To name dessert wines is to list an endless register of different brands, grapes, techniques and styles. But for the most part these wines can be compacted down into four major categories.
Sparkling: Traditional sparkling wines are known for their dry and highly acidic taste, which dulls their natural sweetness greatly. In contrast dessert sparklings are made with grapes that are naturally sweeter, which is reflected in the resultant wine. Sparkling bottles labelled with Demi-Sec, Dulce, Boux or Semi-Secco fit in this category.
Light sweet: There is some crossover between traditional whites and dessert whites in the light sweet category. Grapes such as riesling and viognier can be produced in both dry and sweet styles, which makes their sweet versions less intense than other dessert wines. Chenin blanc and gewürztraminer varieties also find themselves in this category.
Rich sweet: Rich sweet wines are those made from grapes renowned for their sweetness. These grapes are often harvested later than normal, allowing them to grow sweeter and more raisinated, while others are intentionally allowed to rot from contact with a spore called Botrytis cinerea which, while seemingly off-putting, engenders the resulting wine with notes of ginger and honey. The wines of Sauternes, Barsac, Tokaji and Passito are rich sweet examples.
Sweet red: While sweet reds are experiencing a decline in popularity, Lambrusco, Freisa and Schiava still produce sweet reds of note.