What makes a dessert wine?
The term ‘dessert wine’ is a difficult one to define. There isn’t a strict set of rules for this category of wines – they have instead been created in different places at different times, and every country and culture will have a unique definition. They can be made lightly sweet, richly sweet or sparkling, and can use either white or red grapes.
Dessert wines as Australians known them will share a few commonalities though. Each will be high in alcohol, high in sugar, and go perfectly well with the sweetest course of a meal.
What types of wines are classified as dessert wines?
Wines considered worthy of the dessert category include: Fortified: Fortified wines are made by adding spirit, usually brandy, to wine before or after fermentation. While fortified is a category all its own, many are made uber sweet, and thus are classed as dessert fortifieds. These include sweet sherry (like pedro ximinez), sweet port, madeira, marsala, Rutherglen muscat and banyuls. Late harvest/noble rot: The later the harvest, the riper the fruit, the sweeter the wine. This is the idea behind late harvest dessert wines. A subcategory of late harvest relies on a fungus called botrytis cinerea to penetrate the skin of the grape, dehydrating it and further concentrating the sugar. Examples include sauternes, Hungarian tokaji, and late harvest riesling and chenin blanc. Dried/passito: A less common technique, dried/passito dessert wines are traditionally made in Italy and Greece. Rather than relying on a late harvest or noble rot to dry the grapes, healthy fruit is picked and laid out in the sun, usually on straw mats (which leads to this being referred to as straw or raisin wine). Italian vin Santo del Chianti and Recioto della Valpolicella are famous examples.
Is moscato a dessert wine?
Because the definition of dessert wine is as fluid as the drinks it describes, it’s hard to offer up a definitive answer of whether a certain wine fits in the dessert category. Dessert wines as Australians think of them are generally high in alcohol though, and while moscato is certainly sweet, its ABV of 5%-10% would usually see it simply being called a sweet white rather than a dessert wine. Other countries certainly think of moscato as a dessert wine, however, and there’s no denying it pairs well with sweets.
How long does dessert wine last?
The range of wines that the term ‘dessert’ covers makes this a tricky question to answer. But again, if we commit to defining dessert wines as being high in alcohol, you can expect them to last longer than say a standard table wine, both unopened and opened, as the alcohol and extra sugar acts as a preservative.
While the character of the wine won’t usually develop with age, it won’t deteriorate either. The best dessert wines will keep for decades, and can be drunk up to a month after opening.