Sweet wine is one of the most overlooked and underrated styles of wine on the market. These wines provide thought-provoking and delicious drinking experiences, especially when paired with the right foods. Still, knowing where to start is key.
"There are so many different sweet wine styles, from light and golden to dark and jammy," says Carrie Lyn Strong, sommelier and owner of Strong Wine Consulting, LLC. "The names don’t always indicate if it’s white or red, so just ask an expert." Jeff Harding, beverage director at New York's Waverly Inn, agrees. "Asking the sommelier or salesperson [for advice] is the most important," he says. "Then, decide what you like in sweet wine. Acid? Get a sauternes or Tokaji. Nutty flavors? Get a tawny port." To get you started, we recommend Vietti Moscato d'Asti.
With that said, here are the best sweet wines for every serving situation out there. Whether you’re a dessert wine aficionado or a sweet wine skeptic, we’ve got the perfect bottle for you.
Best Overall: Vietti Moscato d’Asti
Region: Piedmont, Italy | ABV: 5% | Tasting notes: Canned peaches, Candied ginger, Honeysuckle
In the world of sweet wine, Vietti Moscato checks all of our boxes. Produced by one of Piedmont’s highly respected names, this wine is extremely well-priced and made with organically farmed fruit. Above all, its pleasant sweetness is balanced by high amounts of natural acidity. Notes of canned peaches, white flower petals, candied ginger, and honeysuckle dominate the wine's frothy palate. Serve with spicy appetizers, fruit-forward desserts, or sugary brunch dishes (waffles, pancakes, and more).
"Sweet wine is misunderstood and undervalued in the restaurant experience. It has a strong place at the end of a meal, whether as dessert or paired with dessert." — Matthew Kaner, wine director & president of Will Travel For Wine, INC.
Best Rosé: Domaine des Nouelles Rosé d’Anjou
Region: Anjou, Loire Valley, France | ABV: 10.5% | Tasting notes: Sweet cherries, Red currants, Rose petals
In Anjou, one of the Loire Valley’s major wine-producing zones, reds and rosés made from cabernet franc are of great renown. Unlike the dry rosés of Touraine, Sancerre and other Loire-based appellations, rosés from Anjou (Rosé d’Anjou) are known for being off-dry and slightly sweet. This bottle from Domaine des Nouelles is fruit-driven, bright, and loaded with flavors of sweet cherries, red currants and rose petals. Serve chilled with sweet crepes, a fresh bowl of strawberries or simply sip it solo.
Related: The Best Rosé Wines
Best Semi-Sweet: Peter Lauer Barrel X Riesling
Region: Mosel, Germany | ABV: 10.5% | Tasting notes: Sweet citrus, Lime juice, Petrol
Skeptical about sweet wine? Start off with a semi-sweet bottle, like this affordable gem from Peter Lauer. Lauer is one of Germany’s most highly-regarded producers, though this entry-level wine receives just as much love as his high-end cuvées. Notes of sweet citrus, lime juice, petrol and a touch of honey dominate this refreshing wine. Pair with spicy takeout favorites and get ready for an eye-opening sipping experience.
“My favorite sweet wines balance their sweetness with acidity, and/or contrast sweetness with savory notes. For instance, sweet chenin blanc and riesling have so much acid that the wine is still refreshing." — Ellen Clifford, wine writer and host of The Wine Situation Podcast
Best Red: Niepoort Ruby Port
Region: Douro, Portugal | ABV: 19.5% | Tasting Notes: Red and dark fruits, Cherries, Dried fig
Forget the mass-produced ports you’ve tasted in the past—this organic gem from Niepoort is as game-changing as it gets. This youthful and expressive wine is produced from low-yielding old vines in the Cima Corgo region of the Douro. The wine ages in large wooden vats for three years prior to release and is meant to be consumed young. Ruby-hued in color, the wine shows flavors of red and dark fruits, plums, cherries, and a touch of dried fig.
Zach Mazur, Port Specialist for Taylor Fladgate, Croft, & Fonseca notes that port’s dynamism is what makes it so great. “You can enjoy drinking it young or old, ruby or tawny, and not just on its own, but also in cocktails,” he explains, citing that Port not only pairs well with many foods but also enhances them. “There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh and fruity ruby port paired with a chocolate-covered strawberry or a rich and nutty 20-year-old tawny port paired with creme brûlée.”
Related: The Best Red Wines
Best White: Champalou Vouvray La Cuvée des Fondraux
Region: Vouvray, Loire Valley, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting notes: Canned pears, Tropical fruit, Honey
This sustainably-farmed wine is produced by Didier Champalou, a Loire Valley-based vigneron who’s been farming vineyards since 1983. Vouvray is regarded as one of the best growing sites in the world for chenin blanc (known locally as Pineau de la Loire). This off-dry bottle boasts flavors of canned pears, ripe melon, tropical yellow fruit and honey—think of it as sweet French nectar in a glass. Serve with spicy Thai favorites, pungent blue cheeses or a bowl of fruit.
Good to Know:
When pairing wine with cheese, Kaner recommends keeping acidity in mind. "Basically any delicious dessert wine will go well with cheese, but you'll want to look for higher acid wines to cut through soft and fatty cheeses such as Brillat-Savarin (triple cream) or a pungent bleu like Roquefort," says Kaner. "Harder cheeses and their crystalline texture need a little less acidity."
Related: The Best White Wines
Best Sparkling: Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille
Region: Bugey-Cerdon, Savoie, France | ABV: 8% | Tasting notes: Raspberry, Strawberry, cream
Bubbles, rosé and a dash of residual sweetness—what could go wrong here? In the case of Patrick Bottex, absolutely nothing. This non-vintage wine is produced via the méthode ancestrale, meaning that fermentation is halted within the bottle and residual sugar remains trapped in the wine. This delicious sparkler hails from the Bugey-Cerdon region of France and is perfect for sipping with fruit-based desserts, raspberries, cookies or pungent cheeses with fruit preserves.
“In Bordeaux, look outside of Sauternes to lesser-known appellations, such as a Cérons, Cadillac, and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. There are always at least one or two standouts.” — Jeff Harding, wine director at New York’s Waverly Inn
Best Champagne: Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec
Region: Champagne, France | ABV: 12% | Tasting notes: Stone fruit, Grilled almonds, Dried fruits
For refreshment, elegance and a touch of sweet sophistication, look no further than Demi-Sec Champagne. This style of bubbles has a well-balanced dosage, meaning that a solid mixture of still wine and sugar is added to the Champagne post-vinification to boost its sweetness. This gorgeous bottle comes from one of Champagne’s most prominent houses and boasts rich flavors of dried fruits, grilled almonds and honeyed stone fruit. The wine’s full-bodied and unctuous palate makes it perfect for serving with savory dishes and desserts, from Caprese salads to pastries and petits fours.
Related: The Best Champagnes
Best Under $20: Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d'Asti
Region: Piedmont, France | ABV: 5% | Tasting notes: Fruit cocktail, Citrus, White flowers
This under-$20 bottle from Asti (Piedmont, Italy) is the perfect pre-dinner aperitif, as its soft flavor profile and slight sweetness prepare the palate for a long meal. Moscatos from Asti are known for their perfumed aromatics and captivating flavor profiles. This bottle is loaded with flavors of fruit cocktail, citrus rind, grapefruit juice and white blossoms. Pair with prosciutto-wrapped melon or fresh fruit skewers for a light snack.
Related: The Best Cheap Wines
Best Splurge: Château d’Yquem
Region: Sauternes, Bordeaux, France | ABV: 14% | Tasting notes: Honey, Orange marmalade, Tropical fruit
For nights that call for something extra special, opt for this delicious bottle of sauternes. These high-quality dessert wines are produced from botrytized grapes grown in the southerly vineyards of Bordeaux. They're also known for their luscious flavor profiles and ability to withstand the test of time. Serve these gems with a variety of sweet or savory cuisines. "If you are having a fruity dessert, seek a wine with more acid and lower alcohol—think sauternes rather than port," says Harding. Consider this juice liquid gold.
Related: The Best Wines
Best for Beginners: Risata Moscato d'Asti
Region: Piedmont, Italy | ABV: 5.5% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Mandarin, Honey
Looking to dive into the world of sweet wine but not sure where to begin? Moscato is a great place to start. These frothy, easy-drinking wines from Piedmont are known for their freshness, fizziness, and all-around enjoyable sweetness. This easy-to-find bottle from Risata jumps with vibrant flavors of juicy stone fruit, mandarin orange, and honey. While sweet and flavor-packed, the wine never feels cloying or overly heavy. Sip chilled with spicy takeout or sweet brunch favorites (pancakes, French toast, or sweet crepes).
Best for the Cellar: Château Coutet Barsac
Region: Barsac, Bordeaux, France | ABV: 14% | Tasting notes: Apricot, Honey, Canned peaches
Barsac is located in the southwestern area of Bordeaux and is known for its lusciously sweet dessert wine production. Here, sauvignon blanc and sémillon are left on the vine to be infected by noble rot (yes, this is a good thing), otherwise known as botrytis. This rot sucks the moisture out of the grapes, which in turn, concentrates the fruit and leads to rich, sticky-sweet dessert wines. Coutet is one of the most renowned producers within the appellation. At a great value, this wine will withstand the test of time.
Enjoy it with pungent blue cheese, foie gras or French-inspired pastries for an incredible experience. "Savory and salty foods pair so nicely with sweet wines," says Strong. "I love roasted chicken or bacon with any sweet, botrytized white wine from Bordeaux, Hungary (Royal Tokaji) or Austria."
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path: Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
Region: Beaumes-de-Venise, Rhône Valley, France | ABV: 15% | Tasting notes: Honey, Dried apricots, Mirabelle
Beaumes-de-Venise, a little-known southern French appellation, is regarded for its sweet wine output, most of which is produced from the muscat grape. Similar to port, this fortified white wine is sweet, satisfying and has an extra boost of alcohol from the added distillate. Notes of honey, dried apricots and ripe mirabelles dominate the wine’s ultra-sweet palate. Pair with pastries, cakes or simple butter cookies.
Good To Know:
“When selecting a sweet wine, we suggest choosing it based on the dishes that will accompany it, says Claire Floch, director of the National Pineau des Charentes Committee. Floch recommends looking for a fresh and delicate wine to pair with fruit desserts (apple pie, tarts, etc.), then something spiced and more powerful for chocolate-based treats. “What makes a sweet wine great is the way it enhances the dessert that it accompanies; the two must complement each other, not clash,” Floch says.
Best Dessert Replacement: Château Guiraud Petit Guiraud Sauternes
Region: Sauternes, Bordeaux, France | ABV: 13.5% | Tasting Notes: Honeycomb, Ginger, Vanilla cream
When seeking out great dessert wines, Chris Raftery, sommelier at Gramercy Tavern, recommends looking to second releases from top producers. “Just like the dry wines of the region, many producers release a second wine at a more affordable price for earlier consumption: enter Petit Guiraud, the second wine of Château Guiraud, a top estate (one of only 11 chateaux classified as 1er Grand Cru in 1855) dating back to 1766,” he says. Raftery cites decadent notes of honeycomb, ginger, and vanilla cream from the wine, describing it as everything you want from Sauternes, yet doesn’t break the bank.
Good to Know:
Raftery also explains that in addition to pairing beautifully with [or replacing] dessert, well-made sweet wines also make great savory pairings, too. Sauternes works as a counter pairing to both spicy cuisine [Sichuan!] and richer dishes like gorgonzola risotto, butter-drenched lobster or grilled scallops, or even corn on the cob – and of course, seared foie gras,” he reveals.
Best Unique: Park Pineau des Charentes
Region: Charente, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France | ABV: 17% | Tasting Notes: Stone fruit, Honey, spice
Never heard of Pineau des Charentes before? If you love sweet booze, this will definitely be up your alley. Although technically not wine, this grape juice / cognac based product is one of France’s most unique alcoholic beverages. Floch explains that Pineau des Charentes is made exclusively in Charente and Charente-Maritime, both located in western France. “Pineau des Charentes is made by wine growers and is the only AOC [product] in all of France to be made from grape juice and cognac [eau-de-vie]” Floch explains, noting that most expressions show flavors of vanilla, nuts, honey, and spice.
This flavor-packed expression from Parkis is loaded with floral-driven flavors of juicy stone fruit, honey, and spice. “The sweetness of grape juice and the strength of cognac create a [balance] between delicate and powerful flavors at the same time,” Floch says. Park’s expression is made from 76% grape juice and 24% eaux-de-vie that is aged for a minimum of 24 months.
Best Aged: Toro Albalá Don PX Gran Reserva 1994
Region: Montilla-Moriles, Spain | Body: 17% | Tasting Notes: Dark chocolate, Dried fig, Molasses, Black walnut
For something with a good deal of age, check out the often overcooked wines of Montilla-Moriles, Spain’s underdog region for sweet wine. “Montilla-Moriles, Sherry's warmer and less-famous-but-underrated neighbor to the east, is where this chocolatey rich sweet wine is produced,” explains Raftery. He notes that Toro Albala produces this unique wine from raisinated Pedro Ximenez grapes. “The wine is chock full of dark chocolate, dried fig, pomegranate molasses, and black walnut flavors—it’s a perfect homemade brownie pairing, or go crazy and drizzle over vanilla ice cream or gelato.” Raftery also notes that lesser-known appellations like Montilla-Moriles are where crazy values (such as this one) can be found.
Sweet wines are made all over the world and come in various styles, sweetness levels, and show different levels of alcohol. For something light and frothy, check out moscato-based wines from Asti. For something heavier and fortified, look to the wines of Port (view at Wine.com), Madeira, and Marsala. For a taste of European “liquid gold,” discover the botrytized wines of Sauternes (view at Vivino), Barsac (view at Vivino), and Tokaj.
What to Look For
In addition to flavor profile and wine style, be sure to take note of the ABV of the sweet wine you’re drinking. Due to the various ways in which sweet wines are made, these bottles’ alcohol contents can range from 5% all the way up to 20% and beyond—which will seriously affect your inebriation level, should you not know in advance!
What makes wine sweet?
Sweet wines are made in a variety of different ways. In regions like Bordeaux and Tokaj, allowing grapes to develop botrytis (noble rot), which causes the fruit to lose its water content and therefore concentrates its sugars, is key. In other regions and their eponymous wine styles, including Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, and Port, sweet wines are created through the process of fortification, which incorporates adding a neutral distillate to a fermenting wine to halt fermentation, bump up the alcohol level, and leave an abundance of residual sugar behind. Other areas, such as various appellations in Piedmont, sweet wines’ (particularly Moscato) fermentations are simply halted via temperature control and without the use of neutral distillate, which allows for ample sugar and lower-ABV final wines.
Do sweet wines last longer than dry wines?
Yes. In the cellar, wines with residual sugar generally have longer life spans than most dry wines. Once opened, sugar also helps preserve wines, giving them a slightly longer shelf life, with the exception of fortified wines, whose shelf lives can be significantly longer (anywhere from 2-4 weeks, generally speaking).
What’s the best way to store sweet wine?
If unopened, store sweet wines the way you’d cellar any other wine, ideally in a dark, humid, cellar-temperature place. Upon opening, store unfortified wines in the refrigerator and enjoy slightly chilled. Once open, fortified wines may be kept in or outside of the fridge, though they generally show their best with a very slight chill on them.
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Vicki Denig is a wine, spirits, and travel journalist who splits her time between New York and Paris. Her work regularly appears in major industry publications. She is the content creator and social media manager for a list of prestigious clients, including Sopexa, Paris Wine Company, Becky Wasserman, Volcanic Selections, Le Du’s Wines, Windmill Wine & Spirits and Corkbuzz. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine.