Sweet Wines from Italy Made With Red Grapes

Occhio di Pernice - Poggio Bonelli

I confess, I have always been a sweet wine lover. I almost never pair the wines with a dessert but usually just sip them as my dessert. I also have to admit, that when I think of sweet wines, especially from Italy, my mind always went to wines made with white grapes rather than red ones. I had a lot to learn and over the years I have developed a passion not just for sweet wines but for those made from red grapes. I can’t remember if the first one I tasted was Occhio di Pernice made from Sangiovese in Tuscany or if it was the Passito from Antonelli made with Sagrantino. Occhio di Pernice is a real gem. This unbelievable Vin Santo made from 95% Sangiovese is one of those products you get to try just a few times in your life. I personally have only had the pleasure of trying three of them from Avignonesi, Crociani and Poggio Bonelli. The grapes spend four months naturally drying on mats called “stuoie” before being pressed into the luxurious liquid that is this ruby red colored wine. It is a complex and layered treat on your palate and I for one, could use some right now in the middle of this Friday afternoon. The average vine age of the grapes used to make this wine is 20/25 years. This wine was a 2006 release.


The Sagrantino from Antonelli is made in Montefalco in Umbria. Initially it was considered a holy wine destined for consumption during the Christian festivals.
The grapes are picked at the end of September, placed in crates in single layers. The bunches most suited for drying are specially selected. They spend two months in these crates. The spend time fermenting on the skins and then in 25 hL oak barrels for 12 months. The wine settles in glass lined cement vats for 18 months; bottle ageing for 12 months.

However, central Italy is not the only area to have amazing sweet wines made from red grapes. I also have had incredible passito made from Primitivo.


Gianfranco Fino’s Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale D.O.C.G is fantastic. I loved it. He has only has made this wine twice since 2004. According to Fino, he only makes it in perfect years, 2008 and 2012. The grapes are allowed to dried on the vine, then are hand picked and put into plastic crates to be transported to the winery. The grapes macerate for two weeks on their skins in large wood barrels. Pumping over by hand to break up the cap happens a few time a day. Thw wine is the put into French barriques where they spend one year and one in the bottle before being released into the market. It was deep ruby red in color, and had a rich and sweet bouquet of floral notes, herbs, nuts and fruit. It also had the minerality and acidity I found in the Primitivo di Manduria D.O.C. The wine was balanced and harmonious, never over the top, and had a long beautiful finish of fine tannins and chocolate.


The next wine is from the Veneto in North-eastern Italy and is called Recioto della Valpolicella. I had this one from the Tedeschi winery at a tasting last week. It’s made from a host of indigenous varietals: 30% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 30% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella. The grapes dry in what they call a
fruit storage structure under controlled humidity for four months. The wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation and maceration for 30 days/temperature 15° C. The fermentation stops naturally leaving residual sugar in the wine. It then ages for
two years in slavonian oak barrels. It was beautiful, balanced and elegant with minerality, blueberry and oak undertones.

There are many other sweet red wines, some versions of Lambrusco as well as Brachetto d’Acqui. One of the other bloggers is discussing this grape.

There are surely some wines that I missed but these four I have tried and really found memorable. I look forward to our discussion later this morning.

We hope you will either join or follow our twitter chat on Saturday. All of the posts will be up by Saturday morning and maybe a few other travelers will join as we travel around Italy for the monthly #ItalianFWT live twitter chat @11am EST.

Jen from Vino Travels features Passito from Pantelleria

Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla features “From Start to Finish with Brachetto d’Acqui”

Susannah of Avvinare features Sweet Wines from Italy Made With Red Grapes.

Gwendolyn of Art Predator features Passito Dessert Wine by Anselmi: No Other Dessert Needed!

Jeff of Foodwineclick features “The Sordid Tale of Marsala Wine”


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