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Dessert Wines & Liquors Made from Fruit: A Whole New Intensity

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Fruit-based dessert wines are a rustic complement to homemade desserts, recipes passed down the generations. Photo by Tracy Grant.

Imagine this: your favorite fruit wine, but thicker, sweeter, and with an alcohol content noticeably higher (15%-19%) than regular wine.

Fruit dessert wines are elegant and decadent, made strong enough in flavor and body to walk arm-in-arm with desserts. Like a good sidekick, dessert wines bring out the best in chocolate cake, éclairs, fudge brownies, strawberry shortcake, homemade ice cream, cobbler, you get the idea.

And here’s a secret: a dessert wine makes a fantastic and instant dessert in and of itself. It sips satisfyingly sweet and delivers a long, complex finish.

No tiramisu, no Oreos on hand? Simply uncork, pour, voila.

Dessert wines are normally sold in 375ml bottles, which are half the size of typical wine bottles. This is because the wine is richer, and a serving is about half that of a normal glass of wine. Maybe even a quarter of that.

Fruit Liquors

There’s a class of fruit-based dessert wines that enter territory occupied by even-higher-in-alchold port and schnapps. These fruit-based “liquors” have a more viscous body and more powerful punch, and are sweet and rich in fruit flavor (they’re not “dry,” like spirits).

Fruit-based liquors have an alcohol content above 18% and below 40% — still less than half the alcohol of spirits like vodka or gin.

These port-style wines are fortified wines. That means they’re blends of wine and higher-alcohol spirits like brandy. The result is that they tend to have a smooth, complex flavor that will remind you of tobacco and aged wood, just as grape-based ports do.

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Fruit brandies (80 proof) made from plums and cherries. A 32-proof cherry dessert wine made from fruit juice blended with brandy is the background bottle. Photo by Gary Howe.

An example of a fruit-based port-style liquor is Chateau Chantal’s gold-medal-winning “Cerise.” The northern Michigan winery sells Cerise in a smaller bottle (500ml), as is the norm with dessert wines and liquors. The Cerise (19% alcohol) is a blend of cherry wine, cherry juice and cherry port. It’s at once 1) smooth as a the wall of an old tobacco barn, 2) intensely cherry, and 3) infused with wooden barrel flavors like a fine Porto. Smack, smack, smack. Mmmm.

Chateau Chantal has upped its production of Cerise every year since they debuted it. Even several years after winning an international competition in New York City made it popular on the east coast, it continues to sell out its already-expanded production runs.

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Cerise, an award-winner made from local cherries, rocks chocolate. This Michigan-made port-style cherry dessert wine won a gold medal at the 2007 Taster

Fruit Spirits

There are distilleries and some wineries that also make spirits out of fruit. And there are fully distilled fruit brandies, pure-fruit eaux de vie (the plural form of eau de vie), as well as vodkas distilled with fruit as a flavoring.

Eau de vie is the most common fruit-based spirit, a clear and colorless brandy distilled from fruit to 40% alcohol (80 proof).

Unlike lower-alcohol dessert wines, eaux de vie are not at all sweet. In fact, they’re  famous for being “dry as a bone.” The fruit flavor of the eau de vie is pretty subtle, even though the nose is strong on fruit aroma.

While the dessert wine and the Cerise will taste like intense, rich fruit in your mouth (brought to you in part by residual sugar content), eau de vie will offer a pleasant, more delicate flavor of fruit and deliver an 80-proof level of alcohol.

Welcome to the wonderful world of fruit dessert wines, liquors (ports, fortified wines) and spirits (distilled brandies, eaux de vie, fruit-flavored vodkas). It’s a world full of flavor, creativity and intensity.