Sweet Wine: The Top 6 Sweet Wines in New Zealand

8 min read

Sweet wines deserve a lot more love than they get. People often make the mistake of thinking sweet wine is too sweet, or even that they contain added sugar. In reality, sweet wines are really delicious — they’re fantastic before dinner, to drink with dinner or to even have as a dessert. 

We’re going to give you a quick rundown of the most popular sweet wines. And, we’ll suggest some foods that match perfectly with each wine. 

We reckon when you get to know these little beauties you’re bound to agree — these wines are ‘sweet as!’

In this article, we’ll be talking about Port, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Moscato, White Port and Sherry

But first, here’s a quick explanation of what makes sweet wine so sweet.

What makes Sweet Wines Sweet?

Sweetness is really important for a wine’s structure. 

A wine’s sweetness is measured by its residual sugar — that’s just a fancy way of saying the sugar that’s leftover at the end of the fermentation process. Wines with more than 30 grams of residual sugar per litre are said to be ‘sweet.’ 

But sometimes your senses will actually trick you into thinking a wine is sweeter than it is. Some grape varieties, like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Moscato smell sweeter and more flowery. These semi-sweet wines are called aromatics.

You can find out more about wine structure in our handy wine tasting guide

How Sweet Wines are made

The sugar in sweet wine hasn’t been added — it just comes from super sweet grapes. But there are a number of tricks that winemakers use to make wine even sweeter. 

Winemakers grab the sweetest grapes they can get their hands on to make sweet wine. Late harvest wines are made from grapes that have been left on the vine so long they almost look like raisins. This really concentrates the sugars in the wine. 

There is also a special spore that loves hanging out on grapes, with the weirdly disgusting name of Noble Rot. This spore changes the flavour of the wine, making it taste of honey, ginger and saffron.  

Another way of making sweet wine is to use frozen grapes. The result is called ice wine. Winemakers in colder regions wait until ripe grapes are frozen on the vines — at around -10°C. Then they handpick them, usually in the middle of the night. The grapes must be pressed straight away, while still frozen. The whole point of this madness is to scoop out the frozen ice — which is just water. What’s left behind is a very concentrated and delicious juice. If you’re thinking that all this carry-on must make ice wines crazy expensive, then you’d be right.

The final way of making sweet wine is to fortify it.  Fortified wines are made by adding grape brandy to the wine to stop fermentation before all the sugar gets gobbled up. Be warned — fortified wines have a much higher alcohol content.

So, now you’ve got a basic idea of how it all works, let’s get a taste of the most popular sweet wines.

Sweet Red Wines


The most popular sweet red wine consumed in New Zealand is Port

Port wines are named after their country of origin — Portugal. 

Ports are full-bodied, rich and delicious. They are the sweetest red wines, and also the most alcoholic. Port is usually served after a meal, but it’s also a great warming drink to share with friends around an outdoor fireplace.

Port is made by adding distilled grape spirit to the wine, which stops fermentation and kills all the yeast. That leaves a sweet, fruity and very sippable wine.

Ruby Port really is the colour of rubies.  You’ll probably taste blackberries, plums, raspberries and cloves, with maybe a hint of chocolate. Because it isn’t aged for as long, Ruby Port tends to be more affordable. 

Vintage Port is just a special type of Ruby Port. Instead of being made from a blend of wines from different years, Vintage Port comes from just one year — a year that was fantastic enough to be declared a vintage. Vintage Ports will always state the year on the label — and they always cost a bit more.

Tawny Port is a copper brown colour and tends to be more syrupy in texture. This wine is made in the same way as Ruby Port, but it’s aged for longer in wood barrels. Tawny Port tastes like caramel, dried sultana fruit and nuts, with a hint of spice. 

Food that goes well with Port 

Although Port is often drunk on its own, it’s fantastic with rich chocolate cake or salted caramel desserts. Blue cheese is a classic pairing, but salty hard cheeses work well too. 

You can also reduce Port to make a fantastic Port wine sauce to serve with red meat. 

Sweet White Wines

Late Harvest Rieslings

Pronounced: Reese-ling

Rieslings can be a bit confusing, because they come in many different styles, from bone dry to very sweet. 

Late Harvest Rieslings are delicious semi-sweet wines. They have a sweet honey taste with peachy stone fruit flavours. These wines smell like flower petals. 

Food that goes well with Sweet Rieslings

Sweet Rieslings are the perfect partner to lemony desserts or caramelised pear tarts. Salty blue cheeses, aged Gouda and Feta are all brilliant matches.


Pronounced: Ga-vertz-trah-mee-ner,

Gewürztraminer is a delicious perfumed wine with intense flavours. These semi-sweet white wines have a very distinctive flavour. The back of the bottle might mention black pepper, cinnamon, lychees or mangoes. 

Don’t worry if you can’t quite get your tongue around the name. It’s okay to just say ga-vertz — people will still know what you mean. 

Food that goes well with Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is great with spicy food and the perfect partner to turkey and cranberry sauce — so grab a bottle at Christmas. It goes with all sorts of fish, including salmon. 

This sweet white wine can also be served with dessert — apple pie or tropical fruit desserts are perfect. Its sweet perfume even makes it a good match for Turkish delight. Gewürztraminer is great with mild blue cheeses. If you can get hold of some quince paste or jelly, even better.


If you’re a big fan of tropical fruit flavours like ripe pear, orange blossom, and honeysuckle, you’ll probably love Moscato. 

Moscato is a very popular sweet white wine. It also has lower alcohol than other wines, making it a good choice to serve with lunch. Sparkling Moscato is fizzy, fruity and floral. You’ll also find ‘sticky’ dessert wines made from Moscato grapes. These wines are often aged in oak barrels to intensify the flavours. 

Food that goes well with Moscato 

This fruity wine goes really well with poached pears, caramelised peaches, fruit pies or buttery pastries. It’s also a great match for Asian food, especially Thai or Vietnamese. You probably want to go for lighter meats, like chicken and flaky fish.

White Port

White Port is made in the same way as Ruby Port, only from white grapes. This wine tastes of citrus, stone fruit and nuts. Sweeter styles of White Port are usually aged in oak casks, giving them richer flavours. White Port can also be mixed with tonic or lemonade for a refreshing summer drink.


Sherry is a sweet fortified wine that originates in Spain. Styles vary wildly from very dry to very sweet. Sweet sherry is often labelled Cream Sherry and is coppery amber in colour. The taste will probably remind you of hazelnuts or almonds. 

Sherry is often served in small glasses before a meal, or poured over ice. It’s also a classic ingredient in lots of cocktails. 

Food that goes well with Sherry 

Since it comes from Spain, Sherry is the perfect drink to serve with tapas. Think olives, smoked almonds and anchovies — or any delicious nibbly bits. 

Because Sherry is rich and dark, it matches perfectly with créme brulee or sticky date pudding. If you reduce it down a bit you can even pour it over ice cream to make a fancy dessert. 

Sweet Wine: Why not a little Sweetness to your life?

Choosing a sweet wine is often the way to go if you’re just getting into drinking wine. It can take people a while to get used to the taste of dry white wine. These sweet wines are delicious and lots of fun to try. That’s probably why they’re still so popular after thousands of years. 

You can learn a heap more stuff about different Sweet Wines on our website. Our wine descriptions make it super easy for you to find the perfect bottle for any occasion. 

If you need some extra help from our in-house experts, just flick us a message or give us a bell on 0800 BRINGA (0800 274 642).