Looking for an Italian Sweet Wine? You can easily get confused about what to choose because Italia has large wine production that may scare you. I will guide you on which of the sweet Italian wines are best for you and how you could pick the best bottle of wine in your situation and budget. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a cheap sweet Italian wine or a premium bottle. I will give you some more information about each type of wine and a few recommendations on what to pick in different situations.
Typically, when we are referring to sweet Italian wines, those come in three main styles: sparkling, naturally sweet (using the Passito method, more on that below), and fortified wines. The Italian wines have a strong fruity flavor and a syrupy texture from which you can choose the perfect bottle exactly to your taste and wallet.
What Is a Sweet Italian Wine?
First of all, let’s find out what Italian wines are considered sweet. Usually, sweet wines are those that retained a high level of residual sugar during the process of winemaking. Usually, if a wine contains more than 35 grams of residual sugar per liter, it is considered a sweet Italian wine.
In comparison, with a dry Italian wine, those contain less than 10 grams of residual sugar per liter. So the sweet wines usually, have less than a third of the sugar amount in the comparison with the dry wines. But is only a general rule. You can also find dry wines that contain less than 10x of residual sugar in comparison to sweet wine.
How Are Sweet Wines Made?
One method of making the Italian sweet wines are by leaving the grapes to wither for longer. In that way, the juice will become more concentrated and the amount of residual sugar in those grapes will increase.
After the grapes will be left for a while to dry, the grapes will lose the pure water through the skin, those will begin to shrivel and raisin, but as a result, the grape can lose up to 50% of their pure water and the flavorful and residual sugar will be higher and more concentrated.
This process can be made on the vine or even after the grapes was harvested. In Italy, this process is called “passito”, which in translation from Italian means “withering”. Earlier, For this process, you need to leave the grapes to dry under an intense sun on so-called “straw mats”, or they are also may be called “straw wines”. Today, this process is made in climate-controlled drying rooms which makes the process a lot easier because you can create the ideal temperature and avoid humidity for that.
Italian Fortified Wines
In order to get a fortified wine, you need to add brandy (a neutral grape spirit) into the wine during its fermenting process. By adding the neutral spirit over the grapes, it will stop the fermentation process and will increase the alcohol content while it will keep the residual sugar levels in the wines.
In turn, the Italian fortified wines are divided into several types: Sweet Vermouth, Marsala, and Barolo Chinato. Let me give you some more details on each of them.
The sweet vermouth (not to be confused with Wermuth) is specific to northern Italy, to be more specific in Turin where it was first introduced in 1786 and quickly becomes during the royal court of Turin. Originally, the Sweet Vermouth was used for medicinal purposes but later it was served as an Italian aperitif. Nowadays, Sweet Vermouth is a key ingredient in different cocktails.
This type of sweet Italian wine is sweetened and aromatized with various botanicals such as different roots, barks, flowers, seeds, aromatic herbs, and different spices.
Sweet Vermouth Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Maximum of 150 grams of residual sugar per liter.|
|Used Grapes:||Catarratto and Trebbiano|
Marsala is another sweet fortified Italian wine that has its origins in the south of Italy, in Marsala city, on Sicily. As it may happen, the Marsala sweet fortified wine has become popular outside of Sicily by an English trader, John Woodhouse. He discovered that the Marsala Sweet Italian wine was aged in wooden casks and tasted similar to Spanish and Portuguese fortified wines of those times.
In order to make the Marsala fortified wine, is used a process called “Perpetuum”, which is similar to the solera system used to produce Sherry in Spain.
Marsala Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Maximum 40 grams of residual sugar per liter.|
|Used Grapes:||Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino white grapes.|
Marsala In Cooking:
The Italian Marsala wine is usually used in the Italian kitchen as an ingredient. For example, you can find it in the traditional Marsala sauce, Marsala chicken, or in some risotto recipes.
Marsala Bottles Recommendations:
- 2004 Marco De Bartoli Marsala Superiore Riserva
- 2000 Cantine Pellegrino Marsala Vergine Riserva
Barolo Chinato is also a sweet Italian fortified wine from the north of Italy from Piedmont region and it is usually flavored with cinnamon, coriander, iris flowers, mint, and vanilla.
The Barolo Chinato is served usually as an after-dinner digestif.
Barolo Chinato Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Minimum of 150 grams of residual sugar.|
|Used Grapes:||Nebbiolo grapes|
Barolo Chinato Food Pairing:
As the Barolo Chinato is a light wine, you need to serve it with a food of the same weight. Consider serving this Italian with near some roasted or steamed vegetables, and of course near some meat dishes or heavy pasta.
Sweet Italian Passito Wines
As I said, passito wines are those sweet wines that are made from semi-dried grapes prior to fermentation in the “appassimento” method. For this method, the grapes should be in an ideal shape. If some of the grapes will be damaged or with some blemishes, those can ruin the whole bunch, because of that, the wines from this category, usually, are a bit more expensive than others. There is involved a manual and detailed process for checking the quality of those grapes.
In that category, you may find those types of sweet Italian wines: Recioto, Passito di Pantelleria and in Santo.
Let me give you some more details about each of them.
Recioto is an Italian red sweet wine that is produced only in Valpolicella, Verona originally called “Recioto della Valpolicella” from the grapes that may be found locally. Those wines usually use a mix of grapes that consist of Corvina (about 45-95%), Rondinella (5-30%), Corvinone (up to 50% as a replacement for Corvina), Oseleta, and Negrara.
The Recioto della Valpolicella have a hint of ripe fruit and black cherry.
Recioto Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Minimum of 50 grams of residual sugar.|
|Used Grapes:||Corvina or Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and Negrara.|
Recioto Food Pairing:
Pick a hearty dish for the Recioto red wine, such as a slow-cooked lamb shanks served with some potato mash.
Passito di Pantelleria
Passito di Pantelleria is a sweet white Italian wine that is exclusively produced on the island of Pantelleria, near Tunisia and Sicily. This type of fortified Italian wine is made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes, known also. as Zibibbo.
Passito di Pantelleria Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Up to 190g of residual sugar.|
|Used Grapes:||Zibibbo grapes (Moscato d’Alessandria)|
Passito di Pantelleria Food Pairing:
The Passito di Pantelleria sweet Italian wine is usually served with the local patisserie. Personally, I would suggest serving this Italian wine in pair with a fresh fruit tart or maybe even with some crème Brulee.
Vin Santo (holy wine) is produced primarily in central Tuscany, in the region of Chianti, but you can also find it in Veneto or Trentino Alto Adige. The Vin Santo is considered more as a dessert Italian wine, that is made from white grapes such are Trebbiano and Malvasia. Also, you may found also an addition of Sangiovese in order to obtain a rose Italian sweet wine called the originally the “Occhio di Pernice” or translate, the eye of the partridge.
The Vin Santo has an intense amber color, and a rich aroma of dried fruit with hints of honey and a sweet, velvety taste. It is left undisturbed for several years in small barrels to give to the wine a ‘rancio’ character and taste.
Vin Santo Technical Information:
|Sugar Level:||Around 220g of residual sugar.|
|Used Grapes:||Malvasia, Trebbiano, and Sangiovese.|
Vin Santo Food Pairing:
A personal recommendation for the Vin Santo pairing will be to serve it with some hard cheese with a strong taste of good quality, a good option will be to serve it with Gorgonzola, a walnut tart, or other cakes that are filled with dried fruits.
Sweet Italian Sparkling Wines
Sweet Italian sparkling wines, in Italian they are called “Spumante” means “sparkling wine” in Italian”.
Usually, when we are thinking about Italian sparkling wines, the first that comes to our mind is the Italian Prosecco because it is the most popular there, but that doesn’t mean that this is the only type of sparkling wine you could find in Italy.
The process of making Italian sparkling wines have their origins back from the ancient Romans. However, those methods differ a lot from the methods we are using nowadays. If we’re referring to the modern methods of making sparkling wines, then the history begins only in the second half of the 1800s in the north of Italy which is the homeland of Italian sparkling wines. The most popular styles of sparkling wines here are the Prosecco, Franciacorta, and Asti Spumanti.
When we are speaking about the traditional sparkling Italian wines, even the most popular is the Prosecco, we need to start with Trento Doc. The Trento Doc is the most historic and one of the best Italian sparkling wines you could drink. This wine is largely produced in the province of Trento, and it order to produce it, you need to wait at least 15 months to regulate the wines on the lees if we are talking about the base version. If we are looking for something better from the “reserve” category, we need to leave the wine for at least 36 months.
It is also worth mentioning that the Trento Doc wine actually was the first Italian sparkling wine that was able to boast the prestigious DOC in 1993.
|Sugar Level:||50 grams of residual sugar|
|Used Grapes:||Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot blanc.|
Prosecco Sparkling Wines
As you may know, the Prosecco in the last years had unbelievable popularity around the world, it outsells now even the traditional French Champagne across the globe. The Italian Prosecco wines have their origins in Northern Italy in the Veneto region and for this wines are used only the Glera grapes.
|Sugar Level:||32-50 grams of residual sugar|
Franciacorta is another great Italian sparkling wine worth mentioning. It has its origins from the Province of Brescia, and it also has the DOCG status that was awarded in 1967. Worth mentioning that in 1995, this certification kept only the sparkling wines that are produced on the territory of Franciacorta which is situated between the southern shore of Lake Iseo and Brescia city.
To get this delicious Italian sparkling wine and to keep the DOCG status, this wine is used only a mix of those types of grapes: around 85% of Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero, and 5% of Pinot Bianco.
|Sugar Level:||30-50 grams of residual sugar|
|Used Grapes:||Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco|
Italian Asti Spumanti
Asti is also known for the name Asti Spumanti is a type of Italian sparkling wine that is made in the northwestern part of Italy in the towns of Asti and Alba. The Asti Spumanti is a sweet and low in alcohol (around 8%) sparkling wine that is obtained from the Moscato Bianco grapes the winemaking process is called the Charmat method. This method means that it used a complex filtration process that retains its sweetness.
|Sugar Level:||90–100grams of residual sugar|
|Used Grapes:||Moscato Bianco (white Muscat)|
Also, you may find the Moscato d’Asti, which is similar to the original Asti wine, but it has even less alcohol (around 5%), fewer sparkles (frizzante), and it has a sweeter taste than the original Italian sparkling wine.
The wines from these categories are usually served near a dessert.
|Sugar Level:||30–50g residual sugar|
|Used Grapes:||Moscato Bianco (white Muscat)|
Answering Your Questions:
While the amount of residual sugar will not change during the ages, the taste of the wine will change a lot. Your bottles of sweet Italian wines may start to taste more like a drier Italian wine over time.
The Italian high-quality sweet wines are flavored naturally, by dehydrating the grapes. As a result, the inner juice of the grape is more concentrated and offers a sweeter taste to the wines.
On another side, we can see the low-cost wines in which was added the regular sugar or grape concentrate in order to hurry up the process and to lower the costs of winemaking.
For those that are unfamiliar with the wine-making process, the residual sugar is the sugar that was eliminated by grapes was transformed into alcohol during the fermentation process when we are adding the yeast in the process. As grapes ripen and age, they start to contain more sugar in them. The more ripen the grapes are, the more sugar they naturally contain and the sweeter wine we will obtain from them.