Join the Dish’s wine connoisseur in training, Heather K., as she takes you along on her quest to become our resident beverage expert in her new feature, Sip Tips!

So what makes dessert wines different from other wines?  As someone on the path to wine discovery, I found myself wondering this same thing.  So, I did a bit of research and decided to share it with everyone.

Here’s what I found: Winemakers often aim to make dessert wines sweet, but relatively high in alcohol. This is often difficult because sugar is converted into alcohol during the fermentation process (the sweeter the wine, the lower the alcohol content) Without getting too technical, there are a few ways winemakers can do this, and the wines can fall into one of two categories: fortified wines and non-fortified wines.

1. Fortified wines – Involves the addition of alcohol, often brandy, during the fermentation process to increase the percentage of residual sugar in the wine, making it sweet. Examples – Port or Sherry. Alcohol % by volume is usually around 20%.

2. Unfortified wines – Involves adding the sugar to the wine or naturally concentrating the sugars in grapes before they are harvested. Example – Ice wine. Alcohol % by volume is usually between 6-14%

Now that you have a little background on dessert wines, let’s talk about their proper pairings.  Some may say that pairing dessert wines can be tricky, but I tend to disagree, (mostly because the dessert is often my favorite part of the meal!). A good rule of thumb is to choose a dessert wine that is equally or more sweet than the wine itself. Also, choose a wine and dessert with similar flavor notes. For example, if the label says the wine is crisp with notes of apple, think about choosing an apple tart dessert to complement it.

My favorite dessert and wine pairings include:

Port wine and dark chocolate – One of my favorites you can try is an American Port wine from Wollersheim Winery  in Wisconsin.


Riesling with apple pie – Check the label to find one with notes of apple. Try: Schmidt Sohne’s Relax Riesling ($7-10)


Sweet Red with Strawberry shortcake – Try: Oliver’s Sweet Red or Funf 5 Sweet Red

If you’re thirsty for more information before you start sampling dessert wines, here are some of my favorite sites for reference:

Wine Lovers Page – Wine & Dessert Pairings

Musings on the Vine – Dessert Wines

Gayot – Pairing Wine with Dessert

If you have any favorite dessert wine pairings, share them in the comment section below!