Sweet Italian Wine
After a hearty and delicious meal, you may not want a heavy and creamy dessert. But you can satisfy your sweet tooth by having a sweet Italian wine instead – who doesn’t love a dessert in liquid form especially when it comes to wine?
Italian sweet wines, or dessert wines, can be grouped into three categories:
Passito wines, e.g., Vinsanto, Passito di Pantelleria.
Syrupy (port-like) wines, e.g., Marsala.
Sparkling sweet wines, e.g., Brachetto d’Acqui.
The vast majority of these sweet wines are served as dessert wines. However, some of these Italian sweet wines are also used to cook, e.g., Marsala; as aperitivos, e.g., Brachetto d’Acqui, or to accompany foie gras or cheese platters, e.g., Passito di Pantelleria.
Sweet Italian wine categories
To help you choose your next sweet Italian wine, here’s some useful information on the three categories.
Passito wines are different from other dessert wines because they are made from late harvest grapes, which undergo an artificial drying process. The grapes either go through a natural “raisin-ing” process on the vines, or else they dry on external supports, e.g., on pallets or straw mats. The process has given the wine a befitting nickname of “straw wines.” A combined drying technique of natural drying plus straw drying can also be used. The outcome of the drying procedures is a Passito
wine that is sweet and extraordinarily rich in alcohol.
The drying process, called appassimento, lasts 3-4 months. In this time period, sugar levels reach 30- 40%. The wine is then poured into oak barrels to age for three to five, and even up to 10 years.
Typical Sweet Italian Wines are:
Vinsanto, or Vin Santo.
Sciachetrà from Cinque Terre.
Passito di Pantelleria.
Vinsanto can be either red or white, is a sweet wine from Umbria and Tuscany, made with Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes. It is referred to as vinsanto occhio di pernice when made from Sangiovese grapes.
Vinsanto is popular with locals and is usually consumed with Tuscan almond biscuits. The hard biscuit is normally dunked into the wine and it makes a delightful semi-dessert.
Some Italian winemakers create Vinsanto wines that can be compared to the overly sweet and syrupy wines produced in other regions like the Napa Valley.
Passito di Pantelleria comes from moscato d’alessandria grapes, that are grown on the island of Pantelleria – midway between Tunisia and Sicily. The grape is a variety of the ancient Zibibbo or Zabib grape - “fruit withered under the sun.” It is an excellent dessert wine.
Sciacchetrà, which is produced in Cinque Terre, is a unique and sweet, delicate white wine. It has a yellow gold colour with elegant notes of acacia honey and apricot. It is ideal when paired with desserts, panettone, and pastries.
Food pairings: Hors 'd'oeuvres (hot or cold), herbed cheeses, foie gras, pâté, panettone, biscotti, pandoro (sweet holiday bread from Verona), chocolate.
Syrupy Italian Wines
Here are the main types of syrupy wines:
Marsala is produced in Sicily, in the city of Marsala (ancient name: Marshalla). Traditionally, Marsala was served as an aperitif. In recent times, it is used in preparing desserts such as Tiramisù and fruit cakes, or in chicken marsala recipes. Marsala is golden, amber, brown or ruby in colour with a strong distinct aroma.
Moscato di Pantelleria is a delectable sweet wine made from moscato grapes.
Vernaccia di Oristano is a sweet wine from Sardinia with a DOC accreditation and a grape juice flavour.
Malvasia delle Lipari is produced from malvasia grapes that grow on the island of Lipari.
Wine food pairings: Cakes, pastries, aged cheese, assorted meats.
Sparkling Sweet Wines
The sparkling wines that are mentioned here are made through halting fermentation by chilling the fermenting juice. As a result, the sugar in the grapes does not break down entirely and, therefore, sweetness is retained in the wine.
Brachetto d’Acqui is a delicious and refreshing red sparkling wine with notes of strawberries and rose petals. At an alcohol content of 5%, the fermentation is suddenly interrupted, to achieve the aromatic flavour. It is one of the few DOCG wines that are named after a grape variety and not a geographical location. Brachetto d’Acqui is also a dessert wine.
Moscato d’Asti is a sweet and semi-sparkling wine made from the Moscato bianco grape. It
is ideal when paired with fruit-based desserts. In comparison to the Asti spumante, this moscato wine has lower carbon dioxide and alcohol content, and a higher concentration of residual sugar. The Moscato d'Asti D.O.C.G. made by Ceretto in Asti, Piedmont is not cloyingly sweet, but is instead light, fresh, fruity and low in alcohol. Americanised moscatos are head-spinningly sweet, so you may want to give the Italian versions a try!
Moscadello di Montalcino is a hay-yellow sparkling dessert wine, which was referred to by an Italian poet and physician in the 17th century as a “divine and light wine” - “Quel si divino e leggiardetto moscadelletto di Montalcino.” Today, this wine exists in the forms of tranquillo (still dessert wine), frizzante (sparkling dessert wine) and vendemmia tardiva (passito).
Wine food pairing: Fruit desserts, cheese, assorted meats.
We love Sweet Italian Wine
We adore sweet Italian wine, especially those from alpine Italy. We have searched far and wide to find the best sweet wine, so all you have to do is enjoy!
As lovers of fine Alpine influenced sweet wines, we support small-scale producers from hidden forest vineyards and single hectare family producers.
Our suppliers are Australia’s best, hands on importers who specialise in high quality sweet Italian wines of place. So join us for some delicious sweet Italian wines!