The best sweet wines in Australia

Now I know what it feels like to be Honey Boo Boo.

The things we do for our readers! When Conrad and I tackled 15 bottles of sweet wine, 6 desserts and a cheese platter in one siting, well, let’s just say it was the adult equivalent Honey Boo Boo necking five Red Bulls laced with tequila and five shots of espressos; quickly followed by a Mountain Dew chaser!  Eeek! Stop the room spinning!

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Today we’re celebrating all things sweet by road testing the current trophy winning wines from the International Sweet Wine Challenge.  It’s a tough job, but we were up for the diabetes-inducing challenge.  Unfortunately Neal was unable to join us, he was skiing in Japan, drinking sake and eating wasabi flavoured Kit Kats (true story!).

The ‘International’ of this wine challenge moniker itself is a little bit misleading, as only Australian and New Zealand wines were submitted.  Next year it would be great to see our local gems battle it out with top sweet wines from Bordeaux, Icewines from Canada, Switzerland or Germany, the delicious Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines from German or even an Italian Vin Santo.  Let’s make it happen!   🙂

But I digress!  What we are left behind with is an outstanding selection of Australia’s best sweet wines and one New Zealand sticky.

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The best part about this competition however, the overall winner was also one of the cheapest wines – the 2011 Gramps Botrytis Semillon.

Not content with just tasting these winners at home in the kitchen, Conrad and I matched them against the desserts from renowned Sydney restaurant, Yellow.  Heavenly is the best way to describe these gems. The ‘Liquorice’ was genius – liquorice ice cream, liquorice sponge, with white chocolate curd , raspberry granita and dehydrated raspberries.  Also starring were the ‘Chocolate’ – a crisp dark chocolate sphere filled with macerated cherries in cherry curd and ‘Coconut’ – a semi frozen coconut mousse with compressed nectarines coated with white chocolate and mint crumb.

How are sweet wines made?

In Australia, the premier region for sweet winemaking is the Riverina in NSW.  Its climate is perfect for growing botrytis affected grapes.  If you’ve heard of this term before but have no clue what it means; read on.  Believe it or not, botrytis wines start life as rotten grapes affected by a fungal disease called Botrytis Cinerea.  This fungus weakens the grape skin and lives off the juice that is trapped inside the berry. However it doesn’t steel any of the grapes important flavour characteristics, instead it adds to them.  It steals half the moisture and leaves behind concentrated unctuous grape juice.


For the botrytis fungus to attack a vineyard certain conditions need to prevail; an initial humid weather and immediately followed by a dry spell.  The Riverina is very reliable for these conditions whereas other famous Australian regions produce these condition less frequently.

Botrytis is just one method for making sweet wines; others include late harvest (where the grapes are picked late, when they are super sweet), dried grapes (drying the grapes out once they’ve been picked to concentrate the sweet flavours) and frozen grapes (where the water inside the grapes freeze, concentrating the sweet fruit sugars which are then pressed and made into wine).


2014 International Sweet Wine of the Year and Best Mature Sweet, Semillon

2011 Gramps Botrytis Semillon (rrp$21)

Definitely worthy of the title with some lovely caramel, mango liqueur and nutty nougat flavours.  There’s even a uniquely subtle lacquered furniture polish aroma to this wine.

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Best Mature Sweet, Other Varieties ~  2011 Lillypilly Noble Blend (rrp$40)

Definitely one of our favourites – in fact better than the Gramps!  Intense fruit flavours are jam packed in this bottle, expect dried apricots, succulent pineapple and lemony meringue!

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Best Sweet Wine from Museum Class ~ 2008 De Bortoli Deen Botrytis Semillon ($11)

A cracking wine at a budget price.  Age has amplified its oak characters with some lovely truffled nuances, chestnuts and charred apricots.  Fabulous!

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Best Mature Sweet, Floral styles ~     2012 Lillypilly Noble Harvest (rrp$32)

A lovely wine with oriental frangrances of lemongrass, lychee and kaffir lime leaf.

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Best Young Sweet, Floral styles ~ 2013 Forrest Wines Noble Riesling (rrp$45 – 750 ml bottle)

Best Young Sweet, Semillon ~ 2013 Two Italian Boys, The Sticky Italian (rrp$25)

Best Young Sweet, Other Varieties ~ 2013 Foxey’s Hangout Late Harvest Pinot Gris (rrp$28)

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  1. Non-fortified wines with dessert is in the main, an abomination and should be avoided at all costs. Cheese, pork belly, foie gras yes, dessert no! NO!

    Notwithstanding the above, no benchmark Noble 1?


  2. I hate sweet wine..OK I don’t like it at all. I drink dry red or fruity reds…but all on the dry side. But I do LOVE Italian dessert wines. That does’t make any sense does it? Oh and Icewine when I get my hands on a bottle. Dangit…I like (some) sweet wine after all. Great post. Thank you


  3. Since I’m from Canada I have to say that I’m biased. BUT. Trying your suggestions sounds like a pretty good idea, too! Hope you’re all recovered from your “tasting.” Trying all those sweet wines is a hard business. 😉


  4. Wow! Don’t know if I could have done that! What about sweet wine as an aperitif? Our valley is known for some of its sweeter wines including both red and white muscadels. Also, a local winery makes a very light, not too sickly dessert wine with Nouvelle…


  5. We do a lovely Dessert Riesling with our grapes in our own Tarzali brand. I love how the wine tastes even better when matched with food. I was also fortunate to taste a few of The Italian Boys wines when we were at The Williamstown Wine Festival a few months back and they were very nice indeed.


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