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Italian Dessert Wine

Learn about Italian dessert wine, common tasting notes, where the region is and more ...

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For this look at Italian dessert wine, we will omit sweet sparkling options like Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante, which are covered in our discussion of Italian sparkling wine. We will also pass on sweet Vermouth and Barolo Chinato, both of which more typically serve as an aperitif or an ingredient in various cocktails. The country in fact produces hundreds of different sweet wines, but we will limit our focus to the following three classics.

One of the best-known Italian dessert wines is Vin Santo (“holy water”), produced in many parts of Italy but most widely in Tuscany, where it is commonly enjoyed after a meal with a type of biscotti called cantucci. Vin Santo is a passito wine, meaning it is made from grapes that have been dried for several months before fermentation, which can last for years. Typically, a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia, Vin Santo can be made in dry or off-dry styles. But the best known versions are rich, complex and sweet, offering delectable notes of caramel, hazelnut, honey and dried apricot. Fortified examples do exist, but the finest are not fortified, coming in at 13%-14% alcohol.

Another passito Italian dessert wine option is Passito di Pantelleria, from the island of the same name. This of course is made in a similar manner as Vin Santo, although the passito juice is blended with fresh juice just before fermentation. But here the grape is Zibibbo, also known as Muscat of Alexandria. Beautifully aromatic as well as bursting with jammy flavors of figs, dates and apricots, this is lusciously sweet, and also about 14% alcohol.

Finally, we have to mention the fortified Italian dessert wine, Marsala. While commonly thought of today as a cheap cooking wine, Marsala at its best is remarkable. It is made from a variety of indigenous grapes grown near the Sicilian port city of Marsala and can be dry, semi-sweet or very sweet. The color also varies, with the three types being golden, amber and ruby – the latter actually quite rare. Another key variable is the amount of barrel aging, ranging from one year to ten. Production methods can also vary, but the most impressive types are made via a fractional blending process that is similar to the Sherry solera system. These Marsalas, especially those with five or more years in wood, offer tremendous richness and complexity to rival that of fine tawny Ports and oloroso Sherries.

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  • Donnafugata Ben Rye (375ML half-bottle) 2018  Front Label
    Donnafugata Ben Rye (375ML half-bottle) 2018
    Other Dessert from Sicily, Italy
    • D98
    • RP94
    4.8 19 Ratings
    Regular price
    Currently Unavailable $47.99
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  • Felsina Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2009  Front Label
    Felsina Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2009
    Other Dessert from Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
    • V97
    • RP96
    0.0 0 Ratings
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      Currently Unavailable $49.99
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      49 99
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    • Alessio Vermouth Chinato  Front Label
      Alessio Vermouth Chinato
      Vermouth from Italy
        0.0 0 Ratings
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      • Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (375ML half-bottle) Front Label
        Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (375ML half-bottle)
        Vermouth from Italy
        • WE95
        4.4 224 Ratings
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          Currently Unavailable $22.99
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        • Cocchi Vermouth di Torino  Front Bottle Shot
          Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
          Vermouth from Italy
            4.6 24 Ratings
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              Currently Unavailable $26.99
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              26 99
              26 99
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            • Pellegrino Dry Marsala Superiore  Front Label
              Pellegrino Dry Marsala Superiore
              Marsala from Sicily, Italy
              • WS90
              0.0 0 Ratings
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                Currently Unavailable $14.99
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                14 99
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              • Antinori Muffato (500ML) 2009  Front Label
                Antinori Muffato (500ML) 2009
                Other Dessert from Tuscany, Italy
                • RP96
                • WS91
                • W&S90
                0.0 0 Ratings
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                • Pellegrino Sweet Marsala Superiore  Front Label
                  Pellegrino Sweet Marsala Superiore
                  Marsala from Sicily, Italy
                    0.0 0 Ratings
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                    • Contratto Vermouth Rosso Front Label
                      Contratto Vermouth Rosso
                      Vermouth from Piedmont, Italy
                        4.3 31 Ratings
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                          Currently Unavailable $28.99
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                        • Mulassano Rosso Vermouth Front Bottle Shot
                          Mulassano Rosso Vermouth
                          Vermouth from Italy
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                            • Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (1 Liter) Front Label
                              Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (1 Liter)
                              Vermouth from Italy
                              • WE95
                              4.7 239 Ratings
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                              • Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso  Front Bottle Shot
                                Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso
                                Other Fortified from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
                                  0.0 0 Ratings
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                                  • Poli Gran Bassano Vermouth Rosso  Front Bottle Shot
                                    Poli Gran Bassano Vermouth Rosso
                                    Vermouth from Veneto, Italy
                                      0.0 0 Ratings
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                                      • Poli Gran Bassano Vermouth Bianco  Front Bottle Shot
                                        Poli Gran Bassano Vermouth Bianco
                                        Vermouth from Veneto, Italy
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                                          • Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2012  Front Label
                                            Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo (375ML half-bottle) 2012
                                            Other Dessert from Tuscany, Italy
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                                            • Mulassano Extra Dry Vermouth Front Bottle Shot
                                              Mulassano Extra Dry Vermouth
                                              Vermouth from Italy
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                                                • Mulassano Bianco Vermouth Front Bottle Shot
                                                  Mulassano Bianco Vermouth
                                                  Vermouth from Italy
                                                    0.0 0 Ratings
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