A beginner’s guide to sticky wines

stickies wine

Jenna Meade

Posted August 17, 2021

You don’t have to be a sweet tooth to savour a decadent dessert wine.

Sweet dessert wines date back centuries, but they can be an enigma to even the most enthusiastic wine lover.

Historically considered the epitome of luxury wine, they were the hardest to make and reserved only for royalty and upper classes.

But stickies - the nickname Australians give to sweet dessert wines - are making a mouthwatering comeback and gaining traction on both menus and dinner tables. And with a flavour profile for every palate, there’s no sweet tooth required.

We asked RACV Club sommelier Christian Maier to guide us through the world of stickies - and steer us in the right direction when it comes to both sipping and storing the sweet drops.

Strike the right balance 

Stickies come in red, white, and rosé varietals, with moscato, riesling, muscat and port in the luscious line-up. Balancing both acidity and sweetness is essential and quite a delicate task because, in nature, it is one versus the other. “High acidity prevents the wine from cloying, making the wine less sweet, while low acidity can have a flabby effect akin to drinking liquid jam,” Maier says. He says the sweetness should never come across as sugary but rather fruit derived. Expect typical flavours from richer, riper fruits and dried fruits, as well as honey and spices. 

two glasses of rose wine next to a bottle on a slatted wooden table

Red, white, or something in the middle? Read our guide to learn more about picking the perfect sticky wine.

Fungus enhances flavour

Sure, fungus might not be the most appetising concept when it comes to wine. But for stickies, it’s a big plus for the palate. Botrytis cinerea fungus, also known as Noble Rot or sometimes simply Noble, inoculates the grapes to amplify the flavour. “This magic fungus feeds on the water resulting in concentrated sugars and acidity in the grape and is responsible for the greatest sweet wines made,” Maier explains. If you’re keen to give one a go, Maier suggests trying a bottle of De Bortoli Wine’s Noble One, which he lists as one of the best sweet wines in Australia. The vineyard started in the Riverina region in NSW, where the humidity near the Murray River helped to develop the fungus.

Pair with prowess

The rule of thumb with pairing stickies is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food. “Otherwise, the sweetness in the wine is masked, resulting in only expressing acidity,” Maier explains. Stickies high in sweetness and acidity, like a Sauternes, will go well with rich foods such as pâté, salty blue cheeses, and crème brûlée. Wines with a milder sweetness, like a riesling, are an excellent match for spicy Asian dishes. Or skip dessert altogether and make dessert wine the exclusive after-dinner delight.


two glasses of dark wine being held next to each other

Like most things, remember to enjoy sticky wine in moderation.

Sip before or after meals

Wine time depends on where you are in the world. “In France, they often offer a semi-sweet wine as an aperitif before a meal,” Maier says. “While in England, they always start dry and finish sweet, such as a port, which makes more sense to me.” Either way, pour it into a small glass and treasure it like a scotch. As stickies have a high alcohol content - generally more than 14 per cent Alcohol By Volume (ABV) - it’s best to sip and savour.

Save them for later 

Stickies can certainly benefit from cellaring. Follow the usual at-home wine storage rules: pick a dark place, set a cool and steady temperature, house corked bottles horizontally and do your regular check-ins. The length of cellaring comes down to personal taste, with many dessert wines storing well for up to 60 years. These wines can turn darker during cellaring, but this often means their flavours have evolved. If you’re unsure, Maier encourages pulling out a bottle for a taste test.