How to Choose a Dessert Wine

Dessert wines guide

Wines. They are a fixture in any celebration, may it be a wedding, a birthday, or a promotion. For a connoisseur, the task of choosing wines for the event is an exciting task. However, for someone less experienced the job can be confusing, and especially when it comes to dessert wines… which are vastly different from a dinner wines.

Find out how to choose the right wedding wine

So, what are dessert wines?

Put simply, a dessert wine is a wine served after the main course, either with the dessert or as the dessert itself. Dessert wines are on the sweeter side and are meant to satisfy in the way traditional desserts do — to nicely round off a delicious meal.

How is it different from the table wine? Excellent question!

Apart from the sweeter taste, dessert wines have a higher alcohol content than dinner wines. This is because most dessert wines are made using more ripened fruit that produces more alcohol during the fermentation process. If a wine contains more than 14% ABV, then it’s categorised as a dessert wine. However, these days it is not uncommon to find low-alcohol options as well.

Sweet, sweet wines

In recent years, dessert wines have fallen out of favor due to anti-sugar health movements and ketogenic diets. While it is true that dessert wines have higher sugar content, not all are the sugar-bomb people may think they are. That’s because winemakers use various processes to “sweeten” wines.

Some producers make sweet wines by using grapes that are extra ripe and some simply shorten the fermentation process to retain more sugars. There are also some winemakers who purposely add sugar to their wines (a process called chaptalisation). Lastly, some wines are “fortified” meaning their sweetness was enhanced by the addition of a different distilled alcoholic drink, like brandy.

Due to the variety of grapes and processes used to create dessert wines, not all of them are sweet in a similar way. You’ll be in awe at how varied these wines can be!

variety of dessert wine

Different types of dessert wines

Dessert wines range from white to red, dry to sweet, and still to sparkling. There is a perfect dessert wine to finish off just about any kind of meal!


This sparkling German import can either be dry or sweet. It has a pronounced acidity that tempers its sweetness, making it wonderful to sip while nibbling on cheeses. Sweeter Rieslings on the other hand pair well with citrus-flavored desserts.


Port is mostly known as a fortified sweet red wine from Portugal. However, dry white and rosé Port wines do exist! Deep red ports are perfect for rich desserts like chocolate cake and caramels, while white or rosé Ports go well with peaches and cherries, and light cakes and pies.


Sherry is another fortified wine but from Spain. Although popular as an aperitif that is enjoyed before dinner, the Sherry’s characteristics also make them a good choice for ending a meal. Dark and rich Sherries can be sipped on their own or in tandem with dark chocolate desserts, creamy cakes, and even ice cream!

Ice Wine

Ice wine, which also goes by the name Eiswein, is a unique wine that is produced using grapes frozen on the vine, thus the name. For obvious reasons, it is not widely produced and comes mostly from Canada and Germany. It also has a higher price tag than other dessert wines. You can choose between red and white Eiswein — the former to be paired with heavier chocolate desserts and the latter with cheeses.


Moscato almost doesn’t need an introduction but many people are surprised to learn that it is a dessert wine. It is a crowd-pleaser because of its sweet, sparkly, and fruity characteristics. This wine is delicious on its own, especially during summer, but not at all hard to pair with desserts either!


Of course, no wine list is complete without a wine from France. A product of the Sauternais region, the Sauternes is made with grapes that were “infected” with the botrytis cinerea fungus. Before you run the other way, this quirky but distinct process yields amazing flavors: apricot, butterscotch, caramel, and peach. It is exactly what you’d expect from a dessert wine!

What to look for when shopping for dessert wines

In a perfect world, dessert wines would be labeled clearly, but as it stands the world of wine insists that it should be shrouded in a bit of mystery. So, here’s a quick guide to help you read the labels.

Any wine with dolce or dulce, doux, or moelleux on the label are sweet. Expect these wines to have that pronounced saccharine taste.

Wines labelled as amabile, semi-dry, demi-sec, or semi-secco are still dessert wines that are only mildly sweet but still satisfying.

dessert wines

How to pair a dessert wine

Wine pairing principles are similar across all categories: pair food and wine that are similar in flavor or richness. Red goes with red meat, white with white meat, and so on. But how about with dessert wines? It’s more or less the same.

If you’re still not sure you can read our  Wine & Wine Tasting: A Beginner’s Guide

Your wine should match or exceed the sweetness of the dessert or of the food before the dessert wine will be consumed. Anything less might taste a tad too bitter. Keep in mind that sugar boosts acidity so sweet food can make any wine taste sharper.

Another way to pair food and wine is through contrast. However, this technique is best left to a more experienced wine connoisseurs. For contrasting pairs to work well, one must know both the food and wine inside out.

Wine tasting with Cedar Creek

To know wine, you must drink wine! Cedar Creek produces its own line of dessert wines and fortified wines. We also offer entertaining and educational virtual wine-tasting classes with the purchase of our wine packs. Each pack is a collection of distinct wines from a region, winery, or category.

You can view our entire wine selection and call us at 0755451666 to place an order.