Sweet wines have long suffered from a doubtful reputation among wine enthusiasts. Often misunderstood and sometimes overlooked, they are unfairly considered as mere syrupy concoctions or relegated to the end of a meal as an afterthought. However, high-quality sweet wines are like hidden gems that can elevate a meal and make the dining experience even more memorable.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not excessively sweet. Instead, they possess a well-balanced sweetness that blends perfectly with vibrant acidity, offering layers and layers of dried fruits, raisins, pudding, caramel, and more.
Port: A Treasure from Portugal
Port is a fortified wine that originates from the scenic vineyards of Portugal. This rich and velvety drink boasts a diverse range of flavours, ranging from the robust tawny ports with nutty undertones to the fruity ruby ports. They are produced in the Douro Valley, and their unique ageing process in oak barrels lends them unparalleled depth and complexity.
The youthful Niepoort Ruby Port is a great example of an entry-level port with more than just sweetness. It has a fresh and vibrant aroma of dark fruits that follows through on the palate along with a mineral character.
The Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Port 2013 has been aged for 10 years in the bottle. It has layers of dark fruits, dark chocolate, a subtle floral character, and forest notes. Enjoy now or it can be aged beautifully for another decade or more!
The Sabelli-Frisch Angelica is a hidden gem. Although it is not exactly a port, it is a historic fortified wine from California made with the Mission grape. This port-like fortified wine has layers of nuttiness that complement the sweetness and velvety texture.
Late Harvest Wines: Nature’s Sweet Bounty
Late-harvest wines are wines that are made from grapes that are left on the vine longer than usual. When grapes are left hanging after they have reached their peak ripeness, they start to become sweeter over time. This wine style has a luscious mouthfeel with developed nuanced flavours such as honey, dried stone fruits, and candied citrus peel. Late-harvest wines are found in various regions globally, such as Germany, Alsace, and New York State. They showcase the intensity of ripe fruits, notably honeyed notes, and a luxurious mouthfeel.
For example, Riesling from Alsace has a classic expression of the style. Justin Boxler Trockenbeerenauslese 2017 is made with noble rot (Botrytis) grapes, layered with notes of smoked acacia honey, dried apricots, and candied citrus peel that lead to a palate bursting with luscious flavours balanced with bright acidity on the finish.
Another example is Riesling from New York State. HJ Wiemer Riesling Late Harvest is inspired by German Spatlese, with moderate natural sweetness balanced by bright minerality and lively acidity. This wine has intense aromas of honey, tropical fruits, and ripe peaches, followed by a generous palate. The finish is incredibly long.
Tokaji: Hungary’s Liquid Gold
Hungary’s Tokaji wines are a tribute to traditional winemaking that has been perfected over the centuries. These wines, also called “liquid gold,” are known for their rich sweetness and lively acidity. They come in different varieties, ranging from the sweet Aszú to the less sweet Szamorodni. These wines are made using grapes that have been affected by noble rot, giving them a unique flavour that is admired by wine enthusiasts.
One such variety is the Kikelet Aszu Tokaji (6 puttonyos). This wine boasts an intense and complex flavour profile, with hints of baked, concentrated pineapple, fresh and dried apricots, and baking spices. The wine’s sweetness, fruitiness, and acidity are perfectly balanced, making it a truly exceptional wine.
Coteaux du Layon: The Loire Elegance in a Bottle
Coteaux du Layon is a highly respected sweet wine appellation located in the district of Anjou, in the western Loire Valley of France. All Coteaux du Layon wines are made exclusively from Chenin Blanc grapes and are uniquely affected by noble rot, which requires meticulous care and precise weather conditions for their creation. The result is remarkable wines with a balanced acidity and a complex flavour profile, making them some of the finest sweet wines in France.
The entry-level Château de Suronde Coteaux du Layon is delicate and balanced. It has a fruity nose with hints of quince and notes of fresh exotic fruits, pineapple, and candied fruits. A great example for those who are trying sweet wine from the Loire Valley for the first time.
Passito Wines: The Italian Artistry
Passito wines from Italy are created using the age-old appassimento method, which involves drying grapes on racks to concentrate their natural sugars. This process results in opulent wines that are rich in sweetness and complex in flavours. You will find figs, prunes, coffee, chocolate, and almonds, just like pudding in a bottle.
The Corzano Passito is made from carefully selected Trebbiano and Malvasia. The grapes are hung to dry for three months before fermentation. After, the casks are sealed and left in a well-ventilated room for thirteen years without any intervention. The opulent and intense palate is a prelude to the extremely long and elegant finish. This wine is super complex, yet balanced by a vibrant acidity.
Pairing sweet wines with meals can be tricky, but it is an art that can be mastered. The nature of sweet wines allows for delightful combinations that complement the right dishes. From the classic pairing of Port with blue cheese to Tokaji and foie gras, there are endless possibilities. Exploring the world of dessert wines unveils a treasure trove of flavours that will delight any wine lover, especially during the festive season.
This Blog post is written by Sharon Wong
Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager of Wanderlust Wine
Sharon is the the driving force behind our website, wine club, marketing activities, and Wanderlust Wine events.