Sweet, sweet Italy – Tasting the dessert wines of Italy

The second wine tasting: The many flavours of Italy…

Well, we’ve finished our series of 10 Italian wine tastings, the last taking us on a trip to Piedmont (see our ‘A taste of Piedmont’ blog). We didn’t want it to finish there though, as we hadn’t yet explored Italy’s sweeter side… their dessert wines. Since Italy has a dessert wine to perfectly match every cheese, pudding and mood, we couldn’t miss this tasting.
This wine flight uncovered new wines and flavours for some, whilst others reconnected with familiar favourites and let us tell you… what a way to finish!



We chose five dessert wines (just enough before the sugary sips became too sweet) and asked our talented pâtissier chef, Aaron, to make three of our current desserts, each containing contrasting flavours to the next, so we could get a true sense of how these sweet wines would pair. We tried the wines both on their own and then paired them with our desserts to see how their flavours would change and what type of desserts they would pair best with.



The desserts: Chocolate & cherry, key lime pie and vanilla & pear pannacotta (then of course we found a rich dark chocolate to taste too – who needs an excuse to eat chocolate?!).

Something unusual…

How is it that dessert wines can have that much residual sugar, yet not make you feel like you’re drinking syrup straight from the bottle? Acid. We’re talking about the organic acids naturally found in wines that harmonise with the sugar, also naturally present. Wine producers can manipulate this relationship by choosing when the grapes are picked, and the winemaking process. Not only will the acid levels determine how sour or tart a wine will be, but also how long a wine will remain stable once bottled!

So… finding the perfect balance between sugar and acidity is the key to producing sensational dessert wines. We therefore decided that the best way to understand the role that acid plays within wine, especially dessert wines, we had to do an experiment.
We bought three different types of acids to try… Citric acid, Malic acid and Tartaric acid… and dissolved them in varying amounts of water, so we could get our palates to try and distinguish between different acid levels when drinking wine. To be honest, it could potentially take a few more attempts to nail this.
Oh to be a fly on the wall whilst we all tried the strongest volume… talk about a sour face.

Citric Acid:

Not to surprise you, but citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, and is naturally present in wines – though not too often. Ever sipped a glass of wine and noted a ‘fresh’ flavour? That could be the citric acid working. It also tends to compliment a specific flavour.

Malic Acid:

Found most commonly in apples and – shocker – grapes! Have you ever had a wine that tastes ‘flat’ or ‘sour’? If so, then this could be due to the levels of malic acid! Too little = flat. Too much = sour.

Tartaric Acid:

Again, naturally occurring in many fruits such as grapes, bananas and citrus. Read on if you want a very short, very basic science lesson… if a wine is chilled to below 40 degrees, then any tartaric acid remaining in the wine will bind with the potassium naturally occurring in the wine to create tartrates. These tartrates are often referred to as ‘wine diamonds’ and provide structure, balance and flavour!


On to the dessert wines that we smelled, sipped and savoured…


Dessert wine tatsing at the penventon park hotel in cornwall

Contero, Moscato d’Asti DOC 2020
Pieropan, ‘Le Colombare’ Recioto di Soave, classico DOCG 2017
Donnafugata, ‘Ben Ryé’ Passito di Pantelleria 2019
Isole e Olena, Vin Santo, del Chianti classico 2009
Corte Giara, Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG 2019


Dessert wine tatsing at the penventon park hotel in cornwall

Wine 1: Moscato d’Asti

The Contero estate of 11 hectares is one of the best producers of Moscato d’Asti and it’s easy to see why. The invigoratingly delicious bouquet that this wine gives off would make it easy to pick out blind. We identified flavours of rose petal, green grape, pear and lychee. More of an explosion of flavour. Despite its recent reputation, it was a clear favourite of the group – easy to drink without an accompanying dessert, as well as pairing perfectly with a sweet treat! No wonder why some of the most famous rappers have mentioned it in their songs, some might say it’s a … rapper’s delight.

Wine 2: Soave Classico

A very well balanced wine… just the right level of delicate sweetness offset by fresh acidity, at the moment this will definitely be one for our final wine list. With the relationship between sugar and acid working in perfect harmony, it’s no wonder that the Pieropan family have been perfecting their recipes since the 1890s. If you enjoy honeysuckle, dried apricot and almond notes, then this could be the sweet wine for you. Not to forget the gorgeous amber colour that makes you think of liquid gold! If it’s good enough for Gordon Ramsay, then it’s good enough for us.

Wine 3: Ben Ryé

The Ben Ryé was next, from the little island of Pantelleria just off the coast of Africa. It easily held up with the chocolate and cherry dessert!  Considered Donnafugata’s ‘Masterpiece’ (at least we would say so), it’s a modern take on the classic Moscato Passito. Perfectly balanced with great minerality and fresh acidity, it was complex, intense and wonderfully fresh. This did split opinions, however. Those in our group who were not regular dessert wine drinkers found it to be too sweet for them, and others chose this as their wine of the tasting. It’s for you to decide…

Wine 4: Vin Santo

Made with appassimento grapes, this aromatic wine is definitely another for the final list. Otherwise known as ‘holy wine’ – people theorising this is due to its production cycles linking to religious holidays, but we preferred the nickname to represent how god damn good it is! It’s been said that a lot of producers make a few barrels per year but tend to keep them for themselves. This makes perfect sense since the beautiful dried fruit flavours seemed like they could have gone on forever, leaving a luscious palate behind. Our bottle was 13 years old (2009) and it seems that the longer it’s bottled, the longer the chemicals have reacted with each other and created more flavours and aromas, leaving a delightfully complex wine.


Dessert wine tatsing at the penventon park hotel in cornwall

Wine 5: Valpolicella

Now, this was strange. A sweet red wine with smooth tannins. Upon first taste without any accompanying desserts, it wasn’t a fan favourite, but the second it was paired with the rich dark chocolate and the cherry and chocolate dessert…. talk about a match made in heaven. The first nose revealed blueberries, raisins and mulberries and once it had opened these aromas were joined by notes of its barrel ageing and nuances of balsamic. Stunning.


The takeaway…

We love dessert wine. Easy as that. One thing we discussed at the end was… how would these wines pair with cheese, blue cheese especially… maybe another tasting is due?



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