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What Is The Best Way To Serve Dessert Wines?

Jul 23, 2008
Food and wine have been paired for centuries, most likely because people believe some combinations just taste better when they are together than when served alone. Traditional rules of pairing are not often followed for modern meals, partially because people have found they prefer to rely on their individual tastes to decide which combinations taste the best.

Dessert wines, however, are almost always served with fruit or bakery sweets, although they are sometimes enjoyed alone after the meal. True appreciation of that type of wine, though, begins with knowing what sets them apart from other types.

Although many vintners will disagree, the creation of a fine vintage does not necessarily begin in the vineyard. Granted, there are a few varieties that are known for being especially sweet, but many of them require additional flavorings to stave off blandness. The sweetness of grapes can even be enhanced by harvesting them later or by exposing them to more sunlight, both of which can be difficult to control.

As a result, many dessert wines are not a result of the grape growing process, but of the amount of sugar added before or after fermentation. In Germany, for example, sugar is increased by adding grape juice after fermentation, which has the side effect of lowering the alcohol content. Other techniques for increasing sweetness include using grapes that have a specific type of mold on them, freezing out some of the water, or drying the grapes before fermentation.

Wines and spirits are classified according to the variety of grapes included, alcohol content, color and flavor, and the classifications vary. In the UK, for example, dessert wines are any sweet wine that is consumed with a meal, while the United States applies that name to any wine that has more than 14% alcohol.

Although the definition may vary by country and vineyard, everyone agrees that they are the sweetest of all wines. Typically, they are not fortified and they have a higher sugar and alcohol content than other types of wines.

There are those who will argue that wines should be selected according to the meal being served, while others feel the selection should be based entirely on what tastes good. Regardless of which side is taken, there is a universal agreement that sweetness is a taste reserved for dessert, whether served with actual food or enjoyed alone. Of course, the best way to decide which dessert wines to serve, and whether to serve it with an actual dessert, is to taste several and figure out what suits your palate.
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