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I Like Sweet Wine: Is That Bad & How Can I Tell?

Wine-drinking is meant to be a wholly pleasurable experience, shared with friends or winding you down at the end of a long day. And what’s more indulgent and enjoyable than something sweet? A common misconception is that sweet wines are for those with a less refined palate, but this is not the case. With a huge variance in the styles and types of sweet wine, there is something for everyone from sweet wine novices to the most refined of wine-drinkers.

What Are the Sweet Wines?

Sweetness is often mentioned when discussing the taste or aroma of a strong-bodied red or a fruity white wine, but table wines aren’t sweet, per se. So what makes a regular wine and a ‘sweet wine’ different? The amount of sugar in a wine is what makes it more or less sweet. While there is no added sugar in the wine, the longer the grapes are left to ripen on the vines, the more sugars they develop. During the fermentation process, it is the sugar that turns to alcohol, so sweet wines are often prematurely halted in their fermentation. When grapes have a large amount of sugar, the yeast which helps convert the sugar to alcohol can die off, leaving more sweetness in the vintage too.

Another way sweet wines are kept sweet is by concentrating the sugars in the fruit before they are fermented. This can be done by drying the grapes, prior to processing. ‘Noble rot’ or Botrytis, a type of mould which attacks ripe grapes, is also used to help concentrate the sugars in sweet wines, by quickly dehydrating the grape leaving all that sweetness behind. This process is undertaken in a range of decadent dessert wines like McGuigan Personal Reserve Botrytis Vineyard Semillon, leaving the wine with distinct marmalade characters and concentrated fruit flavours.

Popular sweet wines include:

  • White Zinfandel: Created by accident while trying to make a deeper red Zinfandel, White Zinfandel can range from dry to very sweet. White Zinfandel often has notes of summery red fruit flavours or zingy citrus and are known for their floral sensibilities.

  • Black Muscat: Black Muscat is both a table grape and a sweet wine. Black Muscat grapes are used to make pink Moscato, however, Black Muscat grapes used on their own to produce a dessert wine is a rarity in Australia. Black Muscat sweet wines are very consistent and highly aromatic as well as providing a rich, deep colouring.

  • Schiava: Hailing from Northern Italy, this red sweet wine has hints of cinnamon, dark fruit like cherry and plum and even a dash of fairy floss.
  • Lambrusco Salamino: This sweet wine has a delicate, pale pink hue and is the most floral of Lambrusco wines. With a certain creaminess and notes of cherries and violets, it is a beautifully structured wine, with a light effervescence.
  • Moscato: Moscato has been cultivated since Roman times and is a perfumed, sparkling sweet wine. Full of pear and peach flavours, Moscato are low in alcohol as their sweetness is retained by prematurely halting the fermentation process, stopping the sugars from further developing into alcohol. The perfect wine to pair with appetisers due to its crisp palate cleansing qualities, wines like McGuigan Black Label Moscato will suit true wine lovers as well as those with a sweet tooth.
  • White Riesling: A white sweet wine made from grapes grown in Germany’s Rhine region, white Riesling is full of autumnal fruits like apples and pears.
  • Sauternes: Pronounced “So Turn”, Sauternes derives from a misty riverside location in Bordeaux which offers the perfect conditions for Botrytis cinerea, a beneficial rot, to sweeten and develop a blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes into this white sweet wine. Sauternes is bursting with quince flavours and spicy notes of ginger.

 

Are Sweet Wines Bad For You?

While they may contain up to three times as much sugar as drier table wines, sweet wines are often lower in alcohol content. Sweet wines are definitely good for the soul, with their luscious fruit flavours and smooth texture, but as with any food or drink it is best to consume them in moderation.

Best Sweet Wine Pairings

While they are often referred to as “dessert wines”, sweet wines don’t always have to be relegated to an after-dinner treat, but can instead be consumed throughout the course of a meal.

  • Lambrusco Salamino: This sweet wine is perfect when pairing with hamburgers, due to its fizzy sweetness that counterbalances its tannins perfectly.

  • White Riesling: The sweetness in this Riesling is the perfect complement for spicy dishes like a hot takeaway curry, or taken along to a Thai restaurant to pair with coconut and chilli filled dishes.

  • Moscato: Due to its sweetness, Moscato won’t pair well with many main dishes, but is the ideal accompaniment to sweeter brunches and light meals. Think of wine as a seasoning, like salt and pepper used to accentuate the flavours of a dish. In this way, Moscato pairs beautifully with anything that is spicy, salty, sour and bitter as it contrasts these tastes. Sweet wines like McGuigan's Cellar Select Moscato, with a soft acid line and fruit-driven, medium body also make a perfect aperitif on their own.

  • Botrytis Semillon: The ideal dessert wine, Botrytis Semillon is surprisingly versatile. With its sweetness able to cut through the salt of blue cheese or pairing luxuriously with rich, creamy chocolate fondant, it’s a good idea to always have a bottle of this fruity, sweet wine on hand.