The holiday season is the perfect time to explore the wine world’s most decadent product: dessert wine. This luscious treat usually has both a higher residual sugar level and alcohol percentage compared to table wine, and can be either served with or instead of dessert.

The various types of dessert wines are made using methods which include allowing the grapes to hang on the vine for an extended period (late-harvest), allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine (ice wine) or sun-drying the grapes (as in the Italian “vin santo”). All of these methods produce grapes that become very shriveled and intensely concentrated in flavor and sweetness. Think of the difference between a raisin and a fresh grape, and you’ve got a good idea of the difference between dessert wine and table wine.

Chateau d’Yquem, a classic French Sauternes, is one of the world’s most prized dessert wines costing around $250 a bottle, with rare bottlings commanding prices in the thousands. Top-notch Sauternes (which is a Sémillon-based wine from the region of Bordeaux) is made exclusively from grapes afflicted with botrytis, a beneficial mold that causes them to shrivel and become intensely flavored and very well balanced. Botrytis occurs only under certain climatic conditions and not in every vintage. This exclusivity results in extremely low yields and requires the grapes to be picked by hand by highly skilled workers, which ensures that only the most perfectly ripened grapes are used.

Spending a small fortune to purchase a quality dessert wine isn’t necessary though. Perfectly delightful bottles can be had for under $20 and because of their intense nature, a little bit of dessert wine goes a long way. Dessert wines can also be stored much longer then table wines, especially when kept in the fridge.

If you are serving dessert wine along with dessert itself, make sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert. Cheese and fruit are perfect accompaniments. As a rule, chocolate is very difficult to pair with dessert wine and is probably better served with a fortified wine like Port or Madeira. A late harvest Zinfandel (like we discussed in the previous 60 Second Wine Course) could also be a good match.

Michigan Wine-Shipping Laws Debated in Supreme Court
There is an issue currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that could have a big impact on how Michigan consumers purchase wine. Currently there is a three-tiered structure in place: wineries sell their product to a state-licensed wholesaler (or distributor) which sells it to a retailer which sells it to consumers. Wine cannot be shipped to a Michigan resident from outside the state, although in-state shipping is allowed.

Wholesalers, represented by the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, are against this law being overturned or amended claiming that this action would allow minors to easily purchase alcohol on-line and make tax collection on sales difficult. Out-of-state wineries counter that the law, which dates to 1933, limits consumer access to products from small wineries which are not affiliated with a national distributor and also drives up prices. We’ll keep you posted on the results of this landmark case.

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