This is the second article in a three-part series on sweet wine. In the first article (“How Sweet Wines Are Made”), we explored the different ways sweet wines are made. In this article and the next, we’ll take a delicious stroll down Sweet Wine Lane.
Imagine a continuum on which you have light, sweet whites on the north, and heavy, dark sweet reds on the south. The “northern” bottles will typically be taller and more slender, with lighter hued contents. The “southern” bottles will typically be rounder and squatter, made of dark glass, with rubier contents. What these wines have in common is that they are generally all made from grapes with naturally occurring higher sugar content. (To learn how sugar content is increased by various methods, see my article here. [link to How sweet wines are made and when to drink them])
Sweet wines are also mostly made from grapes with a naturally sweeter aroma. According to Madeline Puckette, of Wine Folly, a grape’s aroma greatly influences your sense of tasting sweetness. A wine with a fruity, aromatic nose will often be ranked sweetest in a line up, even if it has less sugar than the other wines. Acidity also influences the sensation of sweetness, but in the opposite direction. A sparkling wine will be perceived as less sweet than it is because of its crisp acidity and bubbles.
Now let’s take a trip north to south, exploring the different types of sweet wines you’ll meet at each stop.
Light, and lightly sweet
The first wines that come to mind here are Gewürztraminer and German Riesling. Viognier, Chenin Blanc and other sweeter whites according to your own taste can also be included here. Think of summer backyard parties or appetizers before a barbecue. Fruit flavors and juicy aromas predominate. Sparkling wines that fall into this category have terms on their labels like doux, dulce, dolce, secco and demi-sec.
Sweeter and richer
Think Sauternes (, “Sauternes Wine — Exotic History and Sweetness”), Eiswein (ice wine), Muscat, Tokaji (Hungary), Constantia (South Africa). This middle stop on our continuum includes both white and red wines that are sweeter by nature or by process, stopping short of brandy fortification. Unlike light sweets, these wines can age several years, due to preservative sugars and acids. Many of these wines have historical significance because they could be transported in the tumultuous, cumbersome modes of the day — mostly by ship — and still be good enough upon arrival to be savored by the elite.
I would not pair these wines with a pre-dinner course, but save them to accompany a mascarpone cream dessert, fruit tart, cheesecake, or simply enjoy one on its own around the fireplace or backyard fire pit.
The sweet wine train continues. Next stop: sweet reds and fortified wines!