Five Dessert Wines to Make Your Holidays Even Sweeter

Polish off your holiday meal with a glass of port.
Polish off your holiday meal with a glass of port.
Taylor Port

If the piles of pie and cookies at every holiday party haven’t satisfied your sweet tooth yet, or if you need a dose of alcohol with your sugar, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a wine nerd’s rundown of different types of delectable dessert wine you can serve to cap off your holiday meal, or to enjoy on their own just because they’re wonderful.

Sparkling Moscato d’Asti
The muscat grape is grown all over the world, and you’ll see moscato from everywhere, but Italy in particular does a fine job with this varietal. This low-alcohol wine has a rigidly controlled fermentation process, stopping fermentation at 5.5 percent and not allowing secondary fermentation in the bottle. The result is a lot of residual natural sugars, giving Moscato its sweetness. Carbonation is added for a frizzante-style wine, making this a great choice if you’re a fan of bubbly. Floral aromas and difficult-to-characterize muscat are present on the nose, and flavors of stonefruit or citrus come through on your first sip. Serve chilled with fruit pies or hard cheese. Moscato has the added benefit of being very affordable; a quality bottle can cost as little as $10-$20.
Try it: Castello Poggio Moscato d’Asti, Italy, Spec’s, $15.78

Ice Wine
This rare wine is created by leaving the grapes on the vine until the first frost of the year, and it is only made in places like Germany (known as Eiswein) and Canada where the frost comes early enough that the grapes don’t rot before freezing. By pressing the grapes while frozen, winemakers are able to separate the fruit from the water, leaving behind a higher concentration of sugar and acidity. Pear, green apple, peach or honey flavors come through in this balanced and refreshing drink, complementing an apple pie or sugar cookies. Ice wine is lower in alcohol content, sometimes as low as 6 percent, so it’s a great choice if you’re worried about getting tipsy in front of your judgmental Aunt Ethel.
Try it: Wagner Riesling Ice Wine, New York, 375ml, Total Wine, $29.99

From the Sauternais region of Bourdeaux, Sauternes are created by harvesting semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes after Bordeaux’s cool, humid nights cause the Botrytis cinerea fungus to develop. Also termed noble rot, the fungus evaporates the water out of the fruit. While rot and fungus aren't words you normally associate with the delicious things you consume, winemakers know what they’re doing; as with ice wine, the water evaporation leads to higher sugar, higher acidity, concentrated stonefruit flavors and a rich mouth feel. While ice wine is generally milder in sweetness, Sauternes is lush, velvety and layered. (Botrytis riesling and tokaji are made using a similar method, but these are harder to find.) Pair it with pumpkin pie for a decadent end to your meal.
Try it: Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes, Bordeaux, 375ml, Total Wine, $49.99

Another fizzy Italian wine, Lambrusco is jewel red in color and ranges from secco (dry) to dolce (sweet). The sweet versions are made by controlling fermentation or adding concentrated grape must, grape juice still containing skins and seeds. At 8 percent alcohol and mild effervescence, it’s smooth, light and quaffable. Mild berry flavors are present but won’t overwhelm a bold dessert. This wine would do well with a yule log cake, or maybe it will make that brick of a fruit cake your jerk relative bought from somewhere-that’s-not-Collin-Street-Bakery edible. Because it’s so dang cheap, a jug of Riunite will do well for a big party. But be warned: Your serious red-wine-loving friends will not be impressed, and the alcohol plus sugar could leave you with a nasty hangover the next day.
Try it: Riunite Lambrusco, Italy, Spec’s and Total Wine, 750ml $5, 3L $14

As with Champagne, the “port” label is technically region-specific, referring to fortified wine from the Duoro region of Portugal. Unlike Champagne, labeling laws are a bit more relaxed, so American winemakers slap “port” proudly on their port-style wine. Ruby is the most common kind of port, where after fermentation the wine is stored in stainless steel barrels to prevent oxidation. This flexible style allows a winemaker to develop a port in line with the rest of their wines, but it doesn’t get better with age. Tawny port sounds like a Bond girl, but the name comes from the golden-brown color of the wine, developed after aging and oxidizing in wooden barrels. These may be aged anywhere from two to 40 years in barrels, and some ports last in bottles for over 100 years. Port varies dramatically, but in general it’s high in alcohol, sweet and has notes of berry and cinnamon. Tawny port is more complex, including caramel tones and nuttiness. Serve with chocolates or a cheese plate.
Try it: Becker Vineyards Vintage Port, Texas, 750ml, Spec’s, $19.99

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