Spanish dessert wines have been making their way back into the spotlight. Along with celebrated sherry, Spain offers a variety of sweet wines from all corners of the country.
Best enjoyed with savory end-of-meal dishes like cheese boards or even as desserts themselves, a glass of sweet wine from Spain is perfect all year round. And because most are only truly well known within Spain, these bottles tend to offer both quality and exceptional value.
The three standout grapes used in Spanish sweet wines are Palomino, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Many regions fortify their wines and use botrytis or even grape freezing to preserve the fruit’s natural sweetness. In the case of sherry and some other regions, the solera system is also often used for aging and creating a consistent taste that is the culmination of countless vintages. Dessert wines tend to have a fuller mouthfeel due to the additional sugar content and range from notes of nuttiness to candied fruit flavors.
So where should you go for Spain’s best sweet and dessert wine? Here are a few hints on where to look:
Located in the southeast of Spain close to Gibraltar, Málaga’s fortified sweet wines were originally used in Catholic religious rites and have been enjoying a renaissance due to the recent increased interest in sweet and dessert wines. While there are only sixteen producers in the area, these wines are considered among some of the top sweet wines in Spain. Málaga sweet wines are made with Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes which are planted close to the ground and on vertiginous slopes. The sweetness in these expressions is achieved through botrytis or by drying/freezing grapes to concentrate their natural sugars. Top producers include Molino Real.
It is impossible to speak about Spanish sweet wine without mentioning sherry. While sherry does come in dry styles as well, its sweet varieties, like PX and Moscatel (named after the grapes used) are some of the most famous Spanish sweet wines worldwide. They’re generally made by letting the grapes raisinate after harvest and then used in the solera system to create a consistent, high quality flavor. Located in Jerez in the southwest tip of Spain, the ‘Sherry Triangle’ is made up of three historical towns—Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda—which have been making wine for over 3000 years. Top producers to keep an eye out for include Lustau, Harvey’s, and Gonzales Byass.
Priorat and Montsant
Situated outside of Barcelona in Catalonia, Priorat and Montsant’s sweet wines are generally red dessert wines made from Garnacha and Cariñena (other Spanish sweet wine regions generally use white grapes). These bold wines are full bodied—and are giving Port a run for its money. Top Priorat producers include Odysseus and Costers del Siurana, while one of Montsant’s top sweet wine producers is Capçanes.
While Navarre is known for its rosé and dry red wines, this northern Spanish region started dabbling in producing sweet wines from the Moscatel de Grano Menudo grape in the 1980’s. Since then, they have refined the process and are making high quality sweet wines with full mouthfeel and a vibrant modern style. Top producers include Ochoa and Blue.