My first experience with one of the types of dessert wine was over a summer in Paris. I was headed to visit some friends and was taken to buy some Sauternes. I was lucky because that summer was full of beautiful wines and this one proved to be just as memorable. It was my first dessert wine and my friend that helped pick it out assured that it would not be my last.
Dessert wines are made by a few different processes:
-Late Harvest: In Sauternes this allows the sugars to condense in the grapes and then, a noble rot forms on the grapes. It sounds disgusting, but it makes some of the best wines in the world. Leave it to the french to turn mold into a great dessert wine, or a great cheese, like Rocquefort.
-Ice wines: The grapes used for these wines freeze at the end of harvest. They yield only a small amount of sugary juice because of this when pressed. The water is frozen, They are grown in cold regions like Canada and Germany.
-Pausing Fermentation: This can be done by the addition of alcohol like brandy, in Port, or another grape juice, like Cream Sherry. Or it can be done through the cooling of the wine, removing of the yeasts, and reheating. This may lead to a lower alcohol content, like in Moscato D'Asti.
I have mentioned the types of grape used for all of the types of dessert wine, because you never no when you will find a wine named after the grape versus a region. Some of these grapes are:
-Semillon: this is the grape used in Sauternes. It produces a fruity beautiful wine that smells of the wildflowers where it is grown.
-Muscat: there are several types of muscat but muscat canelli, the father or mother, whichever you prefer, of the muscats, is the most common in the U.S. It reminds me of orange and honey typically.
-Fendant/Chasselas: these are a little harder to find. The grapes are typically grown in Switzerland and it just is not exported. Watches and chocolate, fine. Wine, they might run out of that. This is a slight sparkler.
-Gewurztraminer: these spicy grapes, clove is the most typical spice in my opinion, create some yummy wines. Best of all, they age well.
Fortified wines: sherry, port, madeira and the like, are very different from the types of dessert wines created from the grapes listed above. Port can be from a dark or lighter grape, and then brandy is added. Sherry is created by adding a grape juice later in the fermentation and madeira in much the same way.
Please also be aware of the fact that any grape can be turned into a late harvest dessert wine. I have recently had a late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon and am on a quest for a late harvest Viognier. Tried a Tannat in the video below. Don't be surprised if you find some of these and I recommend giving them a shot.
I am still working on madeiras and sherrys myself and Debra, the other redhead, says I need to explore more ports that have some age under their cork. Don't worry though, I will not stop drinking wine until I know even more about these too!!!