An Italian dessert wine should pair nicely with pies and fruit tarts, pannacotta and cheesecakes, as well as strong aged cheeses such as Stilton or Gorgonzola.
Italian dessert wines provide something sweet to suit every palate - be it sparkling or still wines, light or richly sweet; from Tuscany's famed Vin Santo to Pantelleria's Passito di Pantelleria that bridges Africa and Italy. Each has their own distinct character to charm us into the night!
Sweet wine produced in Tuscany typically boasts an intensely fragrant bouquet and long, sweet finish. Common regions for its production are DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designations, where grape combinations include Trebbiano and Malvasia with some Sangiovese for an aromatic twist.
Grapes harvested when fully ripe are then subject to the passito or appassimento process, whereby they are dried on straw mats or plastic crates for several months to concentrate the sugars and produce ultra-sweet juice that will eventually be fermented and aged in barrels.
Vin Santo is often enjoyed as either a dessert wine or welcome beverage for house guests in Tuscany, pairing well with almond biscotti known as cantuccini and other sweet pastries. Historically, this wine was offered to show hospitality and friendship between family and friends.
Italian wines are famous for evoking an extensive array of aromas and flavors, from the crisp saltiness of the seashore to the intense sweetness of mountain herbs. Yet it may come as a surprise that such regional characteristics also show up strongly in sweet Italian wines ranging from sparkling Moscato d'Asti from Piedmont to Passito di Pantelleria and Recioto della Valpolicella from Veneto.
Moscato d'Asti is a sparkling white wine produced from Moscato Bianco grapes grown primarily in Asti (which also extends into nearby provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo). Typically low in alcohol with sweet, fruity notes that recall orange flowers, pears, and golden apples. A perfect drink to enjoy on hot summer days or with dessert!
Italy produces many dessert wines without an appellation, including Barolo Chinato. This special drink combines fortified Barolo red wine with botanical ingredients like gentian, rhubarb roots, coriander seeds, orange peels cloves and cardamom seeds to produce something truly remarkable.
Barolo Chinato's recipe remains closely guarded, yet its ingredients list resembles that of a potions book; quinine is found in its source tree bark - Cinchona calisaya from South America - while Barolo Chinato was once popularly advertised as an all-around remedy, said to help ease daily discomforts.
Wine makes an excellent after-dinner drink, digestive or pairing with stronger cheeses, but can also be enjoyed on its own at room temperature as a meditation wine to sip slowly and enjoy.
Italian dessert wines come in many varieties and styles, depending on the grape varieties used and wine making process used. Furthermore, climate and local terroir have an impactful presence in these beverages.
Moscato d'Asti and Loazzolo are two wines produced in Valpolicella east of Lake Garda, where grapes can be exposed to sun and breeze all year.
Pantelleria Passito, Sciacchetra from Cinque Terre and Vin Santo from Tuscany are also among the world's premier wines, while their historical counterpart is often served with cantuccini almond biscuits as a semi-dessert. Their oxidative style adds weightiness while honey, caramel and nuts flavor profiles provide depth.
This exceptionally rich wine, composed from dried grapes, can be served either as an evening digestif or dessert. It has an amber hue with powerful scents of dried figs, apricots and dates that add depth of flavor.
Valpolicella Passito is one of the world's best known sweet wines, combining characteristics of both an important red wine with those of an esteemed dessert wine. Ideal as an accompaniment for shortcrust pastries, cakes, chocolates and traditional dry biscuits like cantucci biscuits - this passito should not be missed when visiting Valpolicella!
Recioto derives its name from recia, the local dialect term meaning ears referring to parts of grape bunches closer to their stem and more exposed to sunlight during withering. Care is taken when selecting, pressing, fermenting and stopping at an appropriate level when sugar levels exceed certain thresholds.