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Many of us end dinner with a cup of coffee with dessert without ever considering the option of wine. The truth is, a glass of dessert wine can make dessert the unsurpassed course of the meal.

But wine doesn’t have to be part of the dessert course; it can be the dessert.

With just a few pointers, understanding dessert wines is relatively easy. There are five major types.


The sweetness from these wines comes from the grapes being infected with a mold known as botrytis. It dehydrates the grapes, concentrating their natural sugars. Botrytis wines include sauternes, vouvray and Tokaji.


These wines get their unique sweetness from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The water freezes but sugars and other solids don’t, leaving a spectacularly sweet wine when the grapes are pressed. Germany and Canada produce exceptional ice wines.


The grapes used for these wines are simply picked later than most, allowing for the sugar levels to rise, making the grapes overripe, resulting in the juice being sweeter than regularly harvested wines. Quality late-harvest wines are being produced in California, Washington state, Australia and New Zealand.


Fortified wines’ sweetness comes about by fortifying the juice with alcohol during fermentation before all of the natural sugar is fermented (consumed) by the yeast. The most well-known fortified wines are port and madeira.


These grapes are left to dry after harvest to turn into raisins. Some countries leave them on the vine while others place them on large concrete slabs in the baking hot sun. Because of this technique, the grape essentially loses its water content, making the ending juice sweet. Examples include Italy’s Vin Santo and Amarone.

So, as the dessert menu is passed or you’re finishing up your dinner party, you may simply bypass the pastry, chocolate or pie and opt for the delectable sweetness of a wine for dessert.


  • 2011 La Playa Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $15 retail — 375 mL)


  • 2010 Zonin Amarone, Italy (about $54 retail)