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Dessert, Sherry, Port & other Fortified wine

Learn about dessert, Sherry, Port & other fortified wine — the range of styles, how they are made and more …

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What are the types and styles of dessert wine?

Dessert wines come in an impressive array of styles and sweetness levels. The most straightforward method for making dessert wine is quite simply a late harvest of wine grapes, though further distinctions arise based on country of origin. The main examples include Sauternes (France), Tokaji (Hungary) and ice wine (Germany and Canada).

What are the types and styles of fortified wine?

Fortified wines (meaning alcohol has been added during the winemaking process) include Sherry, Port, Madeira, Banyuls, Rutherglen and other very small-scale styles. Sherry comes in completely dry styles (Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Cortado) and also in a range of sweetness levels. Madeira is typically sweet but can be made into a dry style. Port can be most simply separated into Tawny and Ruby styles. Vermouth, an herb-infused fine wine, is today popular among mixologists and other dessert wines are derived, not from wine grapes, but from different fruits.

How are dessert and fortified wines made?

As mentioned above, many wines in this category—like Sauternes and Tokaji—are produced by leaving the grapes on the vine long after the rest of the harvest has been processed in order to accumulate very high sugar levels. Often, a form of “noble” rot called botrytis plays a role, desiccating the grapes until only the very flavorful solids and sugars remain. These late-picked wines are, accordingly, often referred to as late-harvest wines. In colder climates, the grapes may be allowed to freeze on the vine for the production of ice wine. Other styles are made by letting the harvested grapes dry out (also concentrating sugars). Fortified wines are fortified with neutral spirits to increase the level of alcohol, and, depending on the final style of wine desired, arrest fermentation while some level, high to low (or no), residual sugar remains.

What gives dessert and fortified wines their color?

The different colors of most dessert wines come from the type of grape used and varying levels of oxidation during the winemaking process. The colors of Sherry and Port are mainly the result of oxidation, or lack thereof. Fino and Manzanilla styles are clear to pale gold because of the benevolent film-forming yeasts, called flor, that make a floating seal on the surface of the wine. This layer protects the wine from oxidation, and thus any browning. The other styles of Sherry use various levels of controlled oxidation, resulting in various hues of amber. The two basic styles of Port, Ruby and Tawny, also come in two basic colors, as noted by their names. Both styles are made from the same blend of Douro red varieties, but Tawny ports are tawny in color because they are made from a blend of vintages that have been aged in barrels and gradually exposed to oxygen. Ruby Ports retain their bright color because these wines are aged in barrel only for two to three years before bottling, thus minimizing any color change from oxidation.

How do you serve dessert and fortified wines?

Because of the typically higher sugar and alcohol content, the recommended serving size for most dessert, Sherry & Port wines is three ounces, which is smaller than for regular table wine. In general dessert wines should be served cold—a very sweet Tokaji is served at 40F; Sauternes are best at 50F. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries are best served at 45-50F, while the Amontillados, Olorosos and beyond, are best at 55F. Tawny Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 50-55F, whereas Ruby and Vintage Ports have a recommended serving temperature of 65F.

How long do dessert and fortified wines last?

High quality dessert wines such as Sauternes and Tokaji can often improve up to 10 to 20 years from bottling. Fino and Manzanilla Sherries should be consumed within a year or two of bottling since they are most appreciated for their freshness. Once opened, these are best consumed within a week. Store Amontillado Sherry up to about three years; once opened and refrigerated, these last two to three weeks before they decline. Store Oloro Sherry up to five years; once opened and refrigerated, these last a few weeks or longer. Cream Sherries are best consumed in their youth. Pedro Ximénez Sherry is a special case. It won’t necessarily improve with age, but is known to remain unchanged after many years of age. The two basic styles of Port can be further separated into an almost dizzying list of styles, but in general the only ones meant to age longer once bottled are crusted ports and vintage ports (from a declared vintage). Aside from those, LBV (late bottled vintage) ports should age about 4-6 years from the release date and the rest are ready to drink upon release. Fruit wines are not meant to age; the fresh fruit qualities of these wines are most prominent in their youth.

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  • Graham's Quinta Dos Malvedos Vintage Port 2005  Front Label
    Graham's Quinta Dos Malvedos Vintage Port 2005
    Port from Douro, Portugal
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    • Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2005 Front Label
      Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2005
      Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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    • Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman Chardonnay (375ML half-bottle) 2005  Front Label
      Sine Qua Non Mr K The Nobleman Chardonnay (375ML half-bottle) 2005
      Other Dessert from Central Coast, California
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    • Sine Qua Non Mr K The Straw Man Vin de Paille (375ML half-bottle) 2005
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    • Peter Lehmann Botrytis Semillon (half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
      Peter Lehmann Botrytis Semillon (half-bottle) 2005
      Other Dessert from Barossa Valley, Barossa, South Australia, Australia
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      • Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2005 Front Label
        Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2005
        Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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        • Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glaciere (half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
          Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glaciere (half-bottle) 2005
          Other Dessert from Central Coast, California
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          • Kobalt Wines Port Styled Cabernet Sauvignon (500ML) 2005  Front Label
            Kobalt Wines Port Styled Cabernet Sauvignon (500ML) 2005
            Other Dessert from Napa Valley, California
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              • Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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              • Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005 Front Label
                Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005
                Port from Portugal
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                • WE90
                3.7 10 Ratings
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                • Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                  Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                  Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                  • W&S90
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                  • Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos (Red Label) (500ML) 2005 Front Label
                    Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos (Red Label) (500ML) 2005
                    Other Dessert from Hungary
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                    • TP91
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                    • Chateau de Malle Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                      Chateau de Malle Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                      Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                      • Chateau Climens  2005 Front Label
                        Chateau Climens 2005
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                      • Covey Run Reserve Semillon Ice Wine (half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                        Covey Run Reserve Semillon Ice Wine (half-bottle) 2005
                        Other Dessert from Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley, Washington
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                          • Chateau La Tour Blanche Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                            Chateau La Tour Blanche Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                            Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                            • Chateau Guiraud Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                              Chateau Guiraud Sauternes (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                              Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                              • JS97
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                            • Chateau Caillou Sauternes (375ml half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                              Chateau Caillou Sauternes (375ml half-bottle) 2005
                              Other Dessert from Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
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                              • RP90
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                              • Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2005 Front Label
                                Quady Essensia Orange Muscat 2005
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                                  • Quady Elysium Black Muscat (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                                    Quady Elysium Black Muscat (375ML half-bottle) 2005
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                                      • Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2005  Front Label
                                        Churchill's Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2005
                                        Port from Douro, Portugal
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                                        • Jaboulet Beaumes de Venise Muscat 2005 Front Label
                                          Jaboulet Beaumes de Venise Muscat 2005
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                                            • Dow's Late Bottled Vintage 2005 Front Label
                                              Dow's Late Bottled Vintage 2005
                                              Port from Portugal
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                                              • Felsina Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                                                Felsina Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                                                Other Dessert from Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
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                                                • Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest (375ML half-bottle) 2005 Front Label
                                                  Kanu Kia-Ora Noble Late Harvest (375ML half-bottle) 2005
                                                  Other Dessert from South Africa
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