While sweeter wines tend to appeal to novice wine-drinkers, with more experienced quaffers expressing a preference for drier styles, good sweet wines are some of the most delicious, sought-after drinks in the wine world. Like all fruit, grapes contain natural sugars and acids, and the best sweet wines contain a balance of the two, the acid preventing the high sugar levels from appearing sickly sweet or cloying. Of course these sweeties are great with dessert, but they can also be excellent foils for rich, salty or spicy savoury foods as well as cheese. To make sweet wines, grapes need higher than normal sugar levels, which can be achieved in a variety of ways – from leaving them on the vine to ripen further, drying them out (on the vine or after picking), even by utilising nature through moulds and frosts. The best are labour-intensive productions with low yields, which makes them relatively expensive. The good news is that most come in 375ml bottles and a little goes a long way (a standard pour is 60-75ml) – so invest in some of these luscious drops and take your taste buds on a tantalising journey.
Château d’Yquem (Bordeaux, France)
This Sauternes is widely-regarded as the world’s greatest sweet wine. A mould, botrytis cinerea (noble rot), growing on the semillon and sauvignon blanc grapes draws out moisture, concentrating the remaining fruit sugars. Bitter marmalade and stone fruit flavours predominate and it’s superb with foie gras. Available from Prince Wine Stores.
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling (SA, Australia)
If the growing arms (canes or cordons) are severed from the main vine, the attached grapes raisin on the vine concentrating flavour and sweetness. The natural lemon and lime flavours of Clare riesling balance the sweetness and make it a perfect match with lemon meringue pie and other citrus desserts. Available at Five Way Cellars.
Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria (Sicily, Italy)
Muscat grapes grown on Pantelleria, a rocky Mediterranean island halfway between Sicily and North Africa, are dried outdoors on straw mats for 3-4 weeks before being pressed. Dark golden in colour with notes of very ripe peach, it’s perfect with honey-drizzled ricotta fritters studded with candied fruit. Available from Amatos Liquor Mart.
Inniskillin Ice Wine (Ontario, Canada)
In very cold areas, grapes left on the vine until the first serious frost freezes them, are quickly picked and pressed, trapping moisture in the ice, concentrating sugar and other flavours. Cognac-coloured, with raisin and dried fig notes, this is great with salty blue cheeses such as Roquefort or Stilton. Available at Dan Murphys.
Weingut Clemens Busch Spätlese Riesling (Mosel, Germany)
Spätlese means ‘late harvest’ in German, riper grapes having higher sugar and more concentrated flavour, but it’s also the first level in a system for late-picked grapes (auslese being later and sweeter still). Most spätlese wines have a slight sweetness, making them perfect with spicy dishes or fresh fruit. Available from Real Wine.