Wine Series: Selling More Dessert Wine

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Its high profit margin makes wine a product that many restaurants seek to sell more of. But how?

Over several weeks Restaurant Management talks to Barbara Wichman Nowak and Beverly Wichman Pittman, who give advice on everything from how to make your restaurant wine-friendly to special touches you can provide to make your wine service special.

Known as The Saucy Sisters, Nowak and Pittman are the authors of ‘The Saucy Sisters’ Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Uncorks’ and ‘The Everything Wine Book.’ Their third book, ‘The Saucy Sisters' Guide to Wine: What Every Girl Should Know Before She Unscrews,’ will be published in October.

This week the sisters tell RMGT about six dessert wines.

Dessert wines can boost restaurants’ bottom lines because they’re an additional sale. Educated servers can help push them, but need to a little education.

They can sell dessert wines as something sweet to sip after a meal for diners too full for dessert—or as calorie-savers, since they only have around 130 calories per glass.

Sweet wines that are not fortified (late harvest wines, ice wines and noble rot wines) are typically lower in alcohol (9 to 10 percent) but the others (port, sherry and Madeira) are higher due to the addition of alcohol and have around double the alcohol or 18 to 20 percent.

Late Harvest Wines

Late harvest wines can be red or white and often have a tropical fruit flavor. The grapes for these wines are extremely ripe and often become shriveled like raisins, which means they contain less moisture and more sugar.

The most common white wine grapes in late harvest wines are Riesling, Gewürztraminerand Sémillon. For reds there’s, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc. Typically two to three ounces are poured per serving, and small glasses with stems are best, though regular white wine glasses can be used.

Pairing:Both red and white late harvest wines pair really well with cheeses, particularly blue.

Ice Wines

Ice wines come from a cold climate, typically Germany, Canada, upper New York state, Michigan and Oregon. The grapes are usually Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

These grapes are left on the vine until there’s a freeze, so the sugars don’t freeze while the waters do, leading to a concentrated product (“must”) that’s produced, leading to a very sweet wine.

Ice wines often have a pineapple flavor.

Pairing:They’re good with apricots and apples, but also any desserts containing those fruits, such as apple pie or apple fritters.

"Noble rot" wines

Noble rot wines come from France, Germany and Hungary and are known as Sauternes, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Tokay (also known as Tokaji). Noble rot grapes are left on the vine until they have mold (or rot), which causes the grapes to shrivel. What’s left of the grapes after that has a lot of sugar and concentrated flavor.

  • The dominant grape in Sauternes. is Sémillon. Sauvignon Blanc is usually added to the final blend. 
  • Beerenauslesewines are made from Riesling grapes.
  • Trockenbeerenauslesewines are dry. Most of these wines are made from Riesling, but Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay grapes are occasionally used.
  • Tokay comes from around the Hungarian town of Tokay and is made primarily from Furmint grapes.

Noble rot wines run thegamut of sweetness levels, ranging from dry to sweet, but they’re almost always very sweet.

Pairings: cheese, cheese cake, crème brûlée, butter cookies.


Port typically comes from the Douro region of Portugal but is also made in Canada, the U.S. (mostly California, Oregon, and Washington), South Africa, and Australia, although those originating in the latter countries must call their wines “port style” or a similar denomination.

As opposed to the previous wines, port is fortified so there’s extra alcohol—either brandy or a neutral spirit so the alcohol level is high in a port.

Pairings:Cheese, especially Stilton; chocolate, especially bittersweet, although port is also good with milk chocolate.

White port is only seen rarely in the U.S. and is made from Malvasia, Verdelho, and Viosinho grapes.


Sherry is enjoying a comeback as an aperitif. It’s very well known in Spain, its country of origin, where it’s known as Jerez, but it is often produced in a dryer style now. Sherry is made from three main grapes: Palomino, Moscatel and Pedro Ximenez, fortified with added alcohol.

Sherry works as a pre-, post- or during dinner drink for a light meal or light dish.

It can range from dry (“fino” and “manzanilla”) to sweet (pale cream, cream, medium) and it goes without saying that the sweet ones are the dessert wines.

Pairing:Nuts, especially almonds, pralines, pecans. Cheese, particularly Manchego. Also: white fish, trout or salmon.


Madeira is made in four styles, each from a different grapes: Sercial (the driest with high acidity), Verdelho(medium-dry with nutty flavor), Bual (medium-sweet making a rich wine with a raisin flavor) and the really sweet one: Malvasia.

Madeira’s another fortified wine, so is also high in alcohol.

Sweet Madeiras make a great after-dinner drink. The dryer styles can be sipped any time.

Pairings:Sweet Madeira pairs with coffee cake, canoli, pecans and anything with pecans in it. Dry Madeira is a good match for an appetizer or some cheeses.

By Amanda Baltazar


News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.

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