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Sweet Wines – What are we afraid of?

When it comes to drinking sweet wines, how sweet will you go? Some of us are happy enough to drink off-dry styles of wine such as white Zinfandel or a medium Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Even Prosecco can err on the sweet side even though it has nearly replaced Brut Champagne as the celebratory sparkler of choice. But for many, semi-sweet and sweet dessert wines are a step too far.

It seems most people only buy a bottle of Port to go with Stilton at Christmas, or a bottle of Sauternes as a special treat at the tail end of the Christmas dinner. But this really doesn’t do sweet wines justice. There are a huge range of styles available, sweet wines are very versatile and you don’t have to leave them for dessert. Delve a little further and you’ll find that sweet wines are delicious with savoury foods. The savvy drinker knows that the best sweet wines have that elusive balance of sweetness and acidity that means they are never cloying.

Labour of Love

The amount of work and the costs involved in making sweet wines is often twice that needed to make dry wines, but this cost is rarely passed to the consumer, making most sweet wines excellent value for money. The grapes often need to be left longer on the vines and are monitored closely so they reach the perfect level of ripeness – sometimes to the point where they freeze on the vines. Grapes can often undergo a complicated process of hand selection, drying and fermentation to the exact level of sweetness required. Not an easy task.

Savour the Flavour

Most Brits, if they have Port would drink it at the end of a meal with cheese or a chocolate pud. Dry Sherry would be the preferred choice as a drink to stimulate the appetite before a meal. But the French drink Port, or Porto as they call it, as an aperitif, and take it from me, it does the job. In Gascony, in the South West of France, the local sweet wine, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh is drunk as an aperitif with canapés of paté de foie gras. It has a high level of acidity that cuts through the fattiness of the duck liver nicely.

Sweet white wines are also great with savoury dishes that have both a salty and a sweet element – think caramelised onion goat’s cheese tart or a French onion soup with cheesy croutons. For a cheaper alternative to that famous dessert wine, Sauternes, a Gascon sweet white such as L’Escoubasso from Domaine Pellehaut can’t be beaten. It’s a slightly lighter option at 11% abv, with a fresh acidity and juicy fruited palate that makes it a good option with salty-sweet dishes.

Cheesy Treats

Port is a well-known match for Stilton, so how about a sweet white with Roquefort? The combination of sweet and salty is a match made in heaven. Again, go for the Pacherenc or l’Escoubasso. For the much neglected cheese Fondue, the crispness in off-dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc cuts through the rich Gruyère cheese to make a moreish supper. Try the Dr Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese from Germany’s Mosel Valley, a top-class sweetie that has the necessary acidity matched with full, ripe fruit flavours.

Spice it Up

Off-dry and semi-sweet white wines are a perfect foil for spicy Asian dishes such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian or Sichuan dishes. The residual sweetness in the wine helps to counteract spice and chilli heat, while high acidity in the wine provides welcome refreshment. Try German wines labelled as Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese or even a semi-sparkling Italian Moscato such as Moscato d’Asti 2015 Fratelli Ponte. The joy of off-dry or semi-sweet whites is they tend to be made with aromatic grapes such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer or Muscat which makes them particularly compatible with aromatic Asian food with its flavours of kaffir lime, ginger, coriander, basil and mint.

Just Desserts

Semi-sweet and sweet white wines also go fabulously with creamy or fruity desserts: the best are crème brûlée or flan, fig, apricot or peach desserts, cheesecake and apple pie.  It just goes to show you can drink them throughout all courses of a meal. If you’re after a drink that goes well with chocolate, you’ll need to match the sweetness of the dish with the sweetness in the wine. The Stanton & Killeen Classic Rutherglen Muscat is a dark, almost treacly ‘sticky’ from Australia’s prime sweet wine hotspot of Rutherglen and provides the perfect foil for dark chocolate tart or fondant.

So remember sweet wines are for life, not just for Christmas.


By: Kate

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