Italian Dessert Wine

What better way to complete a dessert, and indeed a meal, than to compliment it with a glass of sweet Italian dessert wine? Paul Pettengale indulges his love of la dolce vita?

The Italians are well known for their love of all things sweet. No meal is finished until dessert has been savoured, whether a rich torte, the classic tiramisu or a large blob of gelato. Italian liqueurs, too, are notorious for their sweetness, especially those made with nuts such as Amareto and Frangelico. And so it should come as no surprise that wines are supped that also boast high concentrations of grape sugars.

Still Italian sweet wines are made using the passito method whereby grapes are grown on the vine as for a standard dry wine. Left to ripen for a little longer than is usual, providing weather allows, the grapes are harvested and laid out on mats or in racks and left for several months to dry. This process concentrates the sugars within the grapes to the point that the shrivelled, darkened grapes are almost raisin-sweet. It is at this point that fermentation and subsequent bottling takes place ? usually around the February following the harvest. No additional sugar is added to the wine; the resultant sweetness is entirely down to that drying process.

Unusually, the Italians, especially in the Veneto, make sweet red wines as well as white. These rich, powerful wines are held in extremely high regard, especially those made by the upper echelons of the wine making world ? names such as Masi and Allegrini. Although rare in the UK and the USA they are available, as long as you don?t mind paying for the privilege. Over the page we sample a couple, plus a selection of white (and ros?) sweet wines to compliment a variety of desserts.


Italia! discovery of the month

Pieropan100pxPassito della Rocca 2006, Pieropan

From Liberty Wines

Price ?39.99 (50cl)

Arguably the best Italian sweet white wines come from the Veneto, and from the Soave region within it. The Garganega grape variety lends itself so perfectly to being dried and fermented from what are effectively raisins. And one of the best producers in that zone is Dario Pieropan. A true artist in the world of wine making, he has a perfectionist attitude, insisting that every stage in the production of his wines ? from the moment the vines are pruned until the time it comes to sticking on the labels ? is followed to his precise, exacting standards.

And hence this, his passito wine ? the culmination of his dedication to perfection, and 100 years of wine making tradition. It?s gold ? almost amber ? in colour, with aromas of trademark dried apricots (and a little nuttiness). Drawing on more apricots and tropical fruits, this is a finely balanced wine hitting the mark between sweetness and freshness. The finish is long and floral with that vital clarity inviting you back for more. Definitely one of the very best.

Great with…
A rare wine makes a great match with something hard to pair: Christmas pudding!


Casal Dei Ronchi100pxRecioto della valpolicella classico 2009, serego alighieri

From Berkmann Wine Cellars

?32.99 (37.5cl)

Made under the direct influence of Serego Alighieri, this stately wine is what a sweet red is all about. Dark and rich, it sports ample cherry on the nose with hints of stewed blackberries. Take a sip and you?re greeted with a mouthful of spiced dark fruits. It?s so typical of a Recioto della Valpolicella, but definitely at the higher end of the quality scales. A wine to savour, to sip slowly and to enjoy with friends.

Great with…
A rare wine makes a great match with something hard to pair: Christmas pudding!


FranzHaas100pxMoscato Rosa ?Schweizer? 2009, Franz Haas

From Liberty Wine

?28.98 (37.5cl)

Now in its seventh generation of wine production, the Franz Haas winery was formed in 1880. As part of Franz range of wines created from grapes grown at the foot of the Alps, he has this: a dessert wine made using Moscato Rosa grapes. A very deep pink in colour, it offers rose petal and spiced aromas; a sweet mouthful of apricots and orange peel and a long, luscious finish with oodles of fragrance. Sweet, yes, but not too much so.

Great with…
Dry biscuits, panettone and other pastries. Also good with pecorino cheese.


Greco di Bianco100pxPassito Greco di Bianco 2008, Cantine Lavorata

From Calabria Club

?18.00 (50cl)

This is a truly interesting wine, and a real find. Made using the dried grape method ? and therefore referred to as a ?straw wine? ? it has an extremely intense aroma of dried apricots (similar to a Marsala, in fact). It?s unlike any of the other white sweet wines on these pages: it makes a big, bold statement that?s all raisin-sweet with touches of dark, sticky marmalade. Definitely a unique experience, this wine is well worth a try.

Great with…
Dried fruits, pastries and light cakes. Works well with blue cheeses, too.


i Capitelli100pxI Capitelli 2008, Anselmi

From Enotria

?29.50 (70cl)

This is, without any exaggeration, one of the best sweet wines in the world. Really, it bowled us over when we discovered it around six or seven years ago and it never fails to disappoint. Made using 100 per cent Garganega grapes, it has a power and precision like no other. It combines tastes of honey, peaches, apricots, a touch of pineapple and maple. And yet ? amazingly ? it has a dry edge that tempers the sweetness and makes it truly drinkable.

Great with…
Panna cotta, rich cakes (even fruit cakes) and strong-flavoured gelato.


Maculan100pxTorcolato 2008, Maculan

From Majestic Wine

?24.00 (35cl)

For sure, this is another expensive wine, but it?s worth the money if kept for special occasions (and with a good 15 years of aging potential, you?ve got time to wait for the right moment). Similar to the I Capitelli, it neatly combines honey, apricots, orange and a herbaceous finish that keeps the sweetness nicely in check. It?s a richer wine than that from Anselmi, but lacks the other?s clarity of flavour. You?ll need to order this from the Fine Wine Centre, minimum of six.

Great with…
Creme brul?e and other custard-based dishes or hard biscuits and cheese.


Tattoria La Vialla100pxVin Santo del Chianti 2007, La Vialla

From La Vialla

?22.50 (3 bottles of 35cl)

We couldn?t present you with a selection of dessert wines and not include a Vin Santo from Tuscany. A blend of Malvasia and Trebbiano grape varieties, it has typical dried apricot and sage aromas and though sweet, has a bone dry edge to it, making it highly drinkable. This wine, direct from Italy, is a class act ? it has a subtle, refined quality yet enough character to make it interesting. Go on ? reach for those home-made biscotti and get dunking!

Great with…
Biscotti, well dunked, or with local pecorino cheeses drizzled in honey.



It?s a wine drinking conundrum that would baffle many so-called experts. Do you chill a sweet red wine? The vast majority of sweet wines taste at their best when they?re chilled ? if only down to around 11 or 12?C. But it feels entirely unnatural to put a bottle of a dark, luxurious red wine in the fridge, especially if intended to be drunk with cheeses that should be at room temperature. Truth is there is no golden rule. We?d follow the advice of the producers themselves ? Masi, for instance, suggests its Recioto della Valpolicella be drunk at 15?C. Which would mean half an hour or so in the fridge before serving. One piece of advice we?d add is to allow the wine to breathe, so extract the cork a couple of hours before that stint in the fridge to give its flavours greater chance to develop.