Complete Guide to Sweet Wines for Beginners
Exploring sweet wines for beginners is a great way to introduce the history and complexities of the world of wine to new wine drinkers. From light, easy drinking wines to rich dessert wines perfect for sipping, sweet wines for beginners are diverse, sometimes under-appreciated styles often filled with bold fruit flavor that can be enjoyed on their own or paired with a variety of foods.
What are the best sweet wines for beginners to try? With so many sweet white wine types and types of sweet red wine to choose from, there is certain to be a sweet wine to please every palate. New wine drinkers might be familiar with the names of some popular types of sweet wines for beginners, but when it comes to picking out a bottle might be left wondering, is moscato sweet? Is white zinfandel sweet?
Learn more about the wide variety of sweet wines from red to white, including origins, flavor notes and food pairings to help you choose the best sweet wines for beginners.
Jump to Section
- What Is a Sweet Wine?
- Sweet Red Wines for Beginners
- Sweet Rosé Wines for Beginners
- Sweet White Wines for Beginners
- What Is the Sweetest Wine?
What Is a Sweet Wine?
When selecting sweet wines for beginners, you first have to understand what makes wine sweet. Different types of wine range from very dry to very sweet depending on a number of factors.
Which wines are sweet and which are dry is differentiated based on the percentage of residual sugar per liter at the end of the fermentation process. Wines above 5% residual sugar are noticeably sweet, with dessert wines starting at around 7-9%.
Winemakers control the sweetness of their wines by dictating how much sugar is in the grapes as they strategically select the varietals and timing of their harvests. Grapes left on the vine longer have more time to develop natural sugars, so late harvest grapes tend to make sweeter wines.
Wine-makers might also introduce noble rot to their grapes, which is a type of fungus that shrivels wine grapes and concentrates their sugars for a distinctive flavor often found in Sauternes wines from the Bordeaux region of France, among others.
Another way that winemakers determine the sweetness of a wine is to control how much sugar remains after the fermentation process, where sugar is converted into alcohol. Those searching for sweet wines for beginners to try might check the bottle’s label for terms such as “late harvest” to help identify which wines are sweet.
For a hands-on way to explore different types of wine, discover more about winemaking methods and learn how to identify good sweet wines for beginners, consider a wine tasting experience. Wine tastings and tours are a great way to interact with professionals who love to share their knowledge and passion for wine. Virtual wine tastings connect you with sommeliers from around the country for an in-depth opportunity to ask questions, discover food pairings and learn how to taste wine like an expert.
Sweet Red Wines for Beginners
When choosing a sweet red wine for beginners, the label can help you identify a good quality bottle. Look for late harvest wines to indicate sweetness and avoid wines with added flavoring. When searching for sweet wines for beginners with more complexity, consider aged wines with robust and layered flavor profiles, but don’t be afraid to try whichever wines speak to you.
Developed in the 1950s in Germany, dornfelder has a signature deep red hue with notes ranging from floral and fruity to rich and full-bodied featuring the flavors of blackberries and warm spices. Although not heavy in sugar, the strong fruity notes enhance the sweetness of the wine.
One of the best sweet red wines for beginners and wine aficionados alike, dornfelder offers both approachability and complexity, pairing well with hearty dishes from meat lover’s pizza to roasted chicken or pork.
Semi-sparkling varieties are fun sweet wines for beginners to try for their lightly sweet flavor and delightful fizz. A semi-sparkling wine from Piedmont, Italy, brachetto d’acqui is known for its floral aromas and flavors of candied berries, citrus, black currant, apricot and cream.
Low in alcohol and strawberry-forward in flavor, brachetto d’acqui pairs well with fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream as well as rich chocolate desserts.
Originating in Northern Italy, Lambrusco is made from ancient native grape varieties and ranges from dry to semi-sweet, often in a frizzante or semi-sparkling style. When choosing sweet wines for beginners, look for the sweeter Lambrusco Salamino styles or those labeled as amabile or dulce to counterbalance the tannins in this bold, deeply colored wine.
The floral and fruity notes of violets and cherries pair well with hearty, fatty dishes such as burgers, Tokyo-style ramen and Korean barbecue.
One of the more interesting sweet wines for beginners is made from schiava grapes and is said to taste like cotton candy. Primarily produced in the Alpine regions of Italy and Germany, the rare, light-bodied schiava has flavors and aromas of strawberry, bubblegum and lemon candy.
Due to multiple languages spoken in the growing region, the German variety is often referred to as trollinger, and this wine is also sometimes labeled as edelvernatsch, kleinvernatsch and St. Magdalener.
Grenache wines — known as garnacha in Spain — are bold, sweet wines for beginners looking to expand their palates with a rich and sophisticated style of wine. With notes of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, tobacco, cinnamon and licorice, the medium-bodied grenache pairs well with spicy or herbaceous dishes as well as roasted meats and vegetables.
Dessert wines can be an interesting style of sweet wines for beginners to experience, with port being a popular choice as a digestif. Port is a fortified wine from Portugal that is very sweet, full-bodied, low in acidity and high in alcohol content.
Port comes in several styles, with the two most common dessert wine types being ruby port and tawny port. Ruby port is a deeply colored red wine with notes of berries and chocolate, while tawny port is an aged style that is often even sweeter and known for flavors of caramel, nuts and butterscotch.
Port pairs well with a variety of foods from rich cheeses to smoky meats and, of course, decadent desserts from pecan pie to chocolate truffles. Dessert wines such as port are great sweet wines for beginners to try before exploring other fortified varieties like sherry and Madeira.
Sweet Rosé Wines for Beginners
With renewed popularity thanks to its photogenic color and refreshing flavors, rosé wines are a great choice when searching for sweet wines for beginners. Rosé wines are not distinguished by the types of grapes used to produce them, but by the process with which they are made.
While produced similarly to red wines, the time that the juice ferments with the grape skins is shortened to a few hours or up to a day, giving the wine its signature pink color. Rosé wines can be made from any red grape cultivated in any wine region and are widely produced in the United States, France, Spain and Italy.
An accessible, slightly sweet style for new wine drinkers, rosé d’Anjou comes from the distinguished Loire Valley wine region in France. This style of rosé creates delicately sweet wines for beginners who are unsure whether they prefer sweet or dry wines.
This lightly sweet fruity wine often carries aromas and flavors of strawberry, rose petals and a hint of black pepper. With a classically pink hue, this rosé pairs well with salty, smoky flavors such as in grilled dishes and charcuterie.
Once considered cheap and cloyingly sweet, white zinfandel has undergone a bit of a renaissance, with sophisticated varieties now ranging from dry to sweet. Originating in California, white zinfandel is one of the highest-selling rosé wines in the United States and one of the most popular sweet wines for beginners.
The sweeter styles of this wine are known for flavors of strawberry, cherry, cotton candy, lemon and anise balanced with somewhat high acidity. White zinfandel pairs well with smoked meats and soft cheeses.
Sweet White Wines for Beginners
When choosing a sweet white wine, always check the label to make sure you are picking up a bottle that is sweet rather than dry, as many types of wine come in both varieties. Here are some recommended sweet wines for beginners in the white wine category, ranging from popular to unique.
An excellent choice of sweet wines for beginners, riesling is a popular wine originally from Germany. It is generally quite acidic, with notes of apple, pear and stone fruits. Riesling wines can be found in both sweet and dry varieties, so be sure to check the bottle when selecting this type of wine.
When choosing a sweet riesling, look for the terms:
Moscato wines are popular sweet wines for beginners and come in a variety of styles including still moscato, dessert moscato and moscato d’Asti (semi-sparkling) or Asti spumante (sparkling).
Made from muscat grapes, moscato wines generally have a low alcohol content and are light, easy-to-drink sweet white wines for beginners. Still, moscato can taste sweet due to the fruity flavors of the wine but is the driest of the moscato varieties, with moscato d’Asti being the most common and a good choice for new wine drinkers.
Originating in Italy, moscato wines now come from all over the world and often have floral aromas and flavor notes including citrus, pear, orange blossom and honeysuckle. These sweet wines for beginners pair exceptionally well with spicy foods and Asian cuisines such as Szechuan, Thai and Vietnamese.
From the illustrious wine-growing region of Bordeaux, France, Sauternes are full-bodied, late harvest sweet white wines made from grapes affected by noble rot. These sweet wines for beginners are perfect for new wine drinkers with a sweet tooth.
Common tasting notes include honeyed apricot, butterscotch, caramel, coconut, tropical fruit, citrus and toasted spices. This very sweet wine should be served chilled and pairs well with bold cheeses and fruity desserts.
A sweet wine from the Tokaj region of Hungary also affected by noble rot, Tokaji wine has a long, fascinating history, according to Wine Folly. It was a popular choice for royals, noblemen and popes and is a contender for the world’s oldest sweet wine.
This wine is known for its signature aromas of ginger and saffron with flavors of tangerine, apricot and marzipan. If you are looking for sweet wines for beginners that come with a storied past, add a bottle of Tokaji to your list.
Of these sweet wines for beginners, ice wine is the most challenging to produce. Ice wine is made in cold climates such as Germany and Canada using a unique method. Frozen grapes are picked from the vine and processed at around 20° Fahrenheit (-7° Celsius) to create a very sweet juice fermented over several months.
Ice wine often contains strong notes of citrus, honey, stone fruit and tropical fruit. This dessert wine pairs well with bold cheeses as well as spicy, salty or rich foods and fruit-based desserts. Because of its unique process and style, these sweet wines for beginners are a must-try when exploring the sweeter side of the world of wine.
What Is the Sweetest Wine?
It may come as no surprise that the sweetest wines, especially by sugar content, are dessert wines such as port. Although ice wine also comes in near the top of the list, port often carries around 100 grams of residual sugar per liter with flavors of berries, chocolate or caramel further enhancing the perceived sweetness of the wine. These sweet wines for beginners satisfy even the strongest sugar cravings with a powerfully sweet yet sophisticated drinking experience.
From delicately sweet to boldly saccharine, understanding the process and characteristics of sweet wines can be an exciting first step into the vast world of wine. Exploring these sweet wines for beginners helps showcase each unique style, from popular wines produced around the world to rare regional styles with distinctive signature flavors and textures.
With these unique and diverse varieties of sweet wines for beginners, new wine drinkers can discover the wide range and fascinating complexity the wine world has to offer.
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