Typically served with, or as a dessert itself, dessert wines are listed among the most highly esteemed and expensive wines in the world.

Poached pear in red wine sauce paired with late harvest muscat wine

A dessert wine is a style of wine that has a high level of natural sweetness and alcohol content. The wines are usually made with highly aromatic and high acid grapes in order to counterbalance the sweetness and complexity.

Dessert wines can be red, white, or rosé, and can range from being mildly sweet to sticky sugar-bomb. Some are even age-worthy.

But how do dessert wines get so sweet?

Like other fruits, ripe grapes contain sugar, most of which gets converted into alcohol during the fermentation process. Any sugar that is left behind after fermentation is called residual sugar (RS). Depending on the amount of residual sugar, the wine may taste dry, off-dry, medium, sweet, or very sweet.

Adding sugar to sweeten the wine is forbidden in the making of dessert wines. Instead, winemakers use various other methods to naturally achieve the sweetness levels in a dessert wine.

Here are some of the common types of dessert wine:



Over ripened grapes give the wine its sweetness

Grapes intended for making dessert wines are left on the vine to over ripen, sometimes to even shrivel, and are harvested long after the usual season. This process naturally increases the sugar content and aromatics in the grapes, and the resulting wine is called late harvest wine.

Though any grape can be harvested late, some varieties are known to produce exceptionally high-quality late-harvest wines.

Examples of late harvest wine:

These are some of the common grapes that are used to make late harvest wines

  • Riesling

  • Chenin Blanc

  • Muscat

  • Sémillon

  • Sauvignon Blanc

  • Gewürztraminer