The Complete Guide to Sweet Wines
What makes wine such an enjoyable drink? It’s more than just the alcohol (!), it’s the wide variety of wine available around the world. No two bottles taste alike, and every glass of wine is a completely new experience. How many other foods or drinks can say the same thing?
There’s a type of wine for everyone! Don’t like the rich, deep red wines? Try a crisp, tart white! Not a fan of sparkling wine or Champagne? Try softer, fruity rosé wines. Want something to enjoy after your meal? Try sweet wines!
Sweet wines are an ideal option for dessert. Their higher sugar content makes them the perfect post-meal drink, as they can stimulate digestion and shut down your appetite. The right sweet wine types will help you finish your meal in style, and can also be served with some starters.
In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of sweet wines to serve both with and after your meals. By the time you reach the end, you’ll know everything you need to in order to find the best sweet wine!
Why So Sweet?
All wine contains sugar, but the amount of sugar differs according to the type of grape used, the vineyard location and the wine-making process.
Grapes contain natural sugar, also known as fructose and glucose. When the grapes are turned into wine, yeast eats the sugar and produces alcohol (ethanol). If the yeast is allowed to consume all the sugar, the wine becomes dry and the alcohol content increases. The less sugar the yeast consumes, the sweeter the wine and the lower the alcohol content.
A wine classified as “Sweet” has anywhere from 2 to 7.2 grams of sugar per 100 ml. A “Very Sweet” wine has 7.2 to 13 grams of sugar per 100 ml. Compare that to a can of Coca Cola (which has 10.8 grams of sugar per 100 ml), and you can see why sweet wines deserve the name.
Wine is all about balance, and it’s important to remember that sugar content is only half the story when it comes to our perception of sweetness. The amount of acidity has a huge effect on whether a sweet wine tastes appetizing and refreshing, or cloying and sickly sweet.
The Different Types of Sweet Wines
Below, you’ll find a list of the most popular sweet wine types currently available on the market today.
There are many more varieties, but we have condensed the list to those we believe to be the most popular/best sweet wines for you:
Port is the most famous sweet red wine. It is officially produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley, one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world (1756).
While it can be produced from over 100 grape varieties, it’s usually made using Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, and Tempranillo grapes. Ripe grapes are partially fermented until the desired sugar level remains, at which point spirit is added to stop the fermentation and increase the overall alcohol level to around 20%.
There are many types of port which can be broadly split into three categories:
- Ruby or Reserve Port is made to be consumed when young, giving a deep colour, powerful fruity aromas and some spirity character. These are the most widely produced and consumed styles of port.
- Tawny Port is Port wine that is aged in oak barrels (known as pipes), which gives the wine its eponymous colour, and a softer, nuttier taste. The best wines are aged for between 10 and 40 years (or even more) in barrels.
- Vintage Port is generally the best wine made at a Port house; this is aged for two years in barrel and then bottled, where it can develop for decades
Casal Jordoes Finest Reserve Port is a high-quality Portuguese port with great flavours of prunes, fruitcake, and figs.
Casal Jordoes Finest Reserve Port
It’s a delicious dessert wine, but it also pairs well with blue cheese.
Moscato / Muscat
Muscat is a very versatile grape, indeed there are many different varieties of Muscat, and it is usually used to produce sweet wines. Sweet, sparkling Moscato is ideal for lighter desserts such as a fruit tart.
This is one of the best sweet white wine types, but be sure to look for Moscato d’Asti from the Asti region of Piedmont, Italy, which produces the greatest examples of this style. It is also low in alcohol, which is great if you’ve already had wine with the main course.
Italian DOCG Moscato D’Asti from organic producer Torelli is one of the most famous sparkling white Moscato wines, and it’s both sweet and fruity with a fairly low alcohol content.
DOCG Moscato D’Asti
On the other hand, the South African Stellar Heaven on Earth Sweet Muscat is a delicious organic Muscat wine made by drying the grapes on straw and rooibos tea to give a lusciously sweet and exotically perfumed wine.
Stellar Heaven on Earth Sweet Muscat
Few sweet wines carry as much prestige as Sauternes, considered one of the “kings” of the sweet white wine types. Made in Bordeaux in the Graves region, the wine blends Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes grown with the grey “noble rot” fungus. This ‘botrytis’ rot removes water, leaving dark, shrivelled grapes that have incredible intensity, sweetness a beautiful acidity, combining chalkiness with rich flavours of honey and apricots.
The wines start out a pale yellow, but they grow darker as they age. The best examples can be aged for upwards of 100 years, making them a wonderful wine for collecting. The wine is perfect with crème brulee, cakes, and blue cheese.
For a stunning, organic Sauternes wine, try AOC Sauternes Château Dudon. It has deep, opulent honey flavours, with silky sheer texture and a light finish. Definitely a great dessert wine to try.
AOC Sauternes Château Dudon
For a wine that is a dessert in itself, you can’t beat Icewine. The name “icewine” comes from the harvesting process. The grapes are picked at night, in the dead of winter, and only AFTER they freeze on the vines, but before the freeze damages the grapes. It is a highly specialized wine, but a highly enjoyable one as well.
Icewine is indulgently sweet, making it the perfect drink to serve with light desserts. Ice wines are made from a wide range of grape varieties (red and white), giving them a broad spectrum of flavours.
Meinklang Icewine is a brilliant biodynamic Austrian wine that is bright, acidic, and crisp, yet has the rich, ripe flavours that make Icewine so popular.
Passito is the Italian term for sweet wines made from dried grapes, and it is a real speciality. It’s a style made all over Italy from Sicily to the very North.
Highly-prized passito wines from the Soave region of Veneto are known as Recioto di Soave and command top prices.
Techniques can vary, but involves late-harvested grapes being carefully selected and laid out on mats or racks to dry, increasing the sugar levels and the flavour-complexity.
Fasoli Gino’s Recioto di Soave is an incredible amber nectar that has to be tasted to be believed: incredible intensity, sweetness and complexity, but with wonderful acidity.
Fasoli Gino DOCG Recioto di Soave San Zeno
The beauty of Riesling is that it’s one of the most common of the sweet white wines, and is available at all different levels of sweetness. It originated in Germany and Austria, but it can be found growing in Australia, California, and even South Africa.
Like most dessert wines, the Riesling grape is harvested late in the season, after the grape has had time to ensure maximum sweetness. Medium sweet Riesling is often made to be drunk young and tends to have simpler, primary fruit aromas including baked apple and citrus, while the sweetest can be very complex and long-lasting.
Whatever the level of sweetness, the key to quality is to have a balancing acidity to stop the wine from becoming cloying, and this is something the Riesling grape excels at. Try pairing sweet Riesling with crème brulee, apple-flavoured desserts, and bread and butter pudding.
Chenin Blanc hails from France’s Loire Valley, but you can find Chenin Blanc grapes growing in Australia, New Zealand, and most commonly, South Africa. It’s another grape that can produce wines with all different levels of sweetness (and even sparkling wines!).
Common Chenin Blanc flavours include honey, nuts, and citrus. It’s a wine that pairs well with spicy Mexican or Asian cuisine, as well as mild-flavoured and citrus-heavy desserts, depending on the sweetness of the wine.
AOC Cremant de Loire Clemence Guery Brut NV is a dry, sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. It combines Chenin Blanc with Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, and is aged for 2 years in an oak barrel – giving it rich, deep flavours of ripe apples and zest.
AOC Cremant de Loire Clemence Guery Brut NV
There’s a whole world of sweet wines out there to explore, just start experimenting!
Browse our full range of dessert wines here. They make for a perfect post-meal digestif, or you can serve them with a dessert. The sweetness of the wine makes them an ideal way to end a meal.