Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: December 11, 2023

12 Best Sweet Wines [For Every Taste & Occasion]

Dive into the luscious world of sweet wines, where every sip is a celebration of opulence! Sweet wines are the nectar of the gods, crafted with extra sugar to tantalize your taste buds.

Whether you're pairing with a dessert, toasting to good times, or simply enjoying a drink with friends, there's a sweet wine waiting to elevate the moment.

In this guide, I'll explain the different types of sweet wines available and help you choose the right one for your occasion. If there's not an incredible sweet wine down below that's right for you then I'll be very surprised!

From the golden drizzles of Sauternes to the ruby swirls of Port, get ready to uncork the bottles that will forever change the way you perceive wine.


The Sweetness Spectrum of Wine

There are distinct levels of sweetness in wine ranging from what many call off-dry to dessert wines with high levels of residual sugar that rival soft drinks like Coca-Cola.

  • Off-Dry (or Semi-Dry): These wines have a hint of sweetness. They are not bone-dry but are far from being classified as sweet. They usually have around 15 -35 grams per liter (g/L) of residual sugar.

Examples: German Kabinett Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer.

  • Medium Sweet: These wines are noticeably sweet but not overwhelmingly so. They strike a good balance, making them quite versatile for pairing with food.
Examples: Spätlese Riesling, Lambrusco, some Moscato wines.
  • Sweet: Sweet wines have a more pronounced sweetness, often with a rich, velvety texture. Note these 'Sweet' and 'Very sweet' wines can often be interchanged. The Tokaji 3 Puttonyos must have at least 60 g/L of residual sugar while the 6 Puttonyos Aszú must have at least 150 g/L. Sauternes too, may have this much sugar. It all depends on the varietal standards and winemaker.

Examples: Sauternes, Tokaji Aszú, Late Harvest Wines.

  • Very Sweet (or Lusciously Sweet): These wines are intensely sweet, often made from grapes that have been specially processed to concentrate their sugars. The minimum residual sugar content for Trockenbeerenauslese wines is 150 g/L. Coca Cola is around 110 g/L!

Examples: Ice Wine, Trockenbeerenauslese, Pedro Ximénez Sherry.

  • Fortified Sweet Wines: These wines have had spirits (usually brandy) added to them. This not only increases the alcohol content but also often leaves high levels of residual sugar.

Examples: Tawny Port, Sweet Sherry, Madeira.


Different Types of Sweet Wines

There are several types of sweet wines, each with distinct characteristics and varying levels of residual sugar.

These are some of the most popular sweet wines from around the world.

Sauternes

  • Origin: Bordeaux, France
  • Residual Sugar: 120 - 220 g/L
  • Description: Made primarily from Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, Sauternes is a lusciously sweet wine with flavors of honey, apricot, and peach. Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes is one of the most expensive wines in the world.

Tokaji

  • Origin: Tokaj, Hungary
  • Residual Sugar: 30 - over 450 g/L (Rare Tokaji Essencia can contain as much as 900 g/L of sugar!)
  • Description: Produced mainly from botrytized Furmint and Hárslevelű grapes, however six white grape varieties are approved. Tokaji is rich and sweet with flavors of dried fruits, honey, and spices. Various kinds exist, categorized by their sugar content.

Ice Wine (Eiswein)

  • Origin: Germany, Canada, Austria
  • Residual Sugar: 160 - 320 g/L
  • Description: Made from grapes that are frozen on the vine, Ice Wine is intensely sweet and concentrated with flavors of tropical fruits and high acidity.

Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (Late Harvest Wines)

  • Origin: Late harvest wines come from all over but Trockenbeerenauslese is a term to define German (or Austrian) wine that is made with raisinated grapes picked when at their most sugary.
  • Residual Sugar: +150 g/L to +300 g/L
  • Description: Made from grapes left on the vine longer to increase sugar content (usually raisinated and affected by noble rot), these wines are sweet with flavors of ripe fruits. Sauternes too is a late harvest wine but it deserves a place on its own.

Port (Tawny and Ruby)

  • Origin: Douro Valley, Portugal
  • Residual Sugar: 100-120 g/L (Ruby Port), 160-220 g/L (Tawny Port)
  • Description: A fortified wine, Port is rich and sweet, with flavors of dark fruits, chocolate, and nuts in Tawny Ports.

Moscato d'Asti

  • Origin: Piedmont, Italy
  • Residual Sugar: 90-150 g/L
  • Description: A lightly sparkling wine made from the Moscato grape, it is sweet and fragrant with flavors of peaches and orange blossom.

Pedro Ximénez Sherry

  • Origin: Jerez, Spain
  • Residual Sugar: 212 - 400 g/L
  • Description: A fortified wine made from sun-dried grapes, it is extremely sweet with flavors of figs, raisins, and molasses.



Best Sweet Wines for Every Occasion

Sweet wines come in various guises so I've done my best to cover all the bases down below.

These are the best sweet wines in each category I can think of.


Best Sweet White Wines

I've included two of my favorites below but we also have a bigger list of sweet white wine recommendations.

Château d'Yquem Sauternes

This is an easy choice as it's one of the most consistently well-scored wines by critics each year. However, it's also very expensive so skip to the next recommendation for a more appropriately priced bottle of great sweet wine!

Château d'Yquem has a long history of producing exceptional sweet wines, and it is often regarded as the pinnacle of Sauternes wines.

The wine is made primarily from Sémillon grapes affected by noble rot, with a smaller portion of Sauvignon Blanc. This noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea, is a fungus that dehydrates the grapes, concentrating the sugars and flavors.

Château d'Yquem is known for its complexity, balance, and longevity. It typically has flavors of honey, tropical fruit, apricot, and almonds, with a rich, velvety texture.

Critics' scores for Château d'Yquem are consistently high. For example, the 2001 vintage of Château d'Yquem received a perfect score of 100 points from Wine Spectator and is often cited as one of the best tasting sweet wines ever made.

While Château d'Yquem is highly regarded, it is also quite expensive. For those looking for a more affordable option, there are many other excellent Sauternes options available.

 

Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszú

For a more budget-friendly option that still offers excellent quality, the Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszú from Hungary is a fantastic choice. This wine is made in the Tokaj region, which is world-renowned for its sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot, similar to Sauternes.

It's made primarily from the Furmint grape variety, blended with Hárslevelű and Muscat de Lunel. The term "5 Puttonyos" refers to the level of sweetness, with 5 being very sweet but balanced with good acidity.

This wine typically features flavors of apricot, honey, orange peel, and spices, with a rich, luscious texture. It's well-regarded for its complexity and balance, and it pairs beautifully with a range of desserts, cheeses, and spicy dishes.

Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszú often receives high scores from wine critics and is widely available for under $60, making it an excellent value purchase for those looking to explore high-quality sweet wines.


Best Sweet Red Wines


Braida Brachetto d'Acqui

Braida Brachetto d'Acqui is a highly acclaimed sweet red wine that is perfect for those who have a penchant for something light, fragrant, and effervescent. 

Produced in the Piedmont region of Italy, Brachetto d’Acqui is known for its delicate bubbles, low alcohol content, and sweet flavors of strawberries and rose petals.

Braida is one of the most respected producers of Brachetto d’Acqui. Their Brachetto d'Acqui is often praised for its elegance and balance. It has a vibrant ruby red color with fine bubbles and offers an aromatic bouquet of roses and raspberries. On the palate, it is sweet and fragrant, with a refreshing acidity that makes it incredibly easy to drink.

This wine is perfect for celebrations or as an aperitif. It pairs wonderfully with desserts, especially chocolate, fruit tarts, and pastries. Additionally, it's a fantastic companion to spicy dishes, as the sweetness can counterbalance the heat.


Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Noble House Dornfelder Sweet Red

A second sweet red wine that is not only delightful but also offers great value: the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Noble House Dornfelder Sweet Red.

This wine is made from Dornfelder grapes, which are known for their deep color and luscious berry flavors. This Dornfelder boasts flavors of blackberries, cherries, and plums, with a hint of spice.

For those who appreciate a wine that is rich in flavor without being overly sweet, this Dornfelder is an excellent choice. It's particularly suitable for those looking to explore sweet wines without breaking the bank.

It's one of those grapes your don't hear a lot about and I urge you to try it for yourself.



Best Sweet Sparkling Wines

 

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti

I have a soft spot for sparkling wines, and when it comes to sweet sparkling wines, there's one that holds a special place in my heart - the Asti Spumante from Piedmont, Italy.

The Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d'Asti is a great option because it's usually available for just $10!

It's made from Moscato Bianco grapes, which are known for their floral aromatics and luscious sweetness. The aroma is a captivating bouquet of peaches, apricots, and orange blossoms.

On the palate, it's like tasting the nectar of fresh fruits with a hint of honey. The sweetness is perfectly balanced by a vibrant acidity, making it refreshing and not overly sweet.

Pair this wine with desserts, especially fruit-based ones like peach cobbler or apple tart. But, it's a great sipper or toasting wine too!

 

Best Sweet Champagne


Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial

Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial is a treasure for those with a penchant for the sweeter side of life. It's classified as "Doux," meaning it's the sweetest category in Champagne, and let me tell you, it's like liquid gold!

The allure of Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial begins with its golden hue. Swirling the glass, you are greeted by a bouquet of tropical fruits - think pineapple and mango - mingled with the scent of caramel and brioche. It's like walking into a patisserie in the tropics!

The bubbles are lively, and the flavors are opulent. There’s an abundance of ripe tropical fruits, a drizzle of honey, and a whisper of vanilla. The sweetness is indulgent but never cloying, thanks to the bright acidity that keeps it lively.

 

Best Sweet Fortified Wine


Graham's 20-Year-Old Tawny Port 

When it comes to sweet fortified wines, Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port takes the crown. 

It's crafted from a blend of the finest grapes, and then aged in wooden barrels for two decades. This aging process is what imparts the characteristic "tawny" color and complex flavors to the wine.

On the nose, you'll be greeted with an intoxicating aroma of dried fruits, nuts, and caramel. Take a sip, and your palate will be enveloped in a cascade of flavors – think figs, raisins, almonds, and a hint of vanilla. The texture is velvety, and the finish is long and lingering, with a touch of spice.

What sets Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port apart is its perfect balance between sweetness and acidity. It's rich and opulent without being overly sweet, and the subtle oakiness from the barrel aging adds depth and complexity.

This Tawny Port is incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings. It's a classic accompaniment to blue cheeses and nuts, but it's equally at home with rich desserts like chocolate truffles or tiramisu. For a real treat, try it with a plate of warm, freshly-made churros.


Best Sweet Dessert Wine


Inniskillin Vidal Icewine

For those seeking the ultimate indulgence in dessert wines, my top recommendation is the Inniskillin Vidal Icewine. This Canadian treasure is produced in the Niagara Peninsula, a region that has garnered international acclaim for its exceptional Icewines.

Inniskillin is one of the pioneers in Icewine production, and their Vidal Icewine is a testament to their mastery. Made from the Vidal grape variety, this wine is produced by allowing the grapes to freeze naturally on the vine, concentrating the sugars and flavors. The frozen grapes are then harvested and pressed, resulting in a nectar-like juice that is fermented into wine.

Inniskillin Vidal Icewine boasts a golden hue and a rich, luscious texture. On the nose, it offers an intoxicating blend of tropical fruits, honey, and apricot. The palate is a delicate blend of sweetness, balanced by a bright acidity, with flavors of peach, mango, and citrus.

This wine is an exquisite choice for special occasions and pairs beautifully with a range of desserts, from fruit tarts to creamy cheesecakes. It can also be enjoyed on its own as a dessert.


Best Sweet Rosé Wine


Mumm Napa Brut Rosé N.V.

This blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes is an awesome cheap alternative to Champagne. 

At just $15 it's amazing value for money. It's lightly sweet with berry and citrus notes giving it a lovely fruity profile.

Champagne doesn't always go down well with non-wine drinkers but this will! 

It's quite widely available and you can usually find it in supermarkets like Target.

 

Best Sweet Wine for a Beginner


Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz

For beginners looking for a sweet wine that is not only delicious but highly approachable, I would recommend the Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz. This South African wine is a must for those just starting their wine journey.

Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz is characterized by its vibrant fruit flavors. It boasts a delightful medley of ripe blueberries, blackberries, and subtle hints of dark chocolate.

It's not overly sweet, which makes it a great introduction for those who are easing into sweet wines. The tannins are soft, and there's a nice balance between the sweetness and acidity, which makes it very approachable.

This wine is incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings. It pairs beautifully with barbecue dishes, spicy foods, and even desserts like chocolate brownies or berry tarts. Its versatility and flavor profile make it an excellent choice for social gatherings or a cozy night in.

It can be commonly found at Target stores.

 

Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Sweet Riesling

Another incredible sweet wine that I would recommend for beginners is the Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Sweet Riesling.

Hailing from Washington State, Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the most respected wineries in the United States, and their Harvest Select Sweet Riesling is a testament to their expertise.

This wine is a harmonious blend of sweetness and acidity. It features luscious flavors of peaches, apricots, and honey, with a hint of citrus. The sweetness is pronounced but well-balanced by the wine's natural acidity, making it refreshing rather than cloying.

What makes this wine particularly appealing to beginners is its approachability. The flavors are clear and inviting, and the wine has a lightness that makes it very easy to drink. It's the kind of wine that can be enjoyed on its own or with a meal.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Sweet Riesling is also an excellent choice for food pairings. It complements a wide range of dishes, from spicy Asian cuisine to rich cheeses and desserts.

Note: I've seen this at Walmart for as little as $8 before!

 

Best Sweet Wine for Less than $20


Château La Hargue Bordeaux Moelleux 2019 

For those seeking an exceptional sweet wine that is both affordable and high quality, I highly recommend the 2019 Château La Hargue Bordeaux Moelleux.

Hailing from the renowned Bordeaux region in France, Château La Hargue is crafted with meticulous care, and the 2019 vintage is particularly noteworthy. It offers a harmonious blend of luscious fruit flavors, including peach, apricot, and honey, complemented by a hint of floral notes.

The sweetness is perfectly tempered by a refreshing acidity, making it incredibly versatile for pairing with a range of dishes, from cheeses to desserts, or simply to be savored on its own.

It's an excellent introduction to the world of sweet wines, particularly for those who appreciate the finesse and complexity that Bordeaux wines are celebrated for.

And the best part? This delightful wine is available for less than $20, making it incredible value for the quality it offers. You'll be hard-pushed to find many quality sweet wines from Bordeaux under the $20 mark! But, it you do find one please tell me!


Tips for Choosing a Sweet Wine

  • Occasion: The event or setting in which you’ll be enjoying the wine is important. For a celebratory toast, a sweet sparkling wine like Moscato d’Asti might be appropriate. For a formal dinner, a classic Sauternes or Tokaji could be more fitting.
  • Food Pairing: Consider what food will be served alongside the wine. Sweet wines pair well with desserts, but also with spicy foods, cheeses, and pâtés. For example, a rich chocolate dessert might pair well with a Ruby Port, while a cheese platter could be complemented by a Late Harvest Riesling.

 

How are Sweet Wines Made?

The creation of these delectable wines is an art form, where the winemaker plays the role of a maestro, orchestrating various elements to achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and complexity.

One of the fundamental factors in the production of sweet wines is the grape selection. Grapes with high sugar content are essential, and often, winemakers allow the grapes to ripen for an extended period on the vine to accumulate sugars.

A natural phenomenon known as ‘noble rot’ or Botrytis cinerea plays a significant role in the creation of some of the world’s most celebrated sweet wines, such as Sauternes. This fungus attacks the grapes, causing them to shrivel, which concentrates the sugars and imparts unique flavors.

Another technique is late harvesting, where grapes are left on the vine beyond the regular harvest season. This results in higher sugar levels due to the extended ripening period.

Ice wine production involves leaving the grapes on the vine until they freeze naturally. The frozen grapes are then pressed, and since water is frozen, what is extracted is highly concentrated juice with elevated sugar levels.

Drying the grapes is a traditional Italian method known as appassimento. Grapes are laid out on mats or hung in the air to dry, concentrating the sugars. This method is used to produce the famed Amarone and Vin Santo.

Fortification is a process where alcohol, usually brandy, is added to the wine. This not only increases the alcohol content but also stops the fermentation process, leaving residual sugars in the wine. Port and Sherry are classic examples of fortified wines.

Arresting the fermentation by chilling the wine is another method. By doing so, not all the sugars are converted to alcohol, leaving the wine with a sweet taste.


Do Sweet Wines Age Well?

It really depends on the type of wine in question but sweet wines do tend to have characteristics that lend themselves to aging well.

The high sugar content in sweet wines acts as a natural preservative. Being hygroscopic, sugar attracts and holds water molecules, which helps in slowing down the oxidation process, a primary cause of wine aging.

Alongside sugar, alcohol content plays a significant role in the preservation of wine. Many sweet wines, especially fortified ones like Port or Sherry, boast a higher alcohol content compared to dry wines. This elevated alcohol level acts as a barrier against spoilage and aids in prolonging the wine's life.

Acidity is another crucial component in sweet wines. Often, sweet wines possess high levels of acidity which not only balance the sweetness but also act as natural preservatives that keep the wine fresh over time.

In the case of certain sweet red wines, tannins, which are compounds derived from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes, contribute to aging. Tannins act as antioxidants, protecting the wine from oxidation.

The production methods employed in making sweet wines also contribute to their complexity and aging potential. Techniques such as late harvesting, where grapes are left on the vine for an extended period, or using botrytized grapes, add layers of flavor and structure to the wine over time.

However, it's important to note that not all sweet wines are meant to be aged. For example, lighter and fruitier sweet wines like Moscato are typically best enjoyed young.

Wines like Sauternes, Tokaji, and vintage Port have incredible aging potential and can be cellared for decades. As these wines age, they develop rich and complex flavors that are highly prized among wine enthusiasts.

 

What's the Best Way to Store Sweet Wine?

As we've seen in this guide, sweet wine comes in many forms. Therefore, there isn't a "one fits all" storage solution. Here's how to keep your sweet wines in tip-top condition.

  • Fortified Sweet Wines (e.g., Port, Sherry, Madeira): These wines are generally more resilient due to their high alcohol content. They should be stored upright to minimize the wine’s contact with the cork, which is especially important for wines with high alcohol content as the alcohol can deteriorate the cork over time. Keep them in a cool, dark place, ideally at a consistent temperature of around 55-60°F (13-16°C).
  • Late Harvest and Botrytized Wines (e.g., Sauternes, Tokaji): These wines have high sugar content and should be stored similarly to fine wines. Lay the bottles on their sides to keep the cork moist, and store them in a wine cellar or a wine fridge at a temperature of about 52-55°F (11-13°C).
  • Ice Wines: These are very sweet wines and should be stored in a similar manner to late harvest wines. Keep them on their sides in a cool, dark environment with a consistent temperature.
  • Sweet Red Wines (e.g., some Lambruscos, Dornfelder): Store these similarly to regular red wines. Keep them in a cool, dark place with a consistent temperature. Laying them on their sides will keep the cork moist and ensure a tight seal.
  • Sparkling Sweet Wines (e.g., Asti, some Demi-Sec Champagnes and sweeter): These should be stored upright in a cool and dark place. The ideal temperature is slightly cooler than for still wines, around 45-50°F (7-10°C), to maintain the carbonation and freshness.
  • Aromatic Sweet Wines (e.g., Moscato d’Asti, Gewürztraminer): These wines are best enjoyed young and fresh. Store them in a cool, dark place, ideally in a wine fridge set at a temperature of around 45-55°F (7-13°C).

 

How Do you Serve Sweet Wines?

Serving sweet wines involves a few key considerations to ensure that their rich flavors and aromas are fully appreciated. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Serving Temperature: Sweet wines are best served chilled, but the ideal temperature varies depending on the type. Lighter sweet wines like Moscato and sweet Riesling should be served at around 6-8°C (43-46°F), while richer, more complex sweet wines like Sauternes and Tokaji should be slightly warmer, around 10-12°C (50-54°F). Rich fortified wines like Tawny Port should be served around 16°C (60°F).
  2. Glassware: Use smaller glasses for sweet wines. A smaller bowl helps to concentrate the aromas. For very sweet wines like Sauternes, a glass with a more tapered rim is ideal as it directs the wine to the back of the mouth, helping to balance sweetness and acidity. Small Port glasses are great for serving sweet wines.
  3. Pouring Quantity: Pour smaller quantities than you would with dry wines. This is because sweet wines are often richer and more intense in flavor, and smaller quantities are more enjoyable. Port wine is usually served in 2-3 oz measures with Tokaji and Sauternes served in similar sizes.
  4. Food Pairing: Sweet wines are incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairing. They can be served with desserts, cheeses, or even savory dishes. The classic rule is to ensure that the wine is sweeter than the dish it is paired with. For example, Sauternes pairs beautifully with blue cheese, while Moscato is lovely with light pastries or fruit tarts.
  5. Decanting and Oxidation: Some older and more complex sweet wines, like vintage Port, can benefit from decanting to open up their flavors. However, most sweet wines do not need decanting. Once opened, sweet wines should be consumed relatively quickly as they can oxidize and lose their freshness. Fortified sweet wines like Port and Sherry are an exception, as they can last longer once opened due to their higher alcohol content.
  6. Serving Order: When serving multiple wines, sweet wines are traditionally served at the end of the meal. However, there are exceptions, such as serving a sweet sparkling wine as an aperitif.


Whats your favorite sweet wine? Is there a "hidden gem" you think is worthy of a place in this guide?


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About the Author Tim Edison


Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).



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