Sweet wine is produced with extra sweet wine grapes. In order to make them sweet, the fermentation is stopped before the yeast turns all the natural grape sugar into alcohol. There are several ways to stop the fermentation, including supercooling or adding brandy to wine. Both methods create an environment where yeast won’t survive. While there are hundreds of different types of dessert wines available in the market, most fall into 5 main styles.
Sweet Red Wine
Sweet reds wine are on decline except for cheap commercial production. However, there are still a few well-made historically interesting sweet reds worth trying. The majority of these awesome sweet red wines are from Italy using esoteric grapes.
Fortified wines are made when grape brandy is added to a wine and can either be dry or sweet. Most fortified wines are higher in alcohol content (about 17-20% ABV) and have a longer shelf life after they are opened.
Sparkling Dessert Wine
Some people think that sparkling dessert wines would be too sweet, but the bubbles and generally high acidity in most sparkling wines makes sparkling dessert wine a great choice. Just like any wine, there is a wide range of sweetness in sparkling dessert wines, from the sweeter Asti to the less sweet rosé.
The label will tell you everything you need to know when picking out a dessert Champagne, or other sparkling wine. Demi-sec means “off-dry” in French, and semi-secco means the same in Italian. Doux and moelleux are French for sweet, while Spanish and Italian sparkling wines will say dolce or dulce.
Lightly Sweet Dessert Wines
Lightly sweet dessert wines are also popular on their own on a hot day, due to their crisp flavor. These sweet wines are often paired with spicy foods from Southeast Asia, and are very accessible because they typically do not need to age as long as other wines. Lightly sweet dessert wines usually have a lot of fruit flavor, which makes it the best companion for fruit-based or vanilla-heavy desserts.
There are five common types of lightly sweet dessert wines: gewürztraminer, highly floral with moderate alcohol; riesling, available in both a dryer style from Australia, Alsace, and the U.S., and the sweeter style from Germany, with high natural acidity; müller-thurgau, a less common variety from Germany and parts of Oregon, with floral aromas and light acidity; chenin blanc, a sweeter U.S. wine that is also produced now in South Africa and the Loire Valley in France; and viognier, the least sweet of the bunch, which also has grape aromatics and a rich and oily feel.
Richly sweet Dessert Wines
Richly sweet wines are usually made with the best grapes in an unfortified style. Some of these wines can age for more than 50 years due to the high acidity and high sweetness preserve the fresh flavor over several decades. These are some of the more classic wines that have been enjoyed internationally for centuries.
Richly sweet dessert wines run along a flavor spectrum from richer to lighter, with the Constantia, from South Africa, on the richer end of the spectrum and SGN gewürztraminer on the lighter end. Toward the middle are muscat-based dessert wines, which many people are familiar with, but more toward the center we have ice wine, which is unknown to most.
Ice wine, or eiswein, is rare and therefore typically expensive, as it only occurs in years when the vineyard freezes, and the grapes must be harvested and pressed while they are still frozen, which usually happens in the middle of the night.