It can be difficult to find a place for dessert wines in daily life. They can be far too heavy to drink before dinner and far too sweet to pair with something rich and savoury. However, when it comes to the decadent feast that is Christmas, well, they fit right in. France has a wealth of dessert wines to choose from – these are our top recommendations, each crafted from a different grape.
At the top of our list, to ensure there is a level of sweetness for everybody, we’re including something that barely qualifies as a dessert wine. Having said that, Gewurztraminer from Alsace is seldom made without a hint of residual sugar. Their aromatic character and notable flavours of honey, lychee and sweet apricot all add a certain lingering sweetness.
If this sounds like your kind of wine, this is an off-dry version from Domaine Allimant-Laugner, at a great value. It’s crisp and fresh, with a brilliantly subtle sweetness that will make it a gorgeous aperitif or a pairing for salad, duck, or soft cheese.
Muscat de Rivesaltes
Moving into the realm of naturally sweet wines, or “vin doux naturel” (VDN), there are several French appellations that make delicious Muscat. Rivesaltes in Languedoc-Roussillon is arguably the most famous, and one of the best names to look for on the search for French dessert wines, as you’ll also find sweet Grenache-based wines from here. It has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers, and its sweet Muscat wines reflect that beautifully. They often feature deep notes of ripe, exotic fruit, honey and sometimes, a fresh herbaceousness.
You should also keep an eye out for Muscat de Beaumes de Venise or Muscat de Frontignan. All of these wines would serve as a wonderful aperitif, or just as something delicious to sip while you’re spoiling yourself over the Christmas holidays.
Quarts Des Chaumes
Quarts Des Chaumes is a very small, yet highly respected appellation in the Loire Valley. It produces a sweet white wine from the Chenin Blanc grape, known in the Loire as “Pineau de la Loire”. Within the Loire, you can also find the labels “Coteaux du Layon” and “Coteaux de l’Aubance”. These names signify delicious Chenin Blanc dessert wines made within a relatively small, humid area that promotes the development of noble rot.
Chenin Blanc dessert wines are made for special occasions. If you can get hold of one, a Quart Des Chaumes would be incredible paired with a soft cheese platter or a glazed duck at the Christmas dinner table. They typically have a dense, syrupy mouthfeel and tropical fruit flavours that become more dried out as the wine ages.
There are a variety of French appellations that utilise late-harvest Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and occasionally Muscadelle for stunning dessert wines. The most famous by far is Sauternes. This appellation is in the region of Bordeaux, in a relatively humid climate – perfect for the cautiously cultivating noble rot. Developing botrytis in the vineyard is an essential step for many dessert wines.
With Sauternes, you get the highest quality imaginable, as examples from the best vintages can age almost indefinitely. Another reason these wines command a high price is this: cultivating botrytis-influenced grapes is a delicate situation. Sometimes, entire vintages are destroyed by undesirable weather, and grape pickers must tend to their crops extremely carefully. Each bottle of Sauternes dessert wine is something special.
Our pick from Sauternes is produced by Chateau Suduiraut, a wine that will tie a bow on the end of your year. It is delectable, with complex, harmonious flavours of honey, tropical fruit and toasted nuts. It’s deserving of grand occasions, and while it’s perfect on its own, it’ll be beautiful with a variety of Christmas desserts, particularly fruity ones.
A final thing to remember with the dessert wines mentioned here is that most are extremely age-worthy. Good examples of Quarts Des Chaumes and Sauternes have been known to age for over 100 years! To check out our other recommendations for Christmas, take a look at this deep dive into Christmas wines. It goes into detail on potential wine and food pairings, and might give you some more ideas for the holiday season!
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