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There’s an unspoken misconception that wine, a drink made by fermenting grape juice, isn’t meant to be sweet and that sweet wine isn’t supposed to carry the same heft as a non-sweet wine. The truth is, wine comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors—including sweet.
Even more, those who think they don’t like sweet wine are missing out on exceptional bottles. There are myriad winemakers who specialize in making delicious sweet wines that you can pair with savory dishes, share with your date on a romantic evening, or even stand-in for a birthday cake.
Like any other wine, the choices are overwhelming, so here are the best sweet wines that prove that they're just another part of the wine family.
Best Overall: Dal Forno Romano Vigna Seré Veneto Passito Rosso
From vineyards rooted in chalky-clay soils outside the town of Tregnago, about an hour and a half west of Venice, Italy, comes this ultra-rare passito from Dal Forno. In fact, in three decades, the wine has only been produced six times. Made in the tiniest of quantities, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of the most profound sweet wines you’ll ever encounter.
Corvina grapes are used to make the bulk of this wine, along with 15% rondinella, 20% croatina, and 10% oseleta that are then aged for 36 months in oak. The result is rich and decadent, with sweet red-berry fruit, red licorice, crushed stones, and brown sugar-coated candied violets. All this is framed by juicy and brisk acidity, giving freshness to this wine that defies gravity.
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Best Under $20: Tobin James Zinfandel Late Harvest
Winemakers Tobin James and Lance Silver have honed in on the style of the rich vineyards of Paso Robles, Calif. with this sweet and spicy zinfandel. Their tasting room is something of a Paso Robles hub for seekers of quality wine. That jovial spirit is captured in this bottle.
There are notes of plum, blueberry, dark chocolate, raisin and spice. This wine is not too sweet, with vibrant acidity and gentle tannins. This pairs well with barbecue chicken wings or General Tso’s chicken.
Best Organic: Philip Togni Ca' Togni Sweet Red
Winemaker Philip Togni is a legend in the field, and this organic dessert wine is produced from his own harvest of rare and fully ripened black hamburg grapes. This bottle is inspired by constantia, the famed South African dessert wine, but Togni gives it his own Napa Valley spin for a truly exquisite tasting experience.
Floral aromas flood the nose with prune, fig, and black cherry following suit. Chocolate and spiced tea notes on the palate are supported by a kiss of acidity. The finish lingers like a chatty houseguest, but in a good way.
Best Splurge: Bodkin The Crown Jewels Red Dessert Wine
Sonoma County outfit Bodkin Wines is perhaps best known as the winery that delivered America’s first home-grown sparkling sauvignon blanc, which was pioneered by winemaker Christopher Christensen. In the years between making history and getting recognition for it, Bodkin made this Crown Jewels dessert wine that’s so delicious they had to contain it in a half-sized bottle.
A mixture of black grape varieties with zinfandel, this half-bottle packs a full-bottle punch with notes of blackberry, saddle leather, dried fruit, plum and orange peel. Burly tannins lead to a brief berry-bright finish.
Best Italian: Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto
From Tuscany’s Brunello region comes this elegant and romantic sparkling red from Banfi’s award-winning estate. Though Banfi’s innovations in clonal research and the accolades of their longtime winemaker Rudy Buratti are impressive, we especially love this bottle's candy red color.
Still, don’t let its looks distract you from the excellent aromatics of raspberry, cranberry, chocolate and rose petal. Dry with scintillating acidity, serve this chilled lest you serve it incorrectly.
Best German: Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Dornfelder
The dark-skinned dornfelder variety is known for being a distinctively German grape that can reach its full potential in the advantageously mild climate of the country’s south-western Pfalz region (affectionately known as the “Tuscany of Germany”). The Anselmann estate that operates in this region happens to be one of the best around and this bottle is only one of the reasons why.
Deep red in color, the floral aromas are bolstered by dollops of cherry, raspberry, dark fruit, vanilla and spice. This is a medium-bodied wine with a rich texture, mildly acidic, and truth be told, on the drier side of sweet.
Best Greek: Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras
The Greeks are famous for inventing dramatic theater, so it only makes sense that they’d be able to produce such a dramatic wine full of sweet pathos. The Kourtakis family founded their winery back in 1895 and continues to be one of Greece’s most prominent winemakers.
Reminiscent of a fine port, this bottle is heavy on fig, raisin and brown sugar. This also has a profound chocolate note which could help explain why it pairs so well with actual chocolate.
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Best South African: Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz
As their name might suggest, Jam Jar concocted this sweet shiraz with the direct aim of creating a quality sweet red. The shiraz fruit thrives in hot weather which makes their vineyards in South Africa’s Western Cape an ideal setting for proper grape-growing. As a bonus, this sweet wine has no added sugar.
This is a veritable medley of dark and red berries: blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry and chocolate, which is not a berry but becomes an honorary berry in this wine. Bold, tannic and fairly acidic, this makes a complimentary wine with savory steaks and pork dishes.
Best California: San Antonio Cardinale Red Blend
With roots in northern Italy, California’s San Antonio Winery has been in operation by the Riboli family for over four generations. From grapes grown in the dry and warm climate of their Paso Robles appellation, this Cardinale red blend is about as sweet as a wine can get.
This is medium-bodied with notes of cherry and plum. Sweet like marmalade, this wine is smooth and reminiscent of a moscato. It is bold and bright with a short and pleasant finish.
Read Next: The Best Red Wines
Best Semi-Sweet: Botticello Dolce Rosso Lambrusco
As its name suggests, this wine from Botticello is a bonafide Italian doozy. And this one’s a northern Italian doozy, from the Emilia-Romagna region where sparkling red lambrusco is one of their specialties. Serve it chilled and alongside sliced prosciutto.
You’ll go “ooh” when it lands on your tongue and “ahh” as you gulp it down. Strawberry, raspberry, and floral aromas mingle with a smooth cherry flavor. Everything about this wine is pleasantly mild: mild tannins, mild acidity, mild sweetness and a mild fizz. Despite the rampant mildness, this wine is nothing short of exceptional.
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Jonathan Cristaldi has written about wine and spirits for over a decade, regularly tasting wines from around the globe. Cristaldi was named a "Wine Prophet" by Time Out New York for his witty and often avant-garde approach to wine education.