Italy is famous for its sweet wines: Vin Santo, Marsala, Passito, Moscato d'Asti, they all have a long history and their production is linked to nature, care and a lot of time. Sweet wines are probably the most intense that winemakers can get out of their vineyards. But not every region is suitable for the production of sweet wines. That is why they deserve a special place in our hearts, but especially on our table.
What is a dessert or sweet wine?
Dessert wines are delicious wines that have high levels of residual sugar (at least 45 grams per liter) and can be made from both blue and white grapes. They are often paired with desserts or cheeses and their production usually involves a special technique to condense the sweetness and flavor, with complex sweet wines always noticeable for their distinctive acid backbone.
With this method, the grapes are left on the vine longer and harvested late in the harvest season. This gives the grapes more time to develop a higher sugar content. The increased sugar content results in a sweeter wine with intense flavors. This method is often used with Riesling and Gewürztraminer grapes.
In this process, overripe grapes are selectively harvested by hand. These grapes have a high concentration of sugar and are affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea), a fungal infection that further increases the sugar content and affects the aroma of the wine. Trockenbeerenauslesen produce particularly sweet and aromatic dessert wines.
This method involves harvesting the grapes when they are frozen. The frozen grapes are pressed and the frozen water content is left behind while the concentrated juice is extracted. Because the grapes are frozen when they are harvested, they are very sweet and produce a dessert wine with high acidity and intense fruit flavors.
In this method, the grapes are attacked by a special form of noble rot, the Botrytis cinerea fungus. The fungus extracts water from the grapes and causes the sugar content to rise. The harvested grapes, which have become shriveled, produce a sweet wine with complex aromas. The noble rot appears in various places, the French wine-growing region of Sauternes, which is part of Bordeaux, is particularly famous. But the mold fungus also appears in the Moselle, the Saar or the Rheingau in Germany or on Lake Neusiedl in Austria, in the Valais or in Hungary (Tokaji) in years with the optimal conditions for it.
For a Passito or straw wine, the grapes are dried after harvest and with good ventilation. A process that already knew and used the Romans. The evaporation of the water turns the grapes into raisins with a very high concentration of must. In the past, these wines were dried on straw mats, hence the name straw wine. The drying process on straw mats is also used for the production of Amarone.
Can dessert wines be stored?
Dessert wines are very suitable for storage. As a rule, dessert wines are made with a higher sugar content and acidity, which gives them a good aging ability. Aging allows the wine's aromas and complexity to develop further, while sweetness and acidity can harmonize. However, aging potential varies by dessert wine type and vintage. Some dessert wines, such as noble sweet Rieslings or Sauternes, can age for decades without losing quality. They change and develop complex aromas of honey, dried fruits, nuts and spices over time. It is important to keep dessert wines in suitable storage conditions to preserve their quality. Storage should be in a cool, dark and humidity-controlled room. Ideally, bottles should be stored horizontally to keep the cork moist and prevent drying.
What is the perfect drinking temperature for dessert wines?The drinking temperature of dessert wine can vary depending on style and personal preferences. However, as a general rule, dessert wines can be served slightly warmer than dry wines to better bring out their flavors and sweetness. The ideal drinking temperature for dessert wines is often between 8°C and 14°C, although it can be interesting to taste the dessert wine gradually and warm it slowly while drinking to discover the development of new aromas. Dessert wines should be served in a wine glass with a smaller volume, which can better maintain the temperature. A small temperature overview:
Sauternes and noble sweet white wines: 8°C to 10°C
Ice wine and late harvest: 8°C to 10°C
Port and other fortified (fortified) wines: 12°C to 14°C
Sweet red wines: 12°C to 14°C
What are the names of the most famous Italian dessert wines?
There are a number of well-known Italian dessert wines, but the following are ones you should have tried if you are a passionate wine connoisseur:
A traditional Tuscan dessert wine made from dried grapes. It is characterized by its golden-brown color, intense aromas of dried fruit, nuts and honey and a pleasant sweetness.
An aromatic, sparkling dessert wine from the Piedmont region (Asti). It is made from the Moscato grape and is characterized by its fruity aromas of peaches, apricots and orange blossoms and its light and fresh sweetness.
Recioto della Valpolicella
It comes from the Veneto region and is made from the same grapes as the famous Amarone. However, the grapes are dried longer for Recioto, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar and intense aromas of dried fruit, spices and chocolate.
Passito di Pantelleria
Passito di Pantelleria is a dessert wine from the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily. It is made from the Zibibbo grape (also known as Muscat of Alexandria), which is dried to concentrate its sweetness. The wine is characterized by aromas of dried fruit, honey and spices.
Malvasia delle Lipari
A dessert wine from the Lipari Islands off Sicily. It is made from the Malvasia grape and is known for its sweetness, aromas of honey, orange blossom and spices, and full body.