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What Wine Is Sweet? Everything You Need to Know

Sweet wines, frequently overshadowed by their dry counterparts, possess a unique charm and complexity that can captivate any wine enthusiast. This comprehensive guide delves deep into the enchanting world of sweet wines, addressing the pivotal question: "What wine is sweet?" We will explore what type of wine is sweet, from lusciously sweet dessert wines to subtly sweet varieties, and elucidate their different sweetness levels. You can learn how to perfectly pair these wines with a range of cuisines and discover expert advice on selecting the right sweet wine for any occasion, along with tips on optimal serving methods to ensure the best tasting experience. Keep reading to learn more!

Sweet Wine

What Is Sweet Wine?

Sweet wine is a category of wine distinct for its higher sugar levels, which create a notably sweet taste profile. This sweetness can vary from subtly sweet to richly sweet, encompassing a variety of wine styles. Sweet wines are produced by various methods that prevent the complete conversion of grape sugars into alcohol. These methods include halting fermentation early, using grapes that have been dried or left on the vine longer for higher sugar concentration, and even freezing the grapes for ice wines. The resulting wines, such as dessert wines, late harvest wines, and fortified wines like Port and Sherry, are celebrated for their lush flavors and are often savored with desserts or as desserts themselves.

What Contributes to the Sweetness of Wine?

The sweetness in wine is primarily due to residual sugar, which remains when fermentation is incomplete, and yeast cells do not convert all the sugar into alcohol. Several factors influence this sweetness level. The type of grape and its ripeness at harvest play a crucial role; grapes harvested later in the season generally have higher sugar content. Winemaking techniques also matter: stopping fermentation early leaves more residual sugar, while methods like botrytis cinerea (noble rot) or drying grapes (as in straw wines) concentrate the sugars, resulting in the sweetest wine.

What Types of Wine Are Sweet?

Choose Sweet Wine

Having understood what sweet wine is and what contributes to a wine's sweetness, let's delve into identifying what kind of red wine is sweet and what other sweet wines are. This section will guide you through the diverse range of sweet wines, highlighting their unique styles and flavor profiles.


When asked "Which wine is sweet?", Moscato is often the first answer. It is a light, effervescent wine known for its sweet and fruity profile. Originating from Italy, Moscato is typically low in alcohol and features peach, nectarine, and orange blossom flavors, making it a delightful choice for newcomers to sweet wines. Its gentle sweetness and refreshing character pair well with light pastries and fruit desserts, as well as being a pleasant drink on its own.


Riesling, a versatile wine, ranges from dry to very sweet. These sweet Rieslings, often from Germany or Alsace, are treasured for their balance of sweetness and acidity, and their flavor profile includes notes of apple, apricot, and honey. They are excellent with spicy foods, balancing the heat, or with rich, savory dishes, providing a refreshing contrast.


For those wondering which red wine is sweet, Port is a prime example. It is one of the sweetest red wines from Portugal, standing out with its rich, intense flavors. It is a perfect example of a sweet, robust wine, often enjoyed as a dessert wine. Port is made in a variety of styles, including Tawny and Ruby, each offering different levels of sweetness and complexity. Flavors like chocolate, berries, and spices make it a favorite for sipping alongside desserts like chocolate cake or cheese platters.


Sauternes, a renowned French dessert wine from the Bordeaux region, is known for its luxurious sweetness. Made from grapes affected by noble rot, it exhibits a unique and complex flavor profile with hints of apricot, honey, and nuts. The high sugar concentration balanced with acidity makes Sauternes a perfect pairing for foie gras, blue cheese, or fruit-based desserts.

Recioto della Valpolicella

This sweet red wine comes from the Veneto region in Italy, made primarily from partially dried Corvina grapes, along with Rondinella and Molinara. The drying process concentrates the sugars and flavors, resulting in a wine that is rich, velvety, and full-bodied with a unique balance of sweetness and acidity. Recioto is known for its deep red color and flavors of dark cherry, chocolate, and spices, making it a perfect accompaniment to desserts or as a standalone after-dinner drink.

Sweetness Level of Different Wines

Types of Sweet Wine

The sweetness level of wines varies significantly and is typically classified from dry to sweet. Here's a detailed introduction to each level:

Dry Wines:

Description: Dry wines have the least amount of residual sugar. During fermentation, yeast converts most of the sugar into alcohol, leaving little to no sweetness.

Examples: Popular dry wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot. These wines are characterized by their lack of sweetness and more pronounced acidity and tannins.

Off-Dry (or Semi-Dry) Wines:

Description: Off-dry wines have a slight hint of sweetness. This sweetness is subtle and often balanced with acidity, making it not overly sweet to the taste.

Examples: Riesling and Chenin Blanc are often made in an off-dry style. These wines can have fruity flavors which give a perception of sweetness even if they're not high in residual sugar.

Medium-Dry Wines:

Description: Medium-dry wines have a noticeable amount of sweetness but are not overly sweet. They often have a balance between sweetness and acidity.

Examples: Gewürztraminer and some Vouvray wines. These wines can offer a richer body and more pronounced fruit flavors.

Medium-Sweet Wines:

Description: Medium-sweet wines offer a distinctly sweet taste but are not as intensely sweet as dessert wines. They often have a rich bouquet and flavor profile.

Examples: Some Moscato wines and late harvest varieties. These wines are often enjoyed with food that complements their sweetness, like spicy cuisine or certain cheeses.

Sweet Wines (Dessert Wines):

Description: Sweet wines, often referred to as dessert wines, have high levels of residual sugar. They are typically rich, often with flavors of honey, fruits, and spices.

Examples: Port, Sauternes, and Tokaji are classic examples. These wines are often enjoyed on their own or with dessert.

How to Pair Sweet Wines with Food?

Sweet Wine Pairing Food

Pairing sweet wines with food involves balancing flavors to enhance both the wine and the dish. The key is to consider the intensity and flavor profile of both the wine and the food:

  • Complement or Contrast: Decide whether to complement the wine's sweetness with similarly sweet or rich foods, or to contrast it with something savory or spicy. For example, a sweet Riesling can beautifully complement the spiciness of Asian cuisine, while a dessert wine like Sauternes pairs well with rich, creamy desserts.
  • Cheese Pairings: Sweet wines and cheese are a classic combination. The richness of the cheese balanced with the sweetness of the wine can create a harmonious blend. For instance, blue cheese with its strong, pungent flavor contrasts nicely with the sweetness of a Port or a late-harvest wine.
  • Dessert Pairings: When pairing with desserts, ensure the wine is sweeter than the dessert to prevent the wine from tasting flat. A very sweet wine like ice wine or a Tokaji pairs wonderfully with fruit-based desserts or something less sweet, like a cheese platter.
  • Savory Dishes: Sweet wines can also complement savory dishes. A medium-sweet wine can balance dishes with a bit of spice or with rich, fatty components, like foie gras or certain creamy sauces.
  • Seasonal Pairings: Consider the season when pairing. Lighter, off-dry wines are refreshing in the summer and can pair well with salads and lighter fare, while richer sweet wines are more suited to the heavier dishes of winter.

Tips to Select and Serve Sweet Wines

Selecting and serving sweet wines can greatly enhance your drinking experience. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Understanding Sweetness Levels: Familiarize yourself with the different levels of sweetness in wines – from off-dry to sweet. This knowledge will help you select a wine that suits your taste preference and pairs well with your meal.
  • Read the Label: Look for clues on the wine label. Terms like "late harvest," "Sauternes," "Tokaji," and "Trockenbeerenauslese" indicate sweeter wines. The alcohol content can also be a guide; generally, lower alcohol levels (below 10%) can indicate a sweeter wine.
  • Serving Temperature: Serve sweet wines at the correct temperature to enhance their flavors. Lighter sweet wines like Rieslings are best served chilled, around 8-10°C (46-50°F), while richer sweet wines like Ports and Sauternes can be served slightly warmer, around 12-14°C (54-57°F).
  • Opening and Preservation: Once opened, sweet wines can last longer than dry wines due to their sugar content. Store opened bottles in the fridge and consume them within a few days to a week for the best quality. Some very sweet wines, like Port, can last several weeks after opening.


Sweet wines offer a delightful complexity and variety, making them a worthy exploration for wine lovers. Understanding what kind of wine is sweet, along with their types, sweetness levels, and pairing options, opens up a new world of tasting experiences. Whether enjoyed alone or with a meal, sweet wines can add a special touch to any occasion.

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