When much of America thinks of sweet wine, thoughts of grandma’s favorite Riesling or Manischewitz come to mind. And while these options tend to be technically sweet, they’re just a drop in a delicious bucket full of sweet white wines and sweet red wines. There are, in fact, a plurality of styles and directions to go within the category, united by higher residual sugar content but extremely different in terms of taste, fragrance, and build.
We also tend to equate cheap and poorly made with sweet wines — another major mistake. Highly revered and expensive options like Sauternes have earned icon-rate status over the years. Here at The Manual, a sweet wine made it on to our best wines list, with many more coming very close to making the cut. You get the point. There are some fantastic sweet wines out there, from complex Port to late-harvest Gewurztraminer made in the ice wine style.
Next time you’re after a sweeter wine to accompany a funky cheese or to sip on post-meal, consider these fantastic offerings.
Named the best wine in Virginia last year, this lovely dessert wine is made from Vidal Blanc, a hybrid white related to Ugni Blanc. It’s made in a traditional Italian style in which the grapes are dried to concentrate flavors and sweetness. The result is a rich and tropical fruit-driven wonder, perfect with a fruit tart.
This outstanding Port from the world-renowned Douro Valley of Portugal is full and nuanced. It’s also silky-smooth and fun to check in on with each little sip as it blossoms in the glass and flexes the many flavors that come from decades of aging.
Quite a lot of Riesling is actually bone dry and zippy. This one is more stereotypical in that it’s quite sweet, but has all the complexity of a lauded Chianti Classico or Burgundy. The coveted 2017 vintage is no longer available but others are and are just about as tasty.
A magical Sauterne, this wine possesses a feathery weight while packing tons of flavor and detail. Notes of marmalade, nectarine, honey, and vanilla greet the palate and while a number of vintages are great now, this style of sweet wine can age for a long, long time and improve even more en route.
This Canadian wine is one of relatively few made in the traditional ice wine style. Picking a bit later, after a freeze, locks in higher sugar levels prior to fermentation and the result here is an incredibly pretty wine with notes of cherry, wild raspberry, and strawberry taffy.
This remarkable dessert wine from Hungary shows honey, peaches, and spice. The sweetness is offset elegantly by some firm acidity and the overall mouthfeel is engrossing and unmatched.
This delightful half-bottle (or split, as the industry likes to call the format) is the perfect companion to some biscotti or gelato for a complete dessert. It’s complex and presents a beautiful hue, with nutty richness balanced out by some sherry-like brine and dried fruit components.
A heralded Italian king at least in Europe, Valpolicella doesn’t have nearly the following here in the states. But it should, as it’s not overly sweet and typically balanced out with some nice fruit and even savory components. This one is luminously bright, showing ripe red fruit and a little earth.
Pedro Ximenez sherry is one of the sweetest wines on the planet, a rich and fulfilling option ideal for capping supper. This decadent wine shows raisin, candied dates, malt, and toasted almond flavors.
One of the more famous sweet wine styles, Moscato d’Asti flutters with flavor while being light on the palate. They tend to be low in alcohol (this one is just 5% ABV) and softly effervescent. This stellar option spills over with floral aromatics and juicy fruit and honeycomb elements.
Known for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Far Niente also makes a mean sweet wine in the Dolce. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, it offers fig and orchard fruit flavors with a fair amount of sweetness accented by some grassier notes.
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