In a world riddled with uncertainty, it's sometimes okay to have dessert first! When it comes to "dessert" wines, however, one should definitely enjoy them last. This holds especially true when doing a wine tasting, as it is most reccommended to taste light to heavy, dry to sweet. But once you get to the dessert wines, by all means, indulge!
There are several wines that will come quickly to mind when one talks about dessert wines - port and muscat, though there are many others to consider - moscato, sauternes, late-harvests, and ice wines (eisweins) among them. Here's a quick rundown of the dessert menu:
Port: true ports are fortified wines, whose origins lie with the Portuguese sailors of the late seventeenth century, who added grape spirits to wine to help preserve it during ocean voyages. It worked! All 'true' ports are made in the Douro region of Portugal, with other countries making fortified wines in the port-style, by law, not allowed to label or sell their wines as "port." Ports' most famous dessert pairing is chocolate, but it also pairs nicely with bleu cheese and figs.
Muscat: a sweet, typically white, intensely fruity wine. There are literally hundreds of varieties of muscat grapes worldwide, but the most recognized ones in America are muscat cannelli and orange muscat, although Quady Winery had a big hit with their Elysium, made from a black muscat grape.
Moscato: a variation on muscat, moscato tends to be a lighter style, often made from the same family of grapes, but made in a frizzante style, almost like a flat champagne...tingly, but not sparkly. Of local note is the Muscat Hamburg wine from Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, a pink moscato.
Ice Wines: these are wines made in cooler grape growing areas, as a true ice wine can only be made with garpes harvested from the vine immediately following a frost. The water in the grapes freezes, leaving a concentrated amount of sugar and solids to use in fermentation. Germany and Canada are the two countries most associated with notable icewines. This is one of the few dessert wines that is not made by fortification.
Sauternes: a sweet, richly textured white wine made not by freezing or fortifying, but by leaving on the vines until fungus takes hold and perfectly rots the fruit. Not a pretty visual, but a delicious outcome. Made mostly of semillon grapes, try this luxurious dessert with some blue cheese or some foie gras.
Late Harvest: a term that means exactly what it sounds like: grapes left on the vine and harvested later in the season. A longer hang time allows more sugars to develop and concentrate the flavors. Most any variety of grape can be made into a late harvest wine, but only if the climate is right in a given year.
Go ahead! Have dessert first! A small pour of any of these will surely satisfy any sweet tooth!