A lot of people think that just because a wine is sweet it doesn’t have high alcohol content. This may be generally true, but it’s not always the case.
Just like with any wine, the alcohol content can vary greatly. Some dessert wines have as much as 20% alcohol by volume.
There are a few things that affect the alcohol content of sweet wines. The first is the type of grape used. Grapes like Riesling or Moscato tend to be on the sweeter side and have lower alcohol levels. Grapes like Zinfandel or Port have higher sugar content and thus, higher alcohol levels.
The second is the fermentation process. If a wine is fermented longer, more of the sugar will be converted to alcohol and it will have higher alcohol content.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some winemakers will add extra sugar to their wine after fermentation, which will raise the alcohol content. And, as with anything, the alcohol content is always subject to change depending on different factors.
So, if you’re looking for sweet wines with high alcohol content, you can normally trust that the following types will deliver. It’s also important to note that most of these will age very well, so don’t shy away from purchasing in bulk and storing them or seeking out older vintages.
The Top Sweet Wines With High Alcohol Content
Port wines are fortified wines made from red grapes that are grown in the Douro Valley of Portugal. These red wines are high in alcohol, with some containing up to 20% ABV. Port wines are also known for their sweet, rich flavors of cherries and berries.
Many United States wine producers have mimicked the Port style and made their own versions of the wine. These wines are typically made from Zinfandel grapes and have a similar flavor profile to Port wines.
The fortification of Port-style wines is where they get their high alcohol content and added sweetness. During the fortification process, a distilled spirit, usually brandy, is added to the wine.
This stops the fermentation process and leaves behind residual sugar, which raises the alcohol content and sweetness of the wine.
You can enjoy your Port with chocolate, nuts, or even on its own as a dessert wine. My favorite Port is the 2012 Mount Pleasant Vintage Port and I enjoy it on its own or with a nice steak dinner. Even my husband, who’s not a fan of rich reds, will enjoy this one with me!
Madeira is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
These wines are also high in alcohol, with some containing up to 20% ABV. Madeira wines are known for their sweet, rich flavor and unique oxidation process.
The oxidation process is what sets Madeira wines apart from other fortified wines, like the Port we just talked about. Wines that are destined to become Madeira are placed in heated tanks or barrels and exposed to oxygen.
This exposure to oxygen gives Madeira its unique flavor profile, which is a combination of sweet and nutty flavors.
You can enjoy your Madeira with cheese, nuts, or even on its own as a dessert wine. My favorite Madeira is the 2007 D’Oliveiras Madeira and I enjoy it on its own or with a nice plate of fruit and cheese.
Marsala is a fortified wine made from grapes that are grown in the Marsala region of Sicily, Italy. These red wines are very similar to Port, but they’re made using the in perpetuum method.
This method involves partially aging the wine in wooden barrels and then transferring it to a glass container called a carboy. The wine is then left to age for an extended period of time, which can be up to 10 years.
The interesting thing about Marsala wine is that not only can it be dry or sweet, but it can also be red or white. While many wines are named for the grape variety from which they are derived, the defining characteristic of Marsala is the process by which it’s made.
Marsala wines are typically enjoyed with food, as they are quite hearty. My favorite Marsala is the Pelligrino Superiore Reserva and I enjoy it with a nice plate of pasta.
Sauternes is a French dessert wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that are affected by noble rot.
Noble rot is a type of mold that affects the grapes and makes them shrivel up. This may sound like a bad thing, but it actually concentrates the sugars in the grapes, which results in a sweeter wine.
Sauternes wines are typically very sweet and have flavors of honey, apricots, and peaches. These wines are usually enjoyed with dessert, but they can also be enjoyed on their own.
My favorite Sauternes is the Chateau d’Yquem and I enjoy it with a nice piece of cheese or on its own as a dessert wine.
Icewine is a type of dessert wine that is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. This process concentrates the sugars in the grapes and results in a sweeter wine.
Icewine is typically made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Vidal Blanc grapes.
While Icewine can be made anywhere in the world where it gets cold enough to freeze the grapes, it is most commonly associated with Canada. In fact, the Canadian Icewine Festival is held every year in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Icewine is typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, but it can also be enjoyed on its own. My favorite Icewine is Augusta Winery’s Icewine and I enjoy it on its own or drizzled over some cake and ice cream.
I have found that Sherry is an acquired taste, and it’s still not my favorite, but many people love it.
Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown in the Jerez region of Spain. These wines are typically aged in oak barrels and can be dry or sweet.
The most common type of Sherry is the Fino, which is a dry Sherry. This Sherry is typically straw-colored and has flavors of almonds and hazelnuts.
The next most common type of Sherry is the Oloroso, which is a medium-dry Sherry. This Sherry is typically amber-colored and has flavors of raisins and spices.
However, if you’re looking for a sweet Sherry, you should try Pedro Ximenez. This Sherry is made from black grapes and is very sweet. It’s also very dark in color and has flavors of chocolate and coffee.
The really great thing about this Sherry is that it’s very naturally sweet, without the need for any added sugar.
Sherry is typically enjoyed as an aperitif, but it can also be enjoyed with food. If you’re looking for a food pairing, I recommend trying it with a nice plate of cheese and crackers.