One would think that spirits and wine wouldn’t influence each other, however, the craft cocktail movement has had a surprising effect on the wine industry. Wine cocktails have been increasingly popular with sippers, with dessert wines like Port and sherry making appearances in these recipes.
In turn, this has sparked interest in dessert wines just not as ingredients, but also in their own right.
“One of the misconceptions about dessert wine is that that they are all the same — there is as much variance as other wines,” said Katy Wilson, winemaker for Anaba Wines in Sonoma Valley, CA.
Another, she said, is that people believe dessert wines to be “cloying and syrupy sweet,” which tends to have people shy away from them.
One of the ways to ensure the wine is not sipping too sweetly — the proper glassware. Unlike other wines in which the glassware may not seem as important, dessert wines are one of those in which the type of glass one drinks from can make or break the experience.
“There is such a wide range of wines that fall into the dessert category, but what most all have in common is a higher concentration of fruit and, very often, alcohol. Therefore, the bowl size for dessert wines are generally smaller to deemphasize alcohol, concentrate fruit aromas. The rim diameter for dessert wine glasses are slightly more narrow to promote minerality which adds complexity and balance to these concentrated beverages. Without balance, the wine may be perceived as too sweet,” said Anne Koziara, vp/On-Premise, Riedel – Nachtmann.
Wilson added that if a bowl-sized glass isn’t in the cards, a typical white wine glass can be used for a variety of dessert wines. However, with reds, the glassware will need to be a bit different.
“For Port-style wines a smaller glass is better to avoid the wine coming off as ‘hot’ or too alcoholic because of how it delivers the aromatics,” noted Wilson.
While decanting can be a way to alleviate some of the sweetness in a dessert wine, experts noted that while decanting some dessert wines may be beneficial, it’s not a common practice.
“Similar to dry wines, anything red and young would probably benefit from a decant. I probably wouldn’t decant any of the white varieties,” said Robin Akhurst, winemaker, Swanson Vineyards in Napa, CA. Randy DuFour, vp/Exports & Travel Retail, Arterra, which manages the Inniskillin brand, echoed this sentiment and noted that the right glass will allow the aromas and flavors to come through as they were intended.
“While aeration is not needed ahead of time, it is all about serving the wine in the proper glass. [It] allows the drinker to swirl the wine and aerate, while allowing the beautiful aromas to be enjoyed,” he said.
Prepping the dessert wine before hosting guests is a must-do in order to ensure a pleasant sipping experience, said DuFour. He explained that being prepared to serve the dessert wine of your choice at the proper temperature is key to a perfect experience.
“One of the biggest challenges I often see with a dessert wine is that people do not have one chilled and ready to serve at dessert time,” he said, speaking to the white variety. Ports and reds, said Wilson, should be served between 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for the menu? While Port wine and dark chocolate desserts always seem to be a hit, whites varietals can complement a range of dessert choices, from cheeses, melons and berries to more decadent desserts, like pecan pie. But, said DuFour, there is a rule in place to help hosts ensure the best choice in both dessert wine and the dessert itself.
“The rule of thumb is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert,” he said.