Sweet wines are often chosen by those who are starting out on their wine journey before they move on to the drier and more acidic wines. However, they shouldn’t be dismissed as they are more than a starter wine. Some are perfect served with spicy food to balance out the flavor. Others are dessert wines, a delicious accompaniment to a sweet treat.
Most sweet wines are white but you can get rose and even red. Some are sparkling wines, which add a hint of glamour to the occasion. The sweetest wines have a taste of honey and candied fruits, while the semi-sweet wines add a touch of minerality.
The sweetest wine is Ice Wine which is made from frozen grapes. Moscato D’Asti, Tokaji, Sauternes, and White Port are very sweet, while Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris are semi-sweet wines.
In this article, we will look at sweet wines in detail and choose our top twenty.
Our Recommended Sweet Wines
20 – Bartenura Moscato
This is a lightly sparkling white wine that will suit those who don’t want too much alcohol. Bartenura Moscato is only 5% by volume. However, because of the bubbles, it feels like a celebratory drink. It has lingering notes of pear, citrus, and melon.
This Moscato can be served on its own as an aperitif but it is also a great accompaniment to fruit desserts such as summer pudding and apple pie. It can also be served with a charcuterie board with prosciutto, almonds, and raw vegetables. It also pairs well with soft and creamy cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. It can also tone down the heat in spicy Thai dishes so serve it with Thai red curry or spiced chicken wings.
This wine can even be used in cooking. Add a little to a dessert or even a savory dish.
19 – Jacobs Creek Classic Riesling
Jacobs Creek Riesling is produced in the Barossa Valley. It is 11.5% alcohol by volume.
This wine is elegant with fragrant aromas of flowers and kaffir lime. The flavors tantalize your taste buds with hints of sweetness, lime, lemon, and floral blossoms. It has a soft and natural acid backbone which gives structure to the wine.
Jacobs Creek Riesling pairs with fish, seafood, and white meat. It also goes well with lightly spiced cuisine such as Thai. This Riesling complements pork dishes with a fruit sauce such as peach, apricot, pineapple, or apple.
18 – Barefoot Pink Moscato
This is a medium bodied rose wine from California. It is quite low in alcohol at 9%.
Moscato is a very sweet wine. When pouring the wine, you will get delicious aromas of mandarin orange and sweet jasmine. It has flavors of pomegranate, raspberry, and cherry. It is a very fruit-forward wine.
This wine pairs perfectly with tortilla chips served with sweetcorn salsa, lamb shanks, chicken, apricot-stuffed pork, crab cakes, spicy pork kebabs, and three-cheese pizza. It also goes well with fruit salad and a cobbler.
17 – Domaine Pfister Cuvee 8
This wine is a blend of Muscat. Ottonel, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling and has a 13.2% alcohol content.
Aromas of apples, tropical fruits, and flowers will greet you, and on the palate, you will taste orange blossom, lychee, guava, and apricot. The Riesling gives a fresh acidity.
Domaine Pfister Cuvee 8 pairs well with pork dishes, salmon, tuna, shellfish, both hard and soft kinds of cheese, lightly spiced dishes, and fruit desserts, such as fruit salad, apple pie, and blueberry cobbler.
16 – Dr Loosen ‘L’ Riesling
This Riesling comes from Germany, where the wine originated. The Loosen brothers who produce this wine only use contracted grape growers in the Mosel River Valley.
The wine is low in alcohol at 8.5%. It is a bright, lively, and fruit-driven wine. It offers aromas of orchard fruits such as apricot and nectarine, with a hint of citrus. On the palate, there is peach and pear, with delicate floral undertones.
It pairs well with roast pork, white fish, salads, and greens. It also complements fruit compote or fruit salad.
15 – Sass 2020 Catharina White
Sass 2020 Catherina White is a blend of Pinot Blanc (45%), Gewurztraminer (44%), and Riesling (11%).
The wine has a mild earthy aroma with hints of Golden Delicious apple, seared pork fat, and cinnamon. When you come to taste it, you will have delicious flavors of peach cobbler and buttered corn on the cob.
It pairs well with pork with an apple sauce and white fish. It also complements fruit desserts such as apple crumble and fruit compote.
14 – Hermann J, Late Harvest Riesling
This is a dessert wine with 9.6% alcohol by volume. It is particularly sweet and has a smooth mouthfeel and medium body. You will find that there is light minerality and lively acidity. On the nose, you will get aromas of peach, orange marmalade, lemon, and hints of ripe lime. On the
palate, delightful flavors of honey, nectarine, tropical fruits, lemon, and a hint of orange, will greet you.
Because this wine is so sweet, it won’t pair well with savory dishes. Instead, serve it with creamy desserts such as chocolate mousse, cheesecake, or tiramisu. It also goes well with fruit desserts like a blueberry cobbler or apple pie, muffins, and cakes.
13 – Vin Santo del Chianti Classico
Vin Santo del Chianti Classico is a sweet dessert wine produced in the Tuscany region of Italy. It is full bodied and a gorgeous amber in color. On the nose, you will have aromas of brown sugar, vanilla, roasted nuts, caramel, candied orange peel, honey, and tropical fruit. It has flavors of hazelnut and caramel and a creamy complex.
This wine is traditionally served with little hard biscuits called cantucci which you dip in the wine. It also pairs well with dry pastries and leavened cakes. You can also serve it with a cheese board that has strong mature cheeses and stinky cheeses. Think mature cheddar and blue stilton.
12 – Ramos Pinto Lagrima White Port
This is one of the sweetest wines on our list. It is a White Port with an alcohol content of 19.5% so is more potent than the other wines we have mentioned. It is produced in the home of port, Portugal.
The floral aromas remind you of chamomile and orange blossom with hints of wood, nuts, honey, and pineapple. You will taste caramel, lime, banana, and orange.
This wine pairs well with a charcuterie board of cured meats and olives. Add some gruyere or another Swiss cheese. It also complements smoked salmon, shellfish, and sushi. For a sweet and salty sensation, have a glass or two with salty snacks and nuts. It also goes well with melon desserts, white chocolate desserts, and strawberry shortcake.
11 – Santo Wines Vin Santo
This wine is a very sweet dessert wine. It is a beautiful amber color and is made from sun-dried grapes.
Santo Wines Vin Santo is full bodied and has an intricate nose. You will get aromas of dried apricots and raisins as well as sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves. It has flavors of hazelnut and caramel. There is a hint of minerality that cuts through the sweetness. The finish is long and velvety.
Drink this wine with the hard little cantucci biscuits which you can dip in the amber liquid. It is a delicious way to enjoy Vin Santo. You can also enjoy the wine with a range of desserts. Try it with nut-based desserts such as pecan pie, tiramisu, panforte, and mince pies. On the savory side, you can enjoy Vin Santo with rich pates such as duck or liver. It will also complement a cheese board. Blue cheeses are the best choice, especially gorgonzola.
10 – Château Rieussec Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes 2018
Sauternes is a dessert wine and is very sweet. Unlike port, it isn’t a fortified wine which means that alcohol is not added to stop the fermentation process.
The wine is a blend of Semillon (90%), Sauvignon (7%) and Muscadelle (3%). It is medium bodied and has a fresh, sweet finish, The aftertaste has lingering flavors of baked apples and pears.
The aromas are of candied melon, vanilla, honey, and apricot marmalade. You will taste citrus and buttercream, a fascinating combination. The wine is mildly acidic.
Because this wine is so sweet, you can easily drink it on its own. However, it also pairs well with fruit desserts. On the savory side, it complements gooey cheeses like gruyere and mozzarella, duck pate, shellfish, and lightly spiced Thai cuisine.
9 – Saracco Moscato d’Asti
This wine is sweet and lightly sparkling, a great wine to serve on a special occasion. It is made in Italy and because it has so much residual sugar, it is known for its perfumery aromas and flavors.
The nose has aromas of peach, apricot, lemon peel, and white flowers. The tasting notes are mellow and sweet with exotic fruit sensations. You will taste nectarine, peach, and apricot, as well as tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple and mango. There are faint notes of honey and berries. It has a light acidity which balances the sweetness.
It pairs well with dry pastries, orange sorbet, raspberry tart, and peach shortcake. It is a good complement to a cheese board. Serve blue cheeses like gorgonzola, creamy and bloomy cheeses like camembert and brie, and fresh and soft cheeses such as feta and ricotta. Cured meats like salami and prosciutto go well as do lightly spiced dishes such as Thai curry.
8 – Château Laribotte Sauternes 2018
This wine is a blend of Semillon (90%), Sauvignon Blanc (8%), and Muscadelle(2%). It is deliciously sweet with a slight mineral finish.
On the nose, you will experience a fragrant floral bouquet while on the palate you will taste candied fruits, honey, acacia, and grapefruit. You will get an aftertaste of vanilla and cream.
This wine pairs well with lightly spiced food, grilled fish, Middle Eastern cuisine, and barbecued chicken. You can also serve it with fruity desserts and blue cheese.
7 – Cockburn’s Fin Tawny Port
This port is amber in color, lighter than a ruby port, and slips down easily. It has 20% alcohol by volume and is aged in small oak barrels for three years. Because of this, you will taste oak, nuttiness, and vanilla. However, there is also a fruitiness to the port with hints of dried figs and raisins. You will have an aroma of strawberry, cherry, and oak.
Tawny port doesn’t pair well with fish or chicken dishes because of its strong flavors. However, you can have it with a cheese board with mild cheeses such as Emmental and Jarlsberg. It also goes well with creamy desserts such as chocolate mousse, and dried figs.
6 – New Age White
This wine is produced in Mendoza, Argentina, and is a blend of Torrontes (90%) and Sauvignon Blanc (10%).
New Age White has floral and fruity aromas, with notes of caramel, sweet apple, and white flowers. The palate is crisp with tastes of tropical fruits and peaches. The wine is slightly fizzy and has a light acidity. The finish is refreshing.
New Age White pairs well with fish, especially smoked salmon and mackerel, smoked sausage, and grilled chicken.
5 – Patrick Bottex Bugey – Cerdon La Cueille
This non-vintage bubbly wine is produced in the Bugey-Cerdon region of France. It is made in the method ancestral which means that fermentation is stopped within the bottle and residual sugar is kept in the wine. This makes it very sweet.
You get very fruity aromas and, on the palate, there are flavors of cream, strawberry, and raspberry.
This wine pairs with fruit-based desserts and pungent cheeses like blue stilton and gorgonzola. Serve the cheese with fruit preserves and pickles.
4 – Château Coutet Barsac
This delicious, sweet dessert wine is produced uniquely in Barsac in the southwestern area of Bordeaux, France. The Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes used to make this wine are left on the vine to be infected with noble rot. It sucks out the moisture from the grapes and concentrates the fruit. This produces a rich and sticky sweet dessert wine.
The aroma is of white blossom, citrus fruit, honey, and vanilla while on the palate, it is fruity with tastes of canned peaches and apricot and hints of honey.
This wine pairs with blue cheese such as gorgonzola and Roquefort, rich duck and liver pate, and French pastries.
3 – Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 2010
This Hungarian wine is very sweet and is a blend of Furmint, Harslevelu, Zeta, and Sagamus Kataly grapes.
The nose is dried apricot, honey, chalk, and nuts and the palate is stone fruits such as apricots, citrus fruits, and elderflowers. It has high acidity and a full body, with a powerful fruity and buttery finish.
This wine is so sweet that it is best served on its own. It can easily replace a dessert. However, you can drink it with salty snacks, ramen, and lunch meat.
2 – Vietti Moscato d’Asti
This wine hails from Piedmont in Italy. It has aromas of stone fruits and flavors of canned peaches, honeysuckle, and candied ginger. The grapes are organically grown, giving a delicious sweetness that is balanced by moderate acidity.
This lightly sparkling wine is ideal served at brunch with sweet treats such as waffles and pancakes. It also pairs well with fruit desserts such as blueberry tart, cherry crumble, or tarte tatin. It also goes well with spicy appetizers such as spicy shrimp and crab cocktails, jalapeno bean dip, and spicy chicken wings.
1 – Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2019
This is a noble vintage worthy of taking the number one spot. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (45%) and Semillon (55%).
The nose is lemongrass, chalk, guava, and pineapple and the palate is tropical fruits, spices, and minerals. It has a long finish with hints of honey and sultanas.
This wine pairs well with fresh fruit and desserts. Try it with fruit-flavored ice cream, baked plums, peach tart, or strawberries and cream.
What is Sweet Wine?
The difference between dry and sweet wine is that sweet wine contains more residual sugar. The traditional way to make sweet wine is to interrupt the fermentation process and remove the yeast. Yeast converts sugar to alcohol and by removing it, the sugar remains in the wine.
Other methods are used to increase the sweetness of the wine. Some winemakers will add sweeteners at the bottling stage. This could be sugar or honey. Other winemakers will use natural methods to add sweetness such as affecting the grapes with noble rot, using late-harvest grapes, and sun-drying.
The sweetest wine that you can have is Ice Wine. As the name suggests, the grapes are frozen on the vine. While the sugar and solids in the grapes don’t freeze, the water does, and this produces concentrated sugary grape juice. It is very hard to produce, and this is reflected in the price. It is well-rooted in Austria and Germany but Canada has also become known for producing this wine. It is lower in alcohol than many wines and has flavors of sweet fruits and honey.
Sweet wines have 35 – 120 g/L of sugar while very sweet wines have 120 – 220 g/L. As you would expect, very sweet wines have more calories than sweet wines. They have approximately 160 calories in a 125 ml glass while sweet wine has around 72 calories.
Varietals Of Sweet Wines
Riesling is a white wine of German origin, hailing from the Rhine region. The grapes are harvested as late as November which helps to produce a sweeter wine. When grapes are left hanging for a long time, they become sweeter. The grapes dehydrate and the sugar content becomes more concentrated.
This varietal is light to medium bodied with high acidity. It has fruity aromatics and flavors of pears, peaches, apricots, and apples.
Riesling pairs well with lightly spiced foods such as Thai and Tex-Mex. It also goes well with Chinese cuisine, roast pork, roast duck, and seafood. When it comes to a cheeseboard, choose Jarlsberg, Emmental, and goat’s cheese.
Moscato is the Italian word for the muscat grape. This family of grapes has over 200 varieties including white, yellow, pink, and near-black.
Moscato is a low alcohol lightly sparkling sweet white wine. It has medium to low acidity and a floral aroma with hints of peach and citrus. The palate is peach, pear, and honeysuckle with zesty lemon notes and a touch of lime.
It balances perfectly with spicy foods such as curries and spiced chicken wings. It also complements a charcuterie board with prosciutto, Parma ham, crisp raw vegetables, and soft Brie cheese. It works best with opposing flavors of food such as spicy, sour, or salty. It can also be served as an aperitif and even with cakes.
Gewurztraminer is a white wine originating in the Alsace region of France. It likes cool climates like northeastern France, Germany, and northern Italy. It has an unusually sweet taste with aromas of tropical fruits and sweet spices. Lychees, pineapple, and grapefruit dominate the palate, with hints of orange and apricot. It is a beautiful golden color with a hint of copper.
Gewurztraminer has low to moderate acidity. If the acidity is higher, a slightly fizzy wine is produced.
Spicy curries, tagine, and ceviche bring out the flavors of the wine. It also pairs well with nuts and dried fruit and desserts made from them such as pecan pie and fruit cake. Desserts with cinnamon or honey are also good choices. Have a glass with smoked cheese such as Provola or with savory snacks.
Sauternes isn’t a variety of grapes but a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes. It is a very sweet white wine because the grapes are allowed to be affected by noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea). This doesn’t destroy the grapes but instead produces a sweet and aromatic grape juice.
The wine has fruity, nutty, and floral aromas. It is a full bodied wine with tastes of marmalade, honey, spice, apricots, and peaches.
Sauternes can be enjoyed with both sweet and savory dishes. It complements fresh fruit such as pineapple, peaches, and nectarines, and any desserts made with these fruits. Strawberries and cream are a good match. When it comes to savory food, chicken, shellfish, spicy Thai food, and gooey cheese like gruyere can all be enjoyed with Sauternes.
White Port is a fortified wine from Portugal. Brandy is added to halt the fermentation of the wine, leaving residual sugars. This is what makes the port so sweet. The earlier in the fermentation process that the brandy is added, the sweeter the wine will be.
The port has aromas of honey and nuts, with apple and melon notes. On the palate, you will taste honey, hazelnuts, and caramel, with hints of apricots and apples. Some white ports are aged in oak barrels and have a fruitier profile with hints of orange and apricot.
The sweetest version of this is Lagrima which is usually used as a mixer in a cocktail. Try a Paloma which mixes white port with tequila and grapefruit juice. The drier varieties are still sweet but have a tangy minerality.
White port is a drink that is delicious drunk on its own as an aperitif, but you can pair it with shellfish, smoked salmon, and Swiss cheese such as gruyere. It also complements fruit desserts and white chocolate mousse.
Ice wine is one of the sweetest wines there is. It is produced from grapes that have frozen on the vine and are pressed before they defrost. Only the water in the grapes freezes, not the sugar, so you get a concentrated sugary juice.
The main grapes used for Ice Wine are Riesling and Vidal Blanc but any grapes can be used. It has explosive fruit flavors such as stewed apples and stone fruits, tropical fruits, honey, and citrus. The sweetness is balanced by bright acidity.
Ice wine can be enjoyed as a dessert because it is so sweet but you can pair it with desserts. Fruit panna cotta, white chocolate mousse, ice cream, and cheesecake are all good choices. On the savory side, it pairs well with soft cheeses like Brie and pungent cheeses such as blue stilton. It also works well with contrasting foods such as Pad Thai and Mexican cuisine.
Tokaji Aszu is one of the sweetest wines there is and it is highly regarded among wine experts. It is produced in Hungary and is made with Aszu grapes from the Tokaj region.
The wine is so sweet because the grapes are affected by noble rot and because the grapes are harvested at the end of the season. The grapes are pressed slowly, and the wine is made from the first pressing. During good harvests, Forditas wine is produced at the second pressing.
Tokaji Aszu is a golden-colored wine with the older vintages becoming darker as they age. It is a thick wine with a thick and creamy texture. It has ginger, honey, apricot, and tangerine flavors, with hints of marzipan and almond.
Tokaji Aszu can be drunk on its own but it can also be paired with pate, blue cheese, Peking duck and plum sauce, sticky sesame tofu, and even some Indian dishes. When it comes to desserts, it complements creme caramel.
Vin Santo is produced throughout Italy, with most of the production taking place in Tuscany.
Vin Santo is a full bodied, very sweet dessert wine. It has a high alcohol content. On the nose, there is apricot, tropical fruit, caramel, and hazelnut while on the palate, you will have flavors of sweet spices, tropical fruit, and honey.
Vin Santo shouldn’t be confused with the less famous Greek dessert wine, Vinsanto.
When paired with biscotti, the wine becomes Cantucci e Vin Santo. You can also pair the wine with fruity, nutty, or spicy desserts. If you are looking at savory pairings, honey-baked ham is a good choice as is pate and cheeses like Roquefort and gorgonzola.
How Is Sweet Wine Made?
There are three ways to make sweet wine. You can add the sweetness before fermentation, during it, or after. Quite often, additives aren’t used. Instead, natural methods are used such as late harvesting and noble rot. The most important process involves killing or removing the yeast. Yeast turns the sugar to alcohol so by removing the yeast, the sugar remains in the wine.
Adding Sweetness Before Fermentation
Method 1 – Dry the grapes.
Some winemakers sun dry their grapes. This takes out most of the moisture from the grapes leaving behind sugar and solids. When the grapes are pressed, you get concentrated sugary grape juice.
Other winemakers dry their grapes in a loft. They become raisin-like and have a flavor profile of caramel.
Method 2 – Freeze the Grapes
Ice wine is the only wine made in this way. The grapes are frozen on the vine and pressed while frozen. The grapes need a temperature of at least 18F, if not colder.
Method 3 – Noble Rot
Noble Rot doesn’t destroy the grapes. Instead, it makes them shrivel up, concentrating the sugar in the grapes. The wine produced tastes of honey.
Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Semillon are often produced using Noble Rot.
Adding Sweetness During Fermentation
Method 1 – Filter Out the Yeast
The winemakers do this by either passing the wine through a filter or by allowing the yeast to settle at the bottom of the barrel and then decanting the wine,
Method 2 – Fortify the Yeast Out
White brandy is injected into the wine. This kills off the yeast when the wine reaches an alcohol content of 15%. An alternative way of neutralizing the yeast is by adding potassium sorbate which is a chemical additive often used in food to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Adding Sweetness After Fermentation
A sweet liquid is added to the wine after it has fermented. This is called back sweetening. However, it isn’t a popular method and is frowned upon by many winemakers who think that the best time to add sweetness is before or during fermentation.