The ultimate guide to sweet wines

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Sweet wines can offer up boozy warmth and sweet comfort after a heavy meal or simply cheer up a dreary Sunday afternoon. Here are five of our favourites to help soothe you into Christmas and beyond…

Muscat

Muscat is a family of grapes that is most popular in Greece and France for the production of sweet wines, but varieties are also grown in Italy where they’re used for spumanti (and are known as moscato) and they also find their way into dry table wines. 

Sweet muscat wines tend to have a heady bouquet of flowers and grapes (we find it odd that very few wines actually smell of grapes) and are clean on the palette. They make a good choice if you’re taking a first foray into sweet wine territory as, not only are they an uncomplicated choice, they can also be picked up for much less that other styles. 

In France they’re often served as an aperitif or an accompaniment to rich paté or blue cheese.

Try this: Beaumes de Venise Muscat Carte d’Or, 15%, £7.99 for a 37.5cl bottle, Ocado

You get a huge aroma of grape juice from this wine and plenty of blossom too. It’s honey sweet, but not sticky, very juicy and finishes with a green apple freshness.

 

Tokaji – Aldi

“In the grape fields of Tokaji, you dripped sweet nectar.” There can’t be many countries that feature booze in their national anthem, but such is the importance of Tokaji to the Hungarians that the sweet nectar gets a mention alongside the Danube, the Carpathians and King Matthius I. 

Tokaji is the name of Hungary’s sweet wine region (which also spreads to neighbouring Slovakia). It’s noted for its volcanic soil and also gained the world’s first appellation control. In order to make the sweet wine, Tokaji’s grapes must first be affected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea to cause “noble rot.”

Their flavours, though varied, are quite unique with a complex mix of sweetness, acidity, and rich dried fruits. But be warned: if you develop the taste for Tokaji it might become an expensive habit as some bottles can fetch thousands of pounds. 

Try this: St Stephen’s Crown Tokaji Aszu, 10%, £16.99 for a 500ml bottle, Aldi

A typically rich Tokaji with sweet a peachy smoothness, citrus crispness and orange juiciness.

 

Ice Wine

There’s a simple bit of science behind the production of ice wines. Grapes are allowed to stay on the vine until a frost, which freezes the water but not the solids within the grapes (including the sugar) meaning a more concentrated juice to emerges from pressing (which also results in a slower fermentation). 

As it’s dependent on such cold and unpredictable weather, ice wine is a rare beast which tends to mean higher prices. Canada and Germany, where it’s called eiswein, are the main producers but you’ll also find smaller production in other parts of Europe, America and even Japan. Canadian ice wine tends to taste like an intensely fruity white wine with a snap of acidity that has been mellowed with the natural sweetness. 

Try this: Vidal Lakeview Cellars Canadian Ice Wine, 11.5%, £14.99 for a 375ml bottle, Aldi

Like a soft, peachy dessert drizzled with honey that demands the company of a plate of strong cheddar and figs.

 

Perdro Ximenez

Pedro Ximenez is a type of sherry produced from the Spanish grapes of the same name. These grapes are picked when overly ripe, or are allowed to dry out in the sun, to increase their flavour and sugar content. 

The wines' flavours are further intensified as a result of barrel ageing, which also throws oxidation into the mix, creating rich and complex drinks that are among the sweetest wines you can find with an almost syrupy thickness. They’re excellent to drink with desserts and can even be poured over ice cream as a boozy sauce.

Try this: Morrisons Pedro Ximenez, 17%, £6 for a 37.5cl bottle, Morrisons

A sweet boozy delight, this sherry has been aged for eight years and is deliciously rich and fruity with hints of Christmas spices.

 

Port

Port is a fortified wine that comes in array of styles and colours, from white to tawny and deep ruby red. To be labelled a port it must be produced in Portugal’s Douro Valley. 

Fortification is achieved through the addition of grape spirit or brandy and barrel ageing is used to give the flavours and extra mature intensity. 

Ports are best known as an indulgent accompaniment to cheese but they’re increasingly turning up in cocktails and, for many, are an essential part of the Christmas booze selection.

Try this: Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha Port, 20%, £33.49 for a 700ml bottle, Waitrose

As if all the fruits destined for the Christmas pudding have been squeezed into a glass. Rich, smooth and boozy.