A Guide to Sweet Italian Dessert Wines to Enjoy this Christmas
Christmas is just a month away and the weeks running up to the holiday are usually busy with festive get-togethers and events and often fly by. It’s time to start planning Christmas! You might have already sorted some of the presents for your family and loved ones but what’s even more important for many of us is the food and drink. Food and drink are a huge part of most celebrations and Christmas is a time to make it extra special.
In this article we are going to focus on Italian dessert wine together with Independent Wine. Put that Port back on the shelf and explore some new, more exciting options this Christmas. There’s so much more to dessert wine than what we’re used to here in the U.K.
Did you know that Italy offers the world’s largest variety of sweet wines? They have a wide range of options for dessert wines to suit different tastes and to go with different foods. Many of these Italian dessert wines are famous around the world. We’ll have a look at some here today.
Let’s start in Tuscany with Vin Santo which is the signature sweet wine of the region. This wine is made in a unique way in small barrels that have been sealed with beeswax. Italian dessert wines are made using air-dried grapes (the appassimento method) which concentrates the sugars, aromas and acids in the grape, resulting in a sweeter wine. Vin Santo is also made like this to start and then there are a few distinguished differences. There’s a secret ingredient – madre which is the thick layer of lees and old Vin Santo at the bottom of the barrel which makes the wine retain its house flavour. The sealed barrels are then aged for at least 2-3 years, preferably over 5 years for the best wines.
White Vin Santo has flavours of caramelised orange, almond and ginger which is an ideal flavour mix for Christmas! It’s made with the grapes Malvasia Bianca Lunga which adds aromatic character and Trebbiano Toscano which has subtle flavours that really come out when the grapes are air dried.
The pink version of this wine, Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice, is made from Sangiovese grapes. In some weather conditions, noble rot can develop on the grape skin which makes the flavours of almond, ginger, and dried apricot stronger and more complex.
Vin Santo is available in several sweetness levels, depending on where in the region it’s made. The ones from Chianti Classico are always very sweet, dolce, as that’s the only version that’s allowed there.
Try: La Castellina “Squarcialupi” Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC 2011. A medium sweet aromatic wine with taste of caramelized lemon zest, apricots, almonds and ginger.
The grapes from the Moscato family are known for their tropical and floral flavours. There are a few famous wines from this family that we’ll have a quick look at.
Moscadello di Montalcino which is another passito wine from Tuscany. It’s made using the ancient traditions, using at least 85% Moscato Bianco. It can be made still or fizzy. It’s a rare and exclusive wine today and is only made and sold by a few wineries. Independent Wine managed to secure some bottles!
Try: CapAnna Moscadello di Montalcino DOC Vendemmia Tardiva 2017 which is a sweet Moscato wine with flavours of fresh peach, ripe pineapple, caramelised grapefruit zest and vanilla.
Moscato Bianco is the grape used in Italy’s most iconic dessert wines. After air drying, the flavours become very concentrated with intense aromas of mango, pineapple, honey and caramel. In Alto Adige, Moscato is blended with Gewürztraminer grapes for a sweet wine with fruity flavours of melon, elderflower and quince, with notes of cinnamon, dried apricots and apple cake.
Try: Kurtatsch Aruna 2017 Passito Gewürztraminer and Moscato Dessert Wine which is sweet, with rich flavours of melon, cinnamon, and apple cake.
Moscato Rosa/Rosenmuskateller passito is a rare Moscato wine that tastes like a red rose nectar. There are only 70 hectares of this grape planted across Italy, making it quite special and hard to find. The flavour profile which you can see below is perfect for Christmas!
Try: Kurtatsch Ushas 2017 Moscato Rosa Passito Dessert Wine which is a limited edition sweet wine with flavours of pomegranate, strawberry jam, and mulled wine spices.
Recioto della Valpolicella is an ancient wine with tastes of maraschino cherry and dark chocolate. It’s made from three red grapes (Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella) and this combination is known as the Valpolicella formula. 25% of other grapes can be used but only 65% of the best grapes can be used, making this a prized wine. The grapes are air dried in fruttaio, then pressed and fermented until the desired alcohol is reached, then it’s chilled to stop the fermentation. This leaves a lot of unfermented sugar and this is what makes the texture of Recioto so luscious.
Try: Rubinelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013 which is a sweet wine made from grapes dried in a volcanic cave, with flavours of maraschino cherry, chocolate brownie and vanilla.
All of the examples above are available from Independent Wine. As always, you can enjoy free next day delivery to Mainland U.K., free wine gift wrapping and 100% recyclable, sustainable and plastic-free packaging when buying wine from Independent Wine.