Even wine snobs can't deny the popularity and deliciousness of sweet wine. I worked in a retail wine store for 10 years. There were many embarrassed hushed requests for sweet wines from burly guys and fancy ladies alike. Don't be ashamed of loving sweet wines! You are not alone.
The Difference Between Sweet and Dry Wines
Sweet wines are made a few different ways and come anywhere from Italy to Austria. They pretty much exist everywhere. The fermentation can be stopped before all the sugar turns into alcohol, so the alcohol stays lower but the natural sugar is higher.
Wine can also be made from riper grapes with a higher sugar content at the start of fermentation so the alcohol will stay a little higher as well as the sweetness. Another method to get the sugar level higher without sacrificing alcohol content is called appasimento. The grapes are dried on straw mats in the sun, concentrating the sugars and flavors. This is the traditional way of making Italian Amarone and Valpolicella. Grapes that are also harvested when frozen concentrate their sugar, making the wine sweeter.
Compared to a dry wine, which has less than 1% residual sugar, sweet wines have a higher residual sugar of above 20 percent. Now that's quite the difference!
When throwing a party, I guarantee your sweet wines will go faster than your dry wines or that white wine favorite Pinot Grigio. So plan accordingly and stock up on the Moscato wine.
Best Sweet Wines To Try at Your Next Gathering
1. Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante
Don't even try to deny this classic sparkling wine. Made from Moscato Bianco grapes, this sweet sparkling classic has flavors of peach and white grapes with an incredible aroma once the bubbles hit the glass. Sweet but balanced so you could even enjoy this with a salty snack like potato chips! Get crazy.
2. Beringer White Zinfandel
White Zin was the first grown-up wine we all ordered. Some of us have come a long way. But many of us still gulp this best-selling inexpensive wine. Red berries, citrus, and melon flavors, with subtle hints of nutmeg and clove, keep it from being too sweet.
3. Bartenura Moscato D'Asti
Fruity pear, tangerine, honey nectar, apricot, and melon flavors make everyone go nuts for the muscat grape. Muscat is one of the oldest grape varieties globally. In Virginia and the South, muscadine wine is a popular local variation. Italian Moscato d'Asti is from the Asti appellation of Piedmont and is considered a better quality dessert wine.
4. Pacific Rim Late Harvest Sweet Riesling
Pacific Rim is a Washington State winery that every sweet wine lover should know about. They have a very helpful sweetness meter on the back label. Riesling is usually thought of as sweet white wine but Riesling is produced in style ranging from off-dry to very sweet. German Rieslings can even have a petroleum aroma to them. It really is a fascinating grape.
5. Croft Ruby Port or Tawny Port
Port wine is a fortified wine meaning brandy is added to the base wines upping the alcohol lever and stability of the flavors. There are many port wine producers all over Portugal with a slightly different house style. They keep that house style by blending different vintages of grapes, called a solera style. When you do see a vintage on a bottle of port, that means it was an exceptional harvest and the winemakers were happy to make a wine from just those grapes.
6. Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud Sauternes
Sauternes is an old-school dessert wine that shouldn't be overlooked. It is made from one of the classic Bordeaux white grapes, Semillon, and has concentrated flavors of dried apple, apricot, and pineapple. Honey and creamy almond make sauternes taste so fancy with cheese and nut plates. France really knows how to live.
7. Dolce Late Harvest Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend
California's answer to Sauternes is a treat beyond a treat. Made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that are left to overripen (botrytis) on the vine, you'll taste orange zest, vanilla bean, and butterscotch. Because of the overripe grapes, lots of dried fruit comes through in this pretty little bottle. It's worth skipping a few weeks of Starbucks to buy this bottle.
8. Inniskillin Ice Wine
There's a little town over the border of Canada called Niagara On The Lake. Inniskillin is the most well-known of these ice wine-producing vineyards. The white grapes are left to freeze on the vine with the maximum residual sugar (our friend botrytis aka noble rot strikes again). The grapes, most commonly Riesling and Vidal Blanc, are picked and pressed frozen to get that tiny bit of concentrated juice with amazing flavors and higher sugar content. Ice wine is also made from red cabernet franc grapes but it's not as common.
9. Tokaji Hetszolo Asuz 5 Puttonyos
Tokaji (pronounced Toe-Kai like Cobra Kai) is one of the oldest wines in the world. This winery was founded in 1502! Produced only in Hungary, this sweet dessert wine is measured in something called puttonyos. Puttonyos refers to the concentration of grapes. The bigger and fuller the bag (puttonyo), the richer and sweeter the wine, with flavors of honey, tea, and apricots.
10. Cupcake Red Velvet Red Blend
Sweet red blends have transformed red wine drinking for America. There's usually a red blend section in the liquor store, it's become so popular. Much of that bitter and drying taste is gone after the fermentation process. Lower acidity and softer tannins produce a sweet red wine blend of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Petit Syrah. Many winemakers use excess grape juice to put out a commercially popular red wine blend.
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