made in the regions Jura, Rhone and Alsace of France.
  1. Ice Wines or Eiswein:

Ice wines are Dessert wines, made from grapes that are frozen while they are actually still on the vine. They are called Eiswein in German and their production comes mainly from Germany and Canada. Ice wine production is limited, as the necessary cold temperatures are difficult to achieve on a regular basis. The color of Ice wines, depending on the grape variety used, can range from pale yellow and light gold to light burgundy and pink. Their taste can range from peach and pear to caramel and green apple, while their aromas usually remind us tropical and exotic fruits. Some of the grape varieties, used for the making of Ice wine, are Riesling, Vidal, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.

dessert wines

  1. Noble Rot Wines:

Noble rot wines are Dessert wines made from grapes that have been affected by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea. It basically sucks water out of the grapes while flavors of honey and apricot are imparted to the fruit. Certain conditions are necessary for this fungus to develop and the grapes are collected during infestation while they can produce concentrated sweet wine. Some of the most famous Noble rot wines are:

  • Château d’Yquem
  • Tokaji Aszú
  • Grasă de Cotnari

How about we get more into them, though?

  • Château d’Yquem wine is a white sweet dessert wine that comes from Sauternes, Gironde region. It is classified as Premier Cru Supérieur wine, of “Superior First Growth” that is, and it is widely known as a superior wine. Château d’Yquem wine holds the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 and, therefore, it is more expensive than the rest of its type. Only the botrytized grapes are selected and they are pressed 3 times and put into oak barrels for maturation over a period of 3 years. The main grape varieties used for this wine are Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Château d’Yquem can last even a century or more.
  • Tokaji Aszú wine is a Hungarian sweet dessert wine also known as Tokay, and it comes from the region Tokaj-Hegyalja in Hungary or the Tokaj wine region in Slovakia. While the word aszú means dried, the term is now associated with the botrytized grapes used for the wine Tokaji Aszú. Its difference with the rest of the Tokaji wines is that after grapes are selected, the must or wine is put into a dough called aszú dough for 24 to 48 hours. Although this wine is widely known, its production holds less than 1% of the total output in the region annually. 
  • Grasă de Cotnari wine is a sweet botrytized dessert wine that comes from Iaşi in Romania. It is mainly made from the also called Grasă de Cotnari grape variety or Grasă and it contains a high level of residual sugar, often as much as 300grams per liter. Its color ranges from pale yellow to golden yellow as it ages, and its aromas form a great combination of apricot, walnut and almond.

dessert wines

So to give a little overview…

You now know that Dessert wines can be made through Growth with natural sweetness, Addition of sugar (Chaptalization/ Süssreserve), Addition of alcohol (Fortification) and Removal of water.

You also know that they can be divided into Fortified wines, Raisin/ Straw wines, Ice wines/ Eiswein and Noble rot wines while Sherry, Vin Santo, Red Recioto Della Valpolicella and Tokaji Aszú wines belong to this wide category.

Well, give yourself a credit for reading this post as it contained quite some information about the topic!

I hope you enjoyed it and stay seated for the next!

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