News & Features » Miscellany

Sweet wines to serve with — or instead of — dessert.

Dessert in a Glass


After-dinner drinks come in many forms. There are cordials, liqueurs, brandies, eau-de-vie and mixed drinks such as mudslides, white Russians and Mexican coffee. There are also digestifs, which include Fernet-Branca and other concoctions meant to aid digestion. And then there are dessert wines, which run the gamut from ethereal Eiswein (made from the concentrated juice of frozen grapes) to caramel-colored, sticky sweet tawny ports. If serving a dessert wine with dessert, remember that the wine should be slightly sweeter than — or equal in sweetness to — the food. If the cake, tart or mousse is sweeter than the wine, the wine will taste flat or dull because the sugar in the dessert will "cancel out" the sweetness in the wine. Since dessert wines are fortified with extra alcohol or sugar, they will usually last two to three weeks after opening.


The sweet sherries include the medium sherries (amontillados and light oloroses that have been slightly sweetened), pale cream sherries (made by blending fino and light amontillado with sweeteners) and cream sherries (heavily sweetened olorosos). Serve sweet sherry with toasted walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts, or a simple nut cake.


This fortified wine is named after a town in Sicily. Marsala can be very dry, semisweet or very sweet. Look for the words, "Superiore" or "Vergine" on the label, which denote the best-quality Marsalas. Pour a glass of Marsala with simple butter cookies or roasted chestnuts.

Malvasia delle Lipari and Moscato di Pantelleria

These two dessert wines made on islands off Sicily are made from dried grapes (think: raisins) and are very rich, sweet, and may have apricot and honey flavors. Sip them with crunchy almond cookies or toasted pecans.

Vin Santo

Another Italian wine made from dried grapes, Vin Santo is the pride of Tuscany and can be medium sweet or very sweet. Try it with biscotti or pound cake.


There are many types of port, and all of them can be sweet. Ruby port is simple, affordable and a good introduction to the world of Port; tawny port is so-called because if the color it becomes from cask-aging; tawnies can be very fine, indeed. Colheitas are tawnies from a single vintage, and they are aged in wood for many years. They are preferred by many over the more expensive Vintage ports, which are regarded by some connoisseurs as the finest kind of port; let your palate be your guide. Vintage character port is a good-quality ruby port that has aged in the barrel longer than basic rubies. Late-bottled vintage port is made from a single harvest and aged in wood twice the time as a vintage port. Port is traditionally paired with the tangy, salty blue-veined cheese, Stilton. It's also delicious with simple poundcake or toasted walnuts.


Produced on the island of Madeira, the two types for dessert are Bual, which is medium-sweet and Malmsey, which is very sweet and intense. Try Madeira with custards or crÅ me brulee.

Sauternes and other botrytised wines

Sauternes is the most famous of wines infected with noble rot, but there are others, such as Barsac also made in France. These wines are made from grapes that have been infected by the Botrytis cinerea mold which consumes the grape juice, thereby concentrating the flavor elements and adding a distinctive honeylike flavor. Serve Sauternes all by itself, and let the lush, exotic liquid caress your tongue, mouth and throat.

Alsace Vendange Tardive and Sélections de Grains Nobles

From Alsace, these two wines are sweet and very sweet, respectively. Serve them with Madeleines or ladyfinger cookies.

German sweets: Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswien

Wines with one of these words on the label will tell you the wine is sweet. These wines are made from sweet grapes and are light and delicate on the palate. Enjoy them with fresh fruit, or by

Add a comment