What is sweet white wine?
Sweet white wine comes in a wide range of styles and from many different grape varieties (like Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Muscat, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc). They are made in many wine regions around the world. These sweet wines are different from dry white wines in that they are high in residual sugar, which gives the impression of sweetness on the palate. Sweet or semi-sweet white wines will also tend to have a higher alcohol content than dry wines.
Sweet white wines, together with sweet red wine styles, are part of the larger category of dessert wines. The best sweet white wines are made from only select, very ripe grapes. These wines will be remarkably complex, with tasting notes often citing flavors of honey and dried fruit. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular white wine types in the sweet category.
What kind of sweet white wine is made with sweet grapes?
Sweet white wines can be made from grapes that are high in sugar before fermentation. One way to do this is by harvesting later in the season to allow the grape sugars to concentrate. This is the case with late harvest wines made from Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley and the late harvest Riesling of Alsace. It is also the case with the ice wines of Germany, Alsace and Austria, where the grapes are left on the vine until they freeze.
Another way to concentrate the sugars in the wine grape is by allowing the Botrytis cinerea (noble rot) fungus to infect them. Examples of noble rot dessert wine include Sauternes from Bordeaux, France and Tokaji Aszu produced in Hungary. These sweet white wines will usually be high in natural acidity to counterbalance the residual sugar.
Some white wines with sweet aromas are produced by allowing the grapes to air dry or “raisin” before fermentation. This method of raisin wine production, known as passito in Italy, is used to produce Vin Santo in Tuscany, Moscato Passito di Pantelleria wines and the sparkling wine Moscato d’Asti in the Piedmont wine region. Passito wine is also a style of wine produced in California, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
What kind of sweet white wine is made by fortification?
Another white wine with sweet flavors is Madeira, made in the island of Madeira in Portugal. Here, the winemaking is responsible for the sweetness in the white wine. This is a fortified wine made with intentional oxidation to produce a wines with flavor profiles that include apricot, bruised apple and nut nuances.
Sherry is another fortified wine in the sweet white category, although it can be made in a range of styles from dry to sweet. Produced in the Jerez region of Spain, Sherry stands out for its huge diversity, ranging from oxidative to non-oxidative styles. The sweet whites of Sherry include Cream, Pedro Ximenez and Moscat, known for their delicious dried fruit flavors, like prunes, figs and dates.
In the Rhone Valley, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a type of wine called Vin Doux Naturel. This sweet dessert wine is a category of wines in the sweet white category. Here, the fermentation is halted before it is finished, leaving behind residual sugar and the sensation of sweetness.
What kind of sweet white wine is Malvasia delle Lipari?
Finally, the passito and fortification methods are combined to produce a sweet white wine in the appellation of Malvasia delle Lipari in Sicily, Italy. This kind of sweet white wines stands out for its very high sugar level and abundant alcohol. The unique volcanic soils from which the grapes originate are also believed to give these wines a singular identity.
Questions about sweet white wines?
We hope you enjoyed our guide to sweet white wine and that you choose sweet white wines for your next gathering with family and friends. For more information on dry white wine or the white wine sweetness chart, do not hesitate to reach out to us directly. Our expert team is available to give you food pairing suggestions with different types of sweet white wine and recommendations on which sweet white wines to add to your white wine list.