How Does Dessert Wine Differ From Regular Red Wine?

Dessert wine is a type of wine that is typically sweeter and higher in alcohol content than regular red wine.

This is due to the addition of sugar and sometimes other flavorings during the fermentation process.

Some of the main factors that contribute to how dessert wines differ from regular red wines include their sweetness level, alcohol content, and flavor profile.

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about how dessert wine differs from regular red wine.

Different Types of Dessert Wine

dessert wine on ice
Dessert wines taste much sweeter than regular red wine.

Ice Wine

Ice wine, also known as Eiswine, is a dessert variety developed from grapes that have been frozen after being left on the vine until the temperature drops to at least -12F.

The sugars in the mixture become concentrated, resulting in a somewhat thick and very sweet wine. Ice wine is therefore somewhat uncommon and quite delectable due to this oddity.

Genuine bottles will display an ice wine label but, be wary of wines created with commercially frozen grapes because this is not true ice wine and is not permitted in the United States.

Ice wine goes great with fruity cakes as well as chocolate-based desserts.

Fortified Wine

Fortified wines, also known as “forties”, are dessert wines that have had brandy or another spirit added during the fermentation process.

These wines tend to be sweeter than non-fortified varieties due to the addition of sugar and alcohol, making them a great option for those with a sweet tooth.

Some popular types of fortified wine include port, sherry, and Madeira.

Read our related article on How to Make Fortified Wine. If you’re in to wine-making, here’s how you can make your own fortified wine at home!

Port Wine

Port is a red wine that has been fortified with brandy. This process stops the fermentation process, which leaves residual sugar in the final product.

Port is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley of Portugal and is typically sweeter and higher in alcohol content than regular red wine.

Port pairs well with chocolate desserts or can be enjoyed on its own as an after-dinner drink.

Sparkling Dessert Wine

Sparkling dessert wine, also known as sparkling sweet wine or sparkling Moscato, is simply regular red wine that has been carbonated for a sweeter and bubblier taste.

Sparkling dessert wines are often produced in regions such as California, France, and Italy.

They pair well with fruity desserts such as strawberry shortcake or cherry tart and are also greatly enjoyed on their own after a hearty meal.

Sparkling dessert wines are a good alternative to making your own wine spritzers.

What Makes a Wine a Dessert Wine?

There are a few factors that go into making a wine suitable for dessert.

Most of the time these factors or techniques result in a sweeter wine that pairs well with after-dinner dessert or chocolate.


The process of fortification is to add another spirit, such as brandy, to the wine. This increases the alcohol content and halts fermentation.

In contrast, dry wines are fermented until most of the sugar has been converted to alcohol before bottling.

Added Sugar and Flavorings

Sugar is the most common ingredient used to sweeten dessert wines, although other flavorings such as honey, molasses, and chocolate are sometimes used as well.

The sugar content of dessert wine can range from 1% to over 20%. In contrast, regular red wine typically has a sugar content of 0.1% to 0.5%.


Dessert wines are often aged for long periods of time, sometimes up to decades. This allows the flavors to develop and mellow, resulting in a smoother taste.

In contrast, most red wines are meant to be consumed within a few years of bottling.

Dessert wines can be decanted to develop flavor and raise the temperature a little before serving.

Serving Temperature

Dessert wines are typically served at a slightly warmer temperature than regular red wine, typically between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows the flavors to intensify.

Noble Rot

Noble rot is a special type of mold that forms on grapes during the late stages of ripening. This mold produces enzymes called glycosides, which convert the grape sugar into alcohol faster.

The result is a sweeter wine with increased alcohol content, perfect for a dessert wine variety.

Late Harvest

Late harvest is another method of making a dessert wine. In this method, the grapes are left on the vine longer than usual to allow them to fully ripen.

This results in higher sugar content, giving the wine a sweeter and fruitier flavor than regular red wine.

How Does Dessert Wine Differ From Regular Red Wine?

Dessert wine being served
Dessert wine is served warmer than regular red wines to develop an intense flavor.

How does dessert wine differ from regular red wine? At first glance, it may seem like there is not much difference between dessert wine and regular red wine.

However, when you look more closely at these two types of wines, you will find that there are several key differences that set them apart.

Dessert wine is a type of wine that differs from regular red wine in several key ways. Unlike regular red wine, which typically has a dry and fruity flavor, dessert wine tends to be sweet and rich in flavor.

Dessert wines tend to develop a nice flavor during aging in barrels, but they must be more carefully extracted and bottled to avoid a woody flavor, resulting in a higher price per bottle.

How does dessert wine differ from regular red wine? Another major difference between these two types of wines is their alcohol content.

Dessert wines tend to have higher alcohol content than regular red wines due to the greater amount of sugar.

As a result, they are often more syrupy than regular red wines, making them ideal for pairing with rich and decadent desserts.

If you are looking for a sweet and luxurious wine to enjoy after your meal, dessert wine is a perfect choice. With its rich flavor and high alcohol content, it is the ideal complement to any sweet treat or delicate dessert.

Read our related article on the Best Wine Decanters to Let Red Wine Breathe. Enhance the taste of your regular red wine with these tested decanters!

Wrap Up

Should you choose dessert wine instead of your usual red wine after a meal?

If you want a special treat to enjoy after your meal or want to complement a decadent dessert with the perfect wine, dessert wine is the ideal choice.

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