Some people turn their nose up at dessert wines but, as Christine Austin writes, they can be sheer nectar.

I wish I had a fiver for every time I have heard someone say: ‘I don’t like sweet wines.’ Yet if you slip a small glass of something sweet into someone’s hand, probably alongside a sliver of cake, dessert or fruit, then their expression changes as they realise that sweet doesn’t actually mean cloying. When it comes to good dessert wine, sweet means a fabulous counterpoint of sweetness, flavour and vibrant acidity. Many sweet wines are like biting into a fresh peach – sweet but so balanced that the overwhelming residual flavour is fresh and fruity.

In these days when sugar is deemed to be so bad there is a danger that the government might insist on a health warning on a bottle of Yquem it is important to explain how sweet wines are made.

They come in a variety of styles around the world but one thing is absolutely certain, the sweetness only comes from grapes, never from a spoonful of Tate and Lyle. The vast majority of sweet wines are made using grapes which have been left on the vines for weeks after the normal harvest, until they are shrivelled and concentrated. Some might even have been affected by a beneficial mould that starts on one berry and quickly spreads across the bunch, soaking up the moisture but leaving the natural sweetness and acidity intact. The result is that these grey-coated grapes are flavour capsules, ready to unleash a concentrated juice when they are picked and pressed. Once fermented, the wines are often aged to bring out their complexity of flavour and they retain their sweetness and acidity with knife-edge precision, complementing a sweet dessert but leaving the palate clean and refreshed.

This concentration of grapes is no different to a handful of raisins.

Different puddings demand different pudding wines. It is just a question of balance. Lighter fruit-based puds can cope with a lighter fruitier wine while a heavy pud needs a more powerful wine in the glass. Many sweet wines come in half bottles which is an ideal size for 4 to six people, because you only need a thimbleful of these delicious wines.  Any leftovers can be put in the fridge and kept for a week or maybe even two.  They are delicious served up against nibbles of cheese, or they can provide chef with a delicious energy-boost.

Here’s my selection of desserts with a few suggested wines.

Light fruity puddingssuch as Pavlova, fruit salad, strawberries and fruit sorbets need the lightest of sweet wines with good balancing acidity.

Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling, South Africa, Field and Fawcett, York, £14.95 for 37.5cl

With aromas of fresh apricots and orange blossom, fresh pineapple and clementines on the palate balanced by zippy freshness, this is tastebud-tingling sensation.

Seifried ‘Sweet Agnes’ Riesling 2016, New Zealand, Roberts and Speight, Beverley, £15.29 for 37.5cl

New Zealand’s cool climate helps make some stunning sweet wines, including this medal-winning wine from family-estate Seifried. Passionfruit and honey flavours on the palate are backed-up by ripe lime and lemon freshness.

Medium weight fruity dessertssuch as apricot tart or tarte tatin need a wine with some weight and rounded flavours.

Taste the Difference Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2017, Hungary, Sainsbury £12 for 50cl

A blend of Furmint, Hárslevelü and Yellow Muscat, harvested when the grapes are fully ripe and juicy. This has hints of white peach and honey, with a smooth, balanced style and long, finish.  Team this with lemon tart.

L’Or du Ciron 2010, Sauternes, France, Marks and Spencer £12.50 for 37.5cl

This is simply gorgeous. It comes from Ch. Filhot, one of the most prestigious properties in Sauternes and is made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.  The style is ripe and balanced with aromatic apricot and candied orange notes, with honey balanced by fresh, bright acidity.  You could team this with a pud, but it could act as a dessert all on its own.

Creamy puddingssuch as crème brulée or a fruit parfait need a wine to match the weight and taste of the pud.

St Stephen’s Crown Tokaji Aszu 5*, Hungary, Aldi £16.99 for 50cl

This comes from the same part of Hungary as the Late Harvest version but the grapes have been left on the vines until they have shrivelled a little more.  It means that this wine is sweeter although it still retains precise acidity to keep the flavours fresh.  Packed with orange marmalade and honey notes, it will partner a crème brulée to perfection.  Arriving in store on November 14.

Rustenberg Straw Wine 2017, South Africa, Booths £10 for 37.5cl

Described as straw wine because the grapes are picked and then laid out on straw mats to dry out for several weeks before being made into wine.  This process gives raisin and acacia honey notes balanced by clean freshness.

Lightish chocolate puddingssuch as a roulade, chocolate mousse or chocolate-coated profiteroles need a smooth, rounded wine.

Finest Dessert Semillon 2015, Australia, Tesco £6 for 37.5cl

Honey, peach, vanilla and just a hint of toasted nuts help this match with light chocolate or caramel puds.

Vin de Constance 2014, South Africa, Field and Fawcett £53.85 for 50cl

Not just a delicious wine but a taste of history too.  Famous and highly prized during the 18thcentury this wine has been recreated from its original South African vineyards.

Meticulously made, Muscat de Frontignan grapes are harvested in several sweeps through the vineyards and made into a wine that tastes of chunky orange marmalade, toasted apricots, crystallized ginger and toasted hazelnuts.  It doesn’t need a dessert but a light chocolate roulade with orange zest is a perfect match or try it with cheese.

Big chocolate dessertsmade with pure dark chocolate need a wine with deep concentration.

Muscat of Samos Vin Doux, Greece 2017, Waitrose £8.99 for 50cl

The grapes are dried before fermentation and then the wine is aged in barrel for three years.  This gives it aromas of dried fruit and figs with a rich, toasty, caramel note that goes so well with chocolate.

Taylors 325thAnniversary Port, Morrisons down from £27 to £20 until 27 November

Gorgeous with dark red fruits, butterscotch, mocha and chocolate notes.  It comes in an old-style flask-shaped bottle.


About The Author

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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