Italy is home to an abundance of sweet wines that many are quick to disregard as an indulgence, yet these fortified beverages can be enjoyed both with dessert or simply as standalone drinks. From Tuscany to Pantelleria and everywhere in between - from Tuscany's rolling countryside and its volcanic islands like Pantelleria; sweet wines can be found across its regions and islands and make an enchanting treat that should not be underestimated!
Vin Santo is one of the world's best-known wines, and thousands of tourists have enjoyed dunking cantucci into tiny glasses of this golden nectar. Other treats include rose nectar style from Alto Adige and Cypriot Commandaria made from sun-dried Xynisteri and Mavro grapes.
Vin Santo is a sweet wine produced in Italy's Tuscany region and typically enjoyed with cantucci biscuits as part of an ancient welcome ritual known as Cantucci e Vin Santo.
Producing this wine involves the appassimento process in which grapes are dried in an attic-like room (appassitoio), where they are laid out on bamboo shelves or plastic crates or even strung up by long braids to concentrate their sugars and give it its distinctive golden amber hue.
After fermentation, wine is aged in 50 liter barrels called caratelli made of chestnut, oak or other suitable woods that facilitate oxidative aging. No top up is added as with other aged wines allowing its natural oxidation process to give it its complex character; occasionally it may even become infected with the noble rot (mufla nobile), contributing even further to its aroma and flavor profile.
Passito wine is produced from grapes that have undergone partial drying either on the vine or in special rooms, creating a highly complex yet flavorful drink with unique qualities and complex aromas. This process concentrates sugars within each grape to produce wines with intense flavors and vibrant aromas that offer something for every palate.
This type of wine was first developed in ancient Greece to extend the shelf life of wines. This practice then spread throughout the Mediterranean region and into Europe via Roman trade routes. Today these types of wines are known as Liastos or Straw wine and include Vin Santo from Tuscany as well as Commandaria from Cyprus which was served at Richard Lionheart and Knights Templar wedding receptions.
Torcolato from Breganze in Veneto region is another acclaimed Passito. A golden yellow wine that borders amber with intense honey and dried apricot aromas. Often enjoyed alongside Italian biscuits called biscotti.
Valpolicella Reciosto is a full-bodied red dessert wine from the Valpolicella region. Crafted using traditional grape varieties in its DOC (the disciplinare allows up to 25% of other traditional varieties such as Molinara or Oseleta), air dried in fruttaio for appassimento similar to making Amarone, then picked separately during harvest time as the local dialect word for ears (recioto in Italian) were picked off separately to produce this wine.
This wine boasts intense prune and sherry aromas with earthy mushroom notes and chocolate undertones for a unique and complex wine that pairs well with dried fruit-based desserts like figs, dates, apricots or prunes and dark chocolate.
Fortified wine contains grape brandy to increase its alcohol content. It pairs perfectly with sweet and savoury tarts such as panettone or strawberries as well as aged cheeses.
Sicily's warm and sunny climate provides ideal conditions for producing dessert wines, and lies at the center of what the British have termed "the sun belt", an area known for producing meditation wines like sherry, port and madeira.
Not too dissimilar from California and Australia, Sicily boasts its own version of dessert wine made with syrah: Kaid's Syrah Passito is honey-gold in hue with fragrant notes of peach and tropical fruits that carry through into its flavor profile on the palate.