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Types of Sweet Wine

Any type of wine that is sweet with pronounced flavor and served typically with or after dessert is referred to as dessert wine or pudding wine (this term is more in use in the United Kingdom). This kind of wine usually has higher alcohol content and is sweeter than the dessert.

The sweetness of wine is determined by its maker. The winemaker achieves increased wine sweetness by stopping fermentation, leaving over some grape sugars known as residual sugar. Poor quality wines may have added sugar to them but this is not an acceptable practice.

Sweetness levels differ from red to white wines. Below 1% residual sugar content, wine is generally considered dry. Between 5 and 9%, red wine is considered medium sweet. Sweet red wine starts from about 10% upwards.

For white wines, 3 to 8% is considered off-dry. Sweet white wine starts from 9% upwards. Dessert wines generally start from 7 to 9%, and sweetness below 1.5% is hard to detect by average wine drinkers.

Sweet wines are quite different from dessert wines. While dessert wines are sweet naturally and have higher alcohol content, sweet wine is any wine that has additives in it to block the sugar in the grapes from completely turning into alcohol. Sweet wine usually has about 25% residual sugar.

In this article, we discuss twenty (20) types of sweet wine and the five types or styles of dessert wine as explained by Wine Folly. These different types are listed alongside their origins, scent, alcohol content, and food pairings, where available.

Much of this information may be accessed on Wikipedia.

Types of Sweet Wine

1. Brachetto d’Acqui

Brachetto d'Acqui in Piedmont, Italy
Brachetto d’Acqui in Piedmont, Italy.

Brachetto d’Acqui is a red wine with origins in Italy. It is native to Piedmont, produced in the Piedmont wine region, and from the Brachetto grape. It is a very aromatic and sweet wine that may be still or sparkling (fizzy).

The scent of this type of wine is associated with that red and black raspberry, wild strawberries, and rose petals. Brachetto d’Acqui is light and low in alcohol. Its alcohol volume is usually 6 to 7% alcohol by volume (abv), never below 5%.

It is advised to consume Brachetto d’Acqui as young as possible. The wine is typically taken with creamy chocolate desserts like mousse and ganache. It may also be enjoyed after having a meal.

2. Ice Wine

Grapes for Ice Wine or eiswein
Grapes for Ice Wine or eiswein.

Ice wine or eiswein (German) is a very fruity-tasting sweet kind of wine made from grapes frozen while still on the vine. This white wine is quite low in alcohol content at about 10% alcohol by volume.

In freezing the grapes used to make ice wine, the water in them freezes but the sugars and other dissolved solids do not. This makes the grape juice more concentrated and the wine very sweet in turn, sweeter even than many fizzy drinks with added sugar in them.

Ice wine does not include wines made with grapes that have been commercially frozen in Austria, Canada, Germany, and the United States. Ice wine is rare and expensive owing to the fact that its production is quite risky. It is produced largely in Canada and Germany.

You can pair ice wine splendidly with spicy food; spicier food makes your ice wine taste better. Cheese with a strong flavor, desserts like ice cream and cheesecakes, and rich foods like meat are also complimented by ice wine.

3. Lambrusco

Bottle of sparkling wine Lamrusco rosato
Bottle of sparkling wine Lamrusco rosato.

This is a red wine with Italian origins made principally from a red wine grape with the same name. Lambrusco may be made dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or very sweet. It is slightly sparkling, and the sweet styles of this wine taste like cherry.

The scent of this type of wine has been described as fruit-forward (with dominant fruit flavors) and floral, resembling orange blossoms and violets. Its alcohol content is low to medium, around 10 to 15% alcohol by volume.

Sweet Lambrusco wine may be paired beautifully with dessert. Not only that; it goes well with spicy or savory food, fresh soft cheeses, seafood, different kinds of meat meals (chicken, hamburgers, lamb, ribs, and steak), and creamy pasta.

4. Late Harvest Wine

Sauternes grapes to be made into late harvest dessert wine
Sauternes grapes to be made into late harvest dessert wine.

“Late harvest” is a general indication that a dessert wine is sweet. It refers to any wine made from grapes that were left on the vine longer than usual. They are naturally dehydrated while still on the vine by Botrytis cinerea, known as noble rot.

Late harvest wines are similar to raisin wines but are not quite the same. They are known for their sweetness and succulent, luxuriant flavors. Tokaji, Sauternes, and Riesling are some examples of many late-harvest wines.

5. Madeira

Madeira wine and coffee in Funchal, Portugal
Madeira wine and coffee in Funchal, Portugal.

Madeira is another type of wine made with varying levels of sweetness. It may be dry, medium dry, medium sweet, or sweet. It is a fortified wine (explained below) made on the Madeira Islands of Portugal, off the coast of Africa.

Malvasia, known also as Malvazia or Malmsey, is a white grape used to make the sweetest style of Madeira wine, and the name of this style of the wine as well. It is dark in color, rich in texture, and flavored like coffee and caramel.

Because it is fortified with brandy during fermentation, this type of wine has a high alcohol content. It is raised to 18 to 22% alcohol by volume.

Sweet Madeira wine is typically served as a dessert wine, pairing brilliantly with blue cheeses, dark chocolate desserts, and dried fruit. It is also used in cooking, especially to make sauces and cocktails.

6. Malvasia

A large bottle of Malvasia wine
A large bottle of Malvasia wine.

Malvasia, Malvazia, or Malmsey is a group of various wine grapes classically grown in the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Madeira Islands, and Mediterranean region. It may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.

The sweet style is mostly referred to as Malmsey in recent times. The aroma of this white wine has been associated with several fruits and a touch of honey at the end. Such fruits include almonds, apricots, guavas, lychees, and peaches.

Malvasia is usually medium to strong. Its alcohol content ranges from 11.5 to 13.5 alcohol by volume. Several desserts and sweet foods can be paired with sweet Malvasia wine. It may also be taken alongside cooked meals.

Some such sweet foods are butter biscuits or cookies, cakes (coffee, cream, egg, fruit, or Madeira cakes), chocolate, and mousse. Dried fruits, tropical fruits, seafood dishes, salads, pasta, and oyster dishes also pair well with this wine.

7. Marsala

Marsala wine in a goblet
Marsala wine in a goblet.

Marsala is a sweet or dry Italian wine produced in the region around the city of Marsala in Sicily, Italy. It is a fortified wine, as unfortified wine is made in the vicinity of Marsala as well but is not considered hereunder.

This type of wine may be red or white. It has a fruity flavor and fragrance, resembling vanilla, hazelnuts, and licorice. The most common flavors of Marsala wine are vanilla, brown sugar, stewed apricot, and tamarind.

Sweet Marsala wine contains about 15 to 20% alcohol by volume. It is mostly used in the making of Italian desserts like shortcakes and sabayon (zabaione).

It is an excellent choice as a dessert wine when served at room temperature.

8. Moscato d’Asti

Moscato Bianco grapes on the vine
Moscato Bianco grapes on the vine to be harvest for Moscato d’Asti. – Source

Moscato d’Asti is another type of sweet wine. It is made from Moscato Bianco grapes and produced in the Italian provinces of Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo. It is a sparkling white wine that is sweet and low in alcohol.

The aroma of Moscato d’Asti is earthy and musty, with the taste and scent of peaches, fresh grapes, orange blossom, sage, and honey. Its alcohol content is about 5.5% alcohol by volume, making it a very drinkable wine.

This type of wine is typically a dessert wine excellently paired with fruit tarts and soft cakes like ring cakes and sponge cakes. It may also be paired contrastingly with savory snacks and hot, spicy dishes.

9. Muscat

Muscat Grapes up close
Muscat Grapes up close.

Muscat, muscatel, Moscato, or Moscatel is a type of wine made from grapes of the Muscat family. Over 200 varieties of grapes exist in this family, from white to yellow, pink, and near black. The wine has a pronounced sweet aroma.

Muscat wines are produced in several countries including Italy and France. They are low in alcohol content, averaging 5 to 7% alcohol by volume.

The scent of these wines is that of rose petals and orange blossoms, and they taste like fresh green grapes with undertones of apricot, peach, and pear.

To enjoy this type of wine, pair it with blue cheese or fruit-based puddings like lemon tart and cheesecakes. It goes with both sweet foods and spicy foods.

10. Port

Port wine with a bunch of slices of orange
Port wine with a bunch of slices of orange.

With Portuguese origins and sweet richness, Port wine is a fortified red wine with notes of musky berries, cinnamon, bitter chocolate, and caramel. Besides this sweet dessert wine style, there are dry, semi-dry, and white styles of Port.

Two flavors of wood-aged Port wine are common: Ruby Port (spice and chocolate aroma; plum and grape flavor) and Tawny Port (caramel, nut, and wood spice aroma; dried fruit and fig flavor). Vintage Port is another great choice.

This rich, heavy and sweet wine is quite strong. It contains about 19 to 20% alcohol by volume. Port wine can be paired with sweet foods, like chocolate and fruit-based desserts, or savory foods, like nuts, cheeses, meat, and sushi.

11. Recioto della Valpolicella

Vineyard of Recioto grapes to make Recioto della Valpolicella in Valpolicella, Italy
Vineyard of Recioto grapes to make Recioto della Valpolicella in Valpolicella, Italy.

Recioto della Valpolicella is a sweet, intense red Italian wine made from grapes that have been dried after picking. Also simply called Recioto, this wine is produced in northeastern Italy’s region of Veneto.

The wine has a sweet, full, velvety, and warm flavor with spicy cocoa, vanilla and tobacco scents. The alcohol content of Recioto, at about 13 to 14% alcohol by volume, makes it a decent choice as it is not strong.

Recioto may be taken after meals or as a dessert wine. It pairs excellently with any cake that has chocolate or cocoa in it. It also accompanies cheeses, cookies, shortcrust pastries, strawberries, and tropical fruits.

12. Riesling

German quality Riesling wine made in the Mosel River valley
German quality Riesling wine made in the Mosel River valley.

Made from highly acidic and aromatic white grapes with the same name, Riesling wines have their origin in Rhine, Germany. Other noteworthy countries that make these wines are Austria, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States of America.

Dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling styles of white wine may be made from Riesling grapes. The wine has a scent resembling honeycomb and jasmine, alongside an aroma that smells similar to petroleum wax.

Riesling wine has about 12% alcohol by volume. It is paired with spicy foods which it beautifully complements. Chinese food, seafood, Cajun food, Thai food, roasted meat, and salads dressed with vinegar are some examples.

13. Rosé

A glass of Rosé Wine with a scenic view
A glass of Rosé wine with a scenic view.

The type of wine that is colored by briefly coming in contact with the skins of red grapes is called rosé. Rosé is only light pink to near purple in color, depending on the grape varieties and techniques used, so it does not qualify as red wine.

Although it is referred to as rosé in countries that speak English, French, and Portuguese, it is called rosado in Spanish and rosato in Italian. It is made in a large range of sweetness, from very dry to very sweet.

The average alcohol content of rosé is 12% alcohol by volume. Sweet rosé is paired with a variety of foods such as chicken, salmon, duck, soft cheeses, crab, eggs, fish, pizza, tuna, lobster, and other kinds of seafood and spicy food.

14. Sauternes

Sauternes bottles stacked together in Surgeres, France
Sauternes bottles stacked together in Surgeres, France.

Sauternes is a late-harvest wine of French origin. This very concentrated sweet wine is produced in Sauternes, Bordeaux, and is expensive because of its cost of production. It is made from Sémillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle grapes.

Sauternes are very long-lived wines with the potential to age for over 100 years. Flavor notes of Sauternes include apricots, honey, and peaches with a nutty note. The alcohol content of these wines is typically around 12 to 16% alcohol by volume.

Sauternes are classically paired with fruit-based desserts (like peaches, strawberries, and fruit tarts). It also pairs well with custards, meringues, chocolate, cheesecakes, cheeses, and various other savory or spicy foods.

15. Sémillon

Sémillon grapes hanging from a vine in the sunlight
Sémillon grapes hanging from a vine in the sunlight.

Made mostly in France and Australia, Sémillon is a sweet or dry white wine made from gold-skinned grapes of the same name. Although it originated in France, it is also made in Argentina, Chile, France, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Sweet Sémillon is made from late harvest grapes that have been affected by noble rot. It has fruity flavors of lemon, lime, grapefruit, pear, and apple. It is fairly low in alcohol content at about 10 to 11.5% alcohol by volume.

Sweet Sémillon compliments savory food. It may be served with seafood, dishes with cream sauces, pork chops, foie gras, cheese, and pudding.

16. Sherry

A Christmas glass of Sherry
A Christmas glass of Sherry.

Sherry is a fortified wine that hails from Spain. The white grapes used to make sherry are grown near Jerez de la Frontera, a city in Andalusia, Spain. Several styles of sherry are made with several types of grapes.

Made mostly and traditionally dry, this type of wine has been sweetened in recent years to result in tasty dessert wines. Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes are used in the production of sweet sherry wine.

Because it is fortified with brandy after fermentation, sherry contains about 16 to 18% alcohol by volume. The flavor of this type of wine has been described as nutty, with notes of dried fruit.

Sweet sherry may be paired with similarly sweet foods (desserts) or contrastingly spicy or savory foods. Paella, clams, salmon, oysters, strawberries, dark chocolate, vanilla ice cream, and blue cheese pair well with this wine.

17. Tokaji

Bottle of Tokaji wine
Bottle of Tokaji wine.

Tokaji, or Tokay, refers to wines made in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary or the adjoining Tokaj region in Slovakia. The Tokaj region is known for its sweet late-harvest wines made from grapes affected by noble rot.

While Tokaji wines may be made in different styles, Tokaji Aszú refers to the sweet white wine made in this region, made chiefly from Furmint grapes. It typically has an alcohol content of over 14% alcohol by volume.

Tokaji Aszú has a pure scent and its taste is described as a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity, both of which are high. This wine may be paired with desserts (like dark chocolate, caramelized apples, and roasted pineapple), or savory foods (like foie gras, blue cheese, and oriental dishes).

18. Vin Santo

Large barrels of Vin Santo in a cellar
Large barrels of Vin Santo in a cellar.

Another type of sweet wine, white and of Italian origin, is Vin Santo. It is believed to be native to Tuscany but it is widely produced and consumed throughout Italy. Vin Santo is made from a variety of white grapes like Malvasia and Trebbiano.

Although it is commonly taken as a dessert wine, Vin Santo may come in less sweet and dry styles. Its name means “holy wine” in English following its association with the sacrament of the Eucharist (the Holy Communion in Catholicism).

Vin Santo is quite strong as it has a minimum of 16% alcohol by volume. The aromas of this wine include caramel, dried apricot, hazelnut, honey, and tropical fruit. Its primary flavors are almond, dried fig, perfume, raisin, and toffee.

Vin Santo may be excellently paired with Italian (Tuscan) sweets like castagnaccio and Buccellato. Other food pairings can be done with blue cheese, dark chocolate, foie gras, nut cakes, and other nut-based desserts.

19. White Zinfandel

Multiple glasses of White Zinfandel on a white table
Multiple glasses of White Zinfandel on a white table.

This is a rosé wine made from the grape variety called Zinfandel. White Zinfandel was initially made by accident in 1975 but is now in much more demand than the red style. It is made in varying levels of sweetness, from off-dry to sweet.

This pink wine (yes, it is not actually a white wine) generally tastes light citrus and red fruit. White Zinfandel has a relatively high alcohol content. It is usually at about 12.5 to 16% alcohol by volume.

Sweet Zinfandel is best paired with foods with light flavors, such as appetizers, light meats (white meat like chicken, pork, and lamb), spicy sauces, cheeses, and desserts. It is always served cold.

20. Zinfandel

Vineyard growing Zinfandel grapes for harvest
Vineyard growing Zinfandel grapes for harvest.

Zinfandel is a dry, semi-sweet, or sweet red wine made from black-skinned grapes called Zinfandel or Primitivo. It originated in Croatia and may be called Zin for short. Some regions notable for producing Zinfandel are Apulia, California, and Dalmatia.

The most prominent flavors of this wine are blueberry, jam, black pepper, plum, cherry, licorice, and cranberry. It is a bold, fruity and smoky wine. The alcohol content of Zinfandel is usually about 14 to 16% alcohol by volume.

To make sweet Zinfandel, late-harvest grapes are used. It is paired with chocolate, cheesecake, fruit tarts, apple pies, barbecue, turkey, pizza with meat toppings, beef stews, and other spicy or savory cuisines with cinnamon.

Types of Dessert Wine

Fortified Wine

Fortified wine being poured into a glass
Fortified wine being poured into a glass.

Fortified wine is any wine to which a distilled spirit has been added, and brandy is the spirit mostly added. Because of this addition, fortified wines are usually high in alcohol, at about 17 to 20% alcohol by volume.

Some examples of fortified wines that are sweet and used to accompany dessert (fortified dessert wines) are the sweet styles of Port, Muscat, sherry, Madeira, and Marsala wines.

Light and Sweet Wine

Light and Sweet Wine paired with cheese
Light and Sweet Wine paired with cheese.

Light and sweet or lightly sweet dessert wines are fruit-flavored and refreshingly sweet wines. They usually pair well with savory foods and fruit-based or vanilla-driven desserts. Examples of such wines are Riesling, White Zinfandel, and Chenin Blanc.

Rich and Sweet Wine

Rich and Sweet Wine paired with some chocolate
Rich and Sweet Wine paired with some chocolate.

Rich and sweet or richly sweet dessert wines are unfortified wines made with very high-quality grapes. They age well because of the balance between sweetness and acidity in them.

Examples of rich and sweet dessert wines are late harvest wines like Sémillon, Sauternes, and Tokaji Aszú, straw mat or “passito” (grapes laid out on straw mats to dry before they are made) wines like Vin Santo, and Ice Wine.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling Wine in glasses
Sparkling Wine in glasses.

Sparkling wine is any wine that has a substantial amount of carbon dioxide in it, making such wine fizzy or bubbly. It comes in different ranges of sweetness from very dry to very sweet styles.

The name “sparkling wine” commonly refers to champagne but “champagne” is legally reserved for wine produced in France’s Champagne region. While the majority of sparkling wine is white, some regions make substantial amounts of red sparkling wine.

Sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region of France is referred to as Mousseaux or Crémant in France, its local name or the region of its production in other countries (Asti and Prosecco from Italy, Cap Classique from South Africa, Cava from Spain, and Espumante from Portugal).

Semi-sparkling wines are wines that have atmospheres of pressure in the bottle (usually about 1 to 2.5, generally less than 3) but not as much as sparkling wines do (about 5 to 6). Sparkling wines typically have no less than 10.5 to 11.5 alcohol by volume.

Sweet sparkling wines are usually labeled Doux, Dolce, or Dulce. Examples of sweet sparkling wines are sweet Cava, Champagne Rosé, Ice Wine, sweet Riesling, Moscato d’Asti, Brachetto d’Acqui, and sweet Lambrusco.

Sweet Red Wine

Sweet Red Wine up close from a top view
Sweet Red Wine up close from a top view.

Although the production of sweet red wines is significantly lower than that of sweet white ones, they are interesting wines made using esoteric Italian grapes.

Some popular sweet red wines taken to accompany dessert are sweet Lambrusco, Brachetto d’Acqui, Recioto della Valpolicella, and some late harvest red wines like Zinfandel.

FAQs

What type of wine is sweet?

Sweet wine is any wine that has retained a high level of sugar in it during the winemaking process, known as residual sugar. Twenty (20) types of sweet wines are discussed above: Brachetto d’Acqui, Ice Wine, Lambrusco, late harvest wine, Madeira, Malvasia, Marsala, Moscato d’Asti, Muscat, Port, Recioto della Valpolicella, Riesling, Rosé, Sauternes, Sémillon, sherry, Tokaji Aszú, Vin Santo, White Zinfandel and Zinfandel.

What is a sweet wine for beginners?

A sweet wine most recommended for beginners is Riesling. Following Riesling closely behind are Moscato d’Asti, Sauternes, Lambrusco, and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Conclusion

As earlier pointed out, sweet wines and dessert wines are quite similar but not quite the same. They are not made by the same processes and they have different markets. All dessert wines are sweet wines but not all sweet wines are dessert wines.

Sweet wine is any wine that has retained a high level of sugar in it during the winemaking process, known as residual sugar. A dessert wine is a type of wine that is sweet with pronounced flavor and served typically with or after dessert.

While they both have sweet tastes and are usually highly aromatic, sweet wine is usually made from a dry wine with added sweetener and dessert wine is naturally sweet and considerably higher in alcohol content, according to Ezine Articles.

Sweet wines are usually made by either adding unfermented grape juice into the dry wine in order to make it sweeter or stopping fermentation by adding sulfur dioxide to arrest the ferment at the desired residual sugar content.

The making of dessert wines is more peculiar, as close attention is paid to detail in this process. Ripening of the grapes increases their natural sugar content. If they then become infected with the fungus called Botrytis cinerea, the fungus develops into a “gray rot”.

The rot then feeds on the sugars within the grapes, causing a concentration of flavors. The grapes are typically picked in the late fall, and by this time are extremely sweet. They are then made into rich, sweet high alcoholic wines: dessert wines.

Dessert wines are generally more expensive than sweet wines, owing to the amount of time, effort, and money put into their production. Remember, all dessert wines are sweet wines but not all sweet wines are dessert wines.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Paige Elizabeth

Paige Elizabeth is a 3D printer enthusiast with a love for baking and cooking highly technical food. If anything in the culinary world can be improved by science, she is all over it! Paige is currently a college student studying Food & Nutrition.

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