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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."
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
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," says Matthew Kaner, wine director & president of Will Travel For Wine, INC. "It has a strong place at the end of a meal, whether as dessert or paired with dessert."
Best Rosé: Domaine des Nouelles Rosé d’Anjou
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
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.
Best Red: Graham’s Six Grapes Port
Sweet red wine is one of viticulture’s most misunderstood varieties. Unfortunately, many big-brand producers add loads of sugar and manipulate cheap juice to make "sweet red blends." However, when produced at the right hands, sweet red wines can be quite delicious.
Graham’s Six Grapes Port is a fortified wine, meaning that a neutral distillate is added to a still wine to halt its fermentation—this keeps residual sugar present and adds a boost of alcohol to the final juice. "Though be careful," warns Kaner. "[These wines] are easy to crush multiple servings, yet have 16 to 20 percent alcohol by volume." Notes of ripe plums, black cherries, raisins and chocolate are in abundance. Port skeptics, you're going to love this bottle.
Related: The Best Red Wines
Best White: Champalou Vouvray La Cuvée des Fondraux
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.
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
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.
Best Champagne: Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec
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
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
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: Domaines Schlumberger Spiegel Pinot Gris
This unctuous yet well-balanced bottle of pinot gris is perfect for diving into the world of sweet wine. Everyone knows pinot gris (otherwise known as pinot grigio), though few have tasted it in its semi-sweet form. When left on the vine longer (late-harvested), this extra-ripe fruit leads to sweet, fruit-forward and delicious expressions of the grape. Notes of yellow fruit, peach skin and apricots dominate this rich yet lively palate. The wine is also produced from biodynamically-farmed fruit, meaning that fruit for this bottle was farmed responsibly and with respect for the environment.
Best for the Cellar: Château Coutet Barsac
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
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.
Best Dessert Replacement: Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos
Sipping your dessert is always a good idea. To end any meal on a high note, enjoy a small pour of something sweet, like this bottle of Tokaji. This renowned Hungarian wine is one of viticulture’s best-kept secrets. Produced from furmint, hárslevelű and muscat blanc, these sweet yet spicy wines are marked by high sugar contents and loads of natural acidity, which keep the wines super balanced. The sweetness indicator of Tokaji wines is identifiable by puttonyos, which are the large baskets of botrytized grapes used. These bottles promise a good time and seriously overdeliver for the price.
Best for Chocolate: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port
The most important rule when pairing wine with dessert is that the former should be sweeter than the latter. For chocolate-based desserts, this can be rather tricky, though thankfully, tawny port exists. These fortified wines boast flavors of caramel, toasted nuts and baking spice, which highlight the sweet and savory notes found in various types of chocolate. Best of all, the added distillate used in fortified wines acts as a natural preservative, meaning that the wines have a longer shelf life than their non-fortified counterparts. "When going with the chocolate option, I love Madeira or Porto," says Kaner.
Related: The Best Port Wines
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Liquor.com, Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more. Denig is also the Content Manager at Volcanic Selections, Paris Wine Company, Vin Fraîche, and more.