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Dessert Wine for Beginners

Lucas Stoioff stands out as cofounder of the DineAmic Group, owner of several award-winning Chicago area clubs and restaurants. Luke Stoioff enjoys considering what wines work best with different foods and parts of a meal.

At the end of a meal, many wine connoisseurs turn to a dessert wine for a little taste of sweetness. These wines are intended to be sipped slowly from a small glass and should complement, not overwhelm, the meal. Dessert wines are available in a variety of sweetness levels, a gradation that largely depends on how the winemakers created the sweetness.

All dessert wines start with particularly sweet wine grapes, but makers of dessert wines stop the fermentation process before all of the original fruit sugar becomes alcohol. Most of the sweetness in sparkling dessert wines and light, fruity wines comes from the grape type. Makers of richer sweet wines, by contrast, may let the fruit ripen longer on the vine or expose the grapes to a process known as “noble rot.” Sauternes and quarts de chaume undergo this process.

Other winemakers lay grapes onto a mat to dry and become raisins, thus concentrating their sugar. Vineyard owners lucky and diligent enough to have a freeze and harvest grapes before the freeze ends may be able to produce an ice wine, which has a honey-sweet taste. Dessert wines may also come from a fortification process, in which winemakers add grape brandy for higher alcohol content. Ports and sherries are well-known results of this process.