Sweet wine is probably the first alcoholic drink you got your hands on when you were younger, so basically, Moscato. We're not condoning that; we're just honest. For lack of better words, sweet wine is essentially what its name says: sweet wine. Another name for sweet wine is a dessert wine because it often accompanies a dessert course.
The definition of sweet wine is flexible in the world of wine. But, in general, sweet wine or dessert wines contain more than 14% alcohol. For reference, the average glass of wine is around 11% to 13%. So, the alcohol content is noticeably higher than your average glass of wine.
While many call it sweet wine, these wines also go by an alias name 'dessert wine.' In the United Kingdom, sweet wine also goes by the name 'pudding wine' because it is a wine that is served with dessert.
Sweet wines can be made from either red or white grape varieties. In fact, there are hundreds of different types of dessert wines, but there are five that are best known. These are sparkling dessert wine, lightly sweet dessert wine, richly sweet dessert wine, sweet red wine, and fortified wine.
What Makes Sweet Wine so Sweet?
Interestingly, a lot of newbie wine drinkers can't differentiate between a fruity wine and sweet wine. But there is a significant difference between a fruity wine and sweet wine, and it all comes down to the sugar content. To get all that wine sweetness, winemakers prevent yeast from converting all of the grape sugar into alcohol during the fermentation process, leaving a rich wine that is deliciously sweetened with natural grapes!
Other methods create sweetness in sweet wines. For example, fortified sweet wines like Port also get their sweetness from grape brandy that is added in the winemaking process. In doing so, the wines also get higher alcohol levels, around 17-20% ABV. Which, FYI, remember when Four Loko was banned? Fortified wines have a higher ABV than the OG Four Lokos.
There is no denying that sweet wines are delicious. But you can also enjoy wine without all that extra sugar. Yup, we're going to give ourselves a plug here! If you're looking for a red wine sans the sugar levels, there are options. Look for dry wines because the drier the wine, the least amount of sugar there is. And of course, if you're looking for a white wine with a bit of dryness, hey there, we're Bev. We're crisp, dry, and a little fizzy at a total of ZERO sugar.
What Does Sweet Wine Taste Like?
We're sure you can gather from the name that sweet wine tastes sweet. Because they are technically designed to be consumed alongside a dessert, dessert wines usually are even sweeter than your dessert because if they weren't, the wine would taste bitter after you took a bite!
A few elements contribute to a sweet wine's taste and allow a tester to know they are tasting a sweet wine immediately. These are the body, alcohol content, and aromatics. Here is what you should know about each one:
Body: this is the feel of the wine upon entering your mouth. Alcohol affects the body of the wine; lower alcohol makes the wine light-bodied while higher alcohol content makes the wine full-bodied, or some might even say bold.
Alcohol content: More than just the alcohol's effect on the wine's body, the alcohol content in wine falls typically between 5.5% and 23% ABV. When wines are sweet, they usually have lower alcohol content, and as we discussed higher residual sugar.
Wine aromatics: How long a wine has significantly aged affects its aroma. When you smell a sweet wine's aroma, you get a sweet sensation almost immediately.
Plus, because there are different types of sweet wines, they can often taste other than others.
Sparkling Dessert Wine: zippy and light and filled with fruity flavors like fresh apple, lime, and lemon zest. These wines typically have a higher acidity than other dessert wines.
Lightly-sweet Dessert Wine: Exploding with fruit flavors, lightly-sweet dessert wine is refreshingly sweet. Occasionally, these are called semi-sweet wines. A sweet Riesling is a popular type of lightly-sweet dessert wine that is made out of a white grape variety and often comes from Germany. It is best known for its fruity aromas, like apple and pear. Chenin Blancs are popular as well.
Richly-sweet dessert wine: There are many different methods of making a richly-sweet dessert wine. These include late harvest wines and noble rot. Late harvest wines are richly sweet and filled with intense aromas of pear, vanilla, and orange. Per their name, late harvest wines are created by leaving the grapes on the vine for longer. In doing so, the wines become sweeter and more raisinated. The result is a highly concentrated sweetness. Hungarian Tokaji is a great wine of this variety. As for noble rot wines, these are known for being incredibly, incredibly sweet. To create a noble rot wine, a spore, Botrytis cinerea, eats fruits and veggies. In doing so, flavors like ginger, saffron, and honey are added to the wine. Popular sweet white wines called Sauternes from the Bordeaux region in France are examples of noble rot. There are also ice wines, which are rare and can only be made when the wine grapes freeze. These are often made with German riesling.
Sweet red wine: Sweetness and red wine are often not known to go together. Unlike dry red wines, some sweet red wines are best served chilled. To make sweet red wine, most winemakers use esoteric grapes. A good example is a Lambrusco, and these wines tend to come from Italy. These wines are sweet, but they still have the tannins that are so widely loved.
Fortified wine: Best enjoyed before or after dinner, fortified wines are the kind of wine meant for sipping. Because fortified wines are often not distilled, many people mistake them as liquor. Plus, due to their distinct sweetness, fortified wines are often used to flavor other cocktails. Fortified wines are generally made when grape brandy is added to a wine. Because these wines are highly alcoholic with the added alcohol content, they have a long shelf life. Port wine from Portugal is likely the most popular example of this.
How should I serve sweet wine and what pairs well with it?
Sweet wines are made to accompany dessert. But they also can pair deliciously with soft cheeses, pasta, bread, and smoked meats. Anything delicious that you would find on a charcuterie board will make your sweet wine even more delicious.
As we learned, there are many different kinds of sweet wines. Here are a few suggestions on what to pair with all of them.
Sparkling Dessert Wine: This wine was made for chocolate. Why? Because chocolate is silky and smooth and contrasts sparkling wine's refreshing acidity. This wine is also delicious with fruit, like strawberries. Take it up a notch by pairing sparkling dessert wine with strawberries dipped in chocolate.
Lightly-sweet Dessert Wine: Proof that dessert wines don't have to pair with only dessert, lightly-sweet dessert wines taste delicious with Chinese food, Tex-Mex, and Cajun cuisine.
Richly-sweet dessert wine: The perfect wine if you're into fruit tarts or even delicacies like foie gras.
Sweet red wine: Salt is this wine's best friend. Chocolate-covered pretzels, potato chips, and french fries all make for indulgent, tasty pairings.
Fortified wine: These wines are best known as an aperitif or consumed with dessert. Many kinds of cheese, nuts, fruit tarts and chocolate desserts make this wine taste even more delicious!