At the end of a big, hearty meal, there's only one thing left to do -- enjoy dessert, of course! Actually, we recommend dessert at any time of day and you're even free to enjoy it before you dig into your entree!

Of course, if you're going to have dessert, then you also need something sweet to was those decadent cakes, brownies, and cookies down with -- and this is where dessert wines come in!

Uniquely delicious yet often overlooked in favor of their drier counterparts, these wines make excellent after-dinner drinks for any occasion. From weeknights on the couch to fancy dinner parties, you'll be glad to have your favorite bottle within arm's reach. 

Today, we're sharing the ultimate guide to dessert wines and breaking down everything you need to know. 

Gauging Levels of Sweetness

When you think of all the different types of dessert wine, do you automatically assume that they're all super-sweet? While it's true that some are sweeter than others, you don't have to settle for a cut-your-teeth variety if that's not your style. 

Typically, most fine dessert wines fall into one of five categories, which include: 

  • Dry
  • Off-dry
  • Semi-sweet
  • Sweet
  • Very sweet

When choosing a bottle to cap off your next meal, be sure to check the label. In addition to flavor, a wine's sweetness level can also affect its alcohol content, as well as how long it's aged.

Wondering if that bottle of sherry needs to sit for a while before you uncork it? Here's a general guide to help you get started. 

  • Dry: Under 11% alcohol by volume (ABV), aged 0 to 1 year
  • Off-dry: Around 11% to 12.5% ABV, aged 1 to 3 years
  • Semi-sweet: Around 12.5% to 13.5% ABV, aged 3 to five years
  • Sweet: Around 13.5% to 14.9% ABV, aged 5 to 10 years
  • Very sweet: Around 15% ABV, aged at least 10 years

Fortified vs. Unfortified Dessert Wine

Along with the alcohol content, you may also notice another word on your new bottle of dessert wine: fortified. In the simplest terms, fortified wines have extra distilled spirits included during the winemaking process. As a result, they're usually higher in alcohol than their unfortified cousins. 

Usually, that extra spirit is brandy. It can be added either during or right after the fermentation process, depending on how the winemaker wishes the finished wine to be. In addition to having a different level of sweetness, most fortified wines also have a higher ABV than others. 

For instance, most fortified dessert wines tend to hover around 17% or higher, while traditional, unfortified dessert wines are 11% to 15% ABV. Common fortified wines that pair well with dessert include:

  • Sherry
  • Maderia
  • Port
  • Marsala
  • Banylus

Interested in trying any of these? We've got you covered. Here are a few of our favorite fortified dessert wine brands.

Sherry: Quady Palomino Fino Sherry

If you prefer a dessert wine that's a little more dry and nutty, Quady Palomino Fino Sherry is ideal. Your nose might notice the warm hazelnut aroma first, but your palate won't be far behind. In addition to drinking it with dessert, this also makes a great start to your meal!

Chill this sherry and serve it alongside a beautiful array of stuffed olives, nuts, and pate for a fantastic pre-dinner spread. This is a great way to ease into the world of sherry wines, which can be a little intimidating in nature due to their complexity. 

Produced in a few different styles across the southern Spanish region of Jerez, sherry is made from three main grape varities, including: 

  • Palomino Fino
  • Pedro Ximénez (PX)
  • Moscatel

Adding to sherry's uniqueness is its solera aging system. In this process, older barrels of wine are topped up with younger wines as wine is bottled from the oldest barrel. This blends the older and younger wines together, so each bottle technically contains wine from every vintage since the system was first created.

Maderia: Broadbent Fine Rich Sweet Madeira

Used to sipping on a warm coffee with your dessert? If so, then you'll love the Broadbent Fine Rich Sweet Madeira. With notes of grapefruit, caramel, and yes -- coffee -- it's an excellent way to end any meal. 

This wine is wonderfully fruity and luscious, with just the right hints of spice, molasses, and grapefruit. 

Port: Presidential Ruby Port

Featuring the dark ruby color that gives port wine its signature look, the Presidential Ruby Port has a young, fruity flavor and a refreshingly soft, complex style. Serve it with some sweet or savory nibbles, and the flavors will meld beautifully. 

Most port wine comes from the vineyards of Portugals Douro River Valley. While it's commonly made from the local grape Touriga Nacional, it can also contain other local, supporting grapes. 

Marsala: Florio Fine Marsala Sweet

When you think of marsala wine, you may think of the poultry and fish it pairs especially well with. However, we're also here to tell you that it makes a wonderful dessert wine!

The Florio Fine Marsala Sweet wine features delicate hints of dates and apricots. This gives it a rich, full-bodied flavor and an elegant finish flecked with notes of dried fruit. 

Banylus: Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Grand Cru

If you're new to Banylus, don't sleep on this ultra-rich dessert wine. The Clos de Paulilles Banyuls Grand Cru features all of the dark, deep flavors you'd expect, from cocoa and spices to vanilla and pepper. This gives it a strong finish that goes well with dark chocolate, as well as red fruits such as plums. 

Late-Harvest and Noble Rot Dessert Wines

As their name implies, late-harvest wines are made from grapes that were left on the vine a little longer than other varieties. By the time they're harvested, they've naturally dehydrated in the sun for so long that they almost resemble raisins. 

Prized for their richly sweet, honeyed flavors, these wines are decadently sweet and make great dessert pairings. Due to the amount of time these grapes hang on the vine, they're also susceptible to a type of fungus called Botrytis cinerea. 

When this happens, the wines become known as noble rot wines. While the name might sound off-putting, don't let it fool you. 

Noble rot wine is among the most decadent and delicious of all the varieties. The fungus in question is often referred to as gray mold or gray fungus. When it gets on the grapes, it does two important things:

  • Makes them sweeter
  • Adds more complex flavors

These wines are highly ageable and make excellent accompaniments to any sweet dessert. Here are a few of the most common ones: 

  • Late-Harvest Riesling
  • Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tokaji
  • Sauternes
  • Vidal Blan

Of course, you know we keep these in stock in our shop. Let's take a look at a few of our top picks. 

Late-Harvest Riesling: Dolce Napa Late Harvest Riesling

Sometimes, you just need to keep dessert light. While the Dolce Napa Late Harvest Riesling is definitely sweet, it also features light and youthful flavors and aromas, including orange zest, butterscotch, and vanilla bean. Sophisticated palates may pick up on the wine's minerality, as well as its oak-tinged spices. 

At the mouthwatering finish, you may also detect hints of orange and pear, as well as dried apricot and caramel. This is a scrumptious wine that lives up to its reputation. 

Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc: La Playa Late Harvest Colchagua Valley Sauvignon Blanc

One of the first things you can see when you pick up a bottle of this La Playa Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc is its gorgeously deep yellow hue. This is because it contains naturally sweet ingredients that lend their flavor and appearance, including pineapple,  honeycomb, and ginger. 

This is one of those wines that gets more complex each time you drink it. It's interesting and well-balanced, with intricate layers of different types of fruit.

Tokaji: Royal Tokaji The Oddity Furmint 2015

New to tokaji? If so, you won't be for long. These wines are named after the famous Tokaji wine region in Hungary, and it's easy to see why the area has risen in prominence. 

Spanning more than 25 individual villages, the town Tokaji is now synonymous with the country's entire wine region, which covers 13,000 acres of planted vines and hundreds of small-scale wineries. 

The Royal Tokaji The Oddity Furmint 2015 is bright, fresh, and crisp. It also features a good amount of acidity, with prevalent fruity notes. Especially if you're cooking Asian food, nothing tastes as delicious and refreshing as a glass of tokaji before you dig in. 

In addition to sweet dishes, most tokaji wines also pair well with warm, spice-heavy entrees, as well as garlic and cream sauces. 

Sauternes: Chateau Rieussec Sauternes

Sauternes is a type of sweet French wine. It gets its name from the Sauternes region of France, located in Bordeaux's Graves section. This wine is made from three main grape varieties, including sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle. 

The Chateau Rieussec Sauternes has gorgeously creamy notes that make it rich on the palate. You'll notice flavors of crème caramel alongside notes of baked apples, chopped nuts, and spiced fruits. There's also a floral element to it, indicated by hints of peach blossoms, beeswax, and jasmine. 

Icewine Dessert Wines

Icewine is made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine! While the water freezes, the sugars and other dissolved solids do not. This creates a more concentrated juice, which is also naturally sweet. 

Let's take a look at a few of our most popular Icewine varieties. 

Jackson-Triggs Vidal Niagara Peninsula Icewine

Refreshing and fruity, the Jackson-Triggs Vidal Niagara Peninsula Icewine has fresh tropical flavors and aromas, thanks to the addition of mango, papaya, and apricot. While there's a fine acidity to the bottle, it's also delightfully silky on the palate. 

Frost Bitten Yakima Valley Ice Reisling

A bottle of Frost Bitten Yakima Valley Ice Reisling not only looks cool, but it tastes great, too. The prominent flavors here are ripe pineapple and peach, with rich floral notes for balance. You'll also taste candied fruit and honey. 

This is a great wine to serve with fruit-forward desserts, as well as creamy dishes like creme brulee. 

Passito Dessert Wines

Passito is a sweet wine that hails from Italy. Also called straw wine or raisin wine, it's made from grapes that have been dried and concentrated. At Liquorama, we're proud to carry a few different types of passito wines, which are usually golden yellow to amber in color.

Let's take a look.

Colosi Moscato Passito Terre Siciliane

It's easy to see why Colosi Moscato Passito Terre Siciliane makes a great dessert wine. It's bursting with the sweet flavors of dried and candied fruits, from figs and apricots to citruses. At the same time, there's also a deeper, bready flavor that's reminiscent of sticky, honeyed pastries. 

With one sip, you'll notice its sweet and smooth finish. It tastes fresh and crisp on the palate, with aromatics that linger well into the final course. 

Donnafugata Ben Rye Zibibbo Passito di Pantelleria

When we say this particular dessert wine is complex, we aren't kidding. The wonderfully aromatic Zibibbo grape shines in the Donnafugata Ben Rye Zibibbo Passito di Pantelleria, but that's not the only flavor you'll enjoy. 

You'll also notice a range of other aromas and flavors, which include carmelized mandarin oranges and dried apricots to popcorn, sauteed peanuts, and even black tea. As you might imagine, all of these elements work together to create a nicely layered drinking experience. You're welcome to enjoy this wine immediately following today's dessert, or you can let it age a little for an even richer taste.  

Masso Antico Primitivo Appassito Salento

Looking for a bottle of dessert wine that you can be confident everyone will enjoy? If so, the Masso Antico Primitivo Appassito Salento fits the bill. This one ranked an impressive 99 by famed wine critic Luca Maroni, and it's easy to see why. 

This beautiful Zinfandel is produced in Apulia, Italy, where the grapes are allowed to slightly wither on the vine like a raisin. As a result, the wine has a soft, smooth finish and soft tannic structure. Unlike lighter passito wines, this one is a deep ruby red, with complex notes of ripe fruits and spices. 

Enjoy These Dessert Wines Tonight

When the main course is over, no one has to lament that the meal's about to end. Now, it's time for the real star of the show -- dessert! This is everyone's favorite part, allowing them to indulge their sweet tooth unabashedly. 

If you've been pairing wine with your meal, why stop now? Add a few bottles of dessert wines to your collection so you're always prepared, whether you're hosting a large gathering or an intimate dinner for two. 

At Liquorama, we have all of the wines, liquors, and beers you need to keep a well-stocked cabinet. Check out our entire dessert wine collection to find your new favorites, and we'll deliver them right to your doorstep!