Yes to a couple of good books, well-made stemware, a practical glass decanter or a custom-built cellar. No to everything else: no barware, triple-pivot corkscrews or velvet bottle cozies. No aerators or preservers. That is my advice to anyone considering buying a wine-related gift this season.

Other than something off the front of that short list, the only gift to consider offering someone who loves wine is wine. The problem is that the recipient likely knows a lot more than you do, has wines you don’t know about and generally is pretty demanding.

You could certainly find nice wines at a good shop with informed clerks. But even they may not direct you to the most obvious category of wine gifts there is, a category so obvious that too few people consider it: Wines with sweetness.

I hesitate to call them “dessert wines” because the label suggests their loftiest role is to accompany chocolate cake or pecan pie or tarte tatin. Wines with pronounced sweetness can pair well with sweet desserts, but the match is usually disappointing, akin to squirting ketchup on a tomato. The best drinks for most traditional desserts are certain coffees and teas. (A reader did once direct me to try Scotch and chocolate, though, and that’s pretty damn good.)

The wines I’m talking about are meant to be drunk by themselves, or maybe as nectar-laden counterpoint to a salty, creamy cheese. I call them wines with sweetness (WWS) because, while they contain noticeable natural sugar, sweetness is not the only note they play. A good WWS puts sweetness into the mix, along with acidity, bitterness and salt. These wines are harmonious, complex and intensely satisfying. They offer everything we come to wine for, with a focus and elevation that dry wines rarely attain.

A great WWS doesn’t come easily. The grapes used to make them are concentrated somehow – by frost, fungus, wind or sun – and so produce extremely low volumes of juice. Ice wines often require picking grapes with gloves in the winter. For wines such as the French Sauternes, Hungarian Tokaji aszú, or German “noble sweets,” whose grape concentration is affected by the botrytis cinerea fungus, extreme manual caution is necessary to avoid ruining the crop. There’s a lot of hand work with little product at the end. True labors of love, wines with sweetness produce profit for almost no one who makes them.

And they do cost quite a bit. This is one reason they are a perfect gift. While I’d never (almost never) lay down $40 for a half-bottle of wine for myself, I would gladly pay for such a bottle and give it to someone I love. And I would much rather receive such a wine than a $40 (or $80) full-size bottle of something dry and more ordinary.

A WWS will be delicious now. Stored over years, a well-made wine will gain heartbreaking levels of complexity, depth and grace. The sugars act as a natural preservative, and the wines can easily go 25 to 50 years, or more if you’re generous toward your children.

Time integrates the wines’ sweetness, situating it ever more quietly in the background as it nurtures flavors of nuts and earth to maturity. The textures of an aged WWS grow almost impossibly smooth and saturated.

Almost no one, from wine neophyte to seasoned fanatic, drinks enough or collects enough of these wines. I’ll always treasure the moment that Elisabetta Foradori told me, “Vino santo Trentino is for me the noblest, most exquisite wine in the world.” Here was one of the greatest winemakers alive, a woman who produces only dry wines, asserting that the highest expression of grapes is something that most people only think of, if at all, when they want to dip their biscotti.

For most of us, an obsession over wine’s compatibility with dinner has drastically narrowed the spectrum of pleasures we feel we may legitimately seek. Yet wines with sweetness are immediately “gettable” by everyone, because who doesn’t love something sweet?

We all do, but we have been taught to look elsewhere for it. The advent of industrial sugarcane processing allowed us to take sweetness for granted. Once sweetness could be efficiently produced on a mass scale and engineered into so many packaged foods that, at this point, sugar is a major food group, we came to simultaneously crave sweetness and feel shamed by it. The first thing a wine drinker wanting to appear serious says is, “I prefer dry wines.”

But I agree with Michael Pollan’s thesis in “The Botany of Desire,” that sweetness is the natural world’s way of getting us to do what it needs us to do. Fruits want to live, so they create sugars to convince us to help them live and keep giving us sweetness. This holy relationship between humans and plants was easier to discern before sugar (or its artificial descendants) got to be everywhere.

Sweetness used to be rare and hard won. We ought not trample over its singular contributions. There is no better time of year to restore sweetness to its rightfully high place in our estimation by offering it as a gift to someone we treasure.

I’d also argue that there is no better time to drink such wines than after a certain period of time during which one has abstained from consuming foods with sugar. Set an interval of a week or a month: no sugar, maybe no honey or dates or maple syrup either. Then try a little bit of the WWS that your sweetheart has given you and be returned to a state of rightful gratitude and wonder.

You’ve got many wines to choose from: Tokaji aszú, certain rieslings, muscat de Beaumes de Venise, late harvest zinfandel, 10- or 20-year port, Pedro Ximenez from Montilla-Moriles, vendange tardive from Alsace, vino santo Trentino, and much more. Here’s a brief list to get you started.

S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2006, $38 (750ml). Though fewer and fewer German rieslings are sweet, there can be no valuable discussion of wines with sweetness that does not include German riesling. The auslese category (part of the German “predicate” hierarchy based on grape ripeness at harvest) is a great place to start, because it’s the sweet-but-not-supersweet fence-straddler. Beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein wines usually contain “dessert-wine” levels of residual sugar.

This botrytis-tinged beauty from an outstanding producer in the Mosel is, at eight years old, a mere baby, but already mingles dried apricot, fresh apricot, pineappley tang and mineral zip to thrilling effect. Drink it now with pâté or blue cheese, or lay it down for 15 years to use as a meditative aid. A crazy bargain.

Kiralyudvar Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008, $77 (500ml). Famously called the “wine of kings, king of wines” by Louis XV, Tokaji produces the greatest botrytis-affected sweet wine in the world. (“Aszú” is Hungarian for botrytis.)

The climate and conditions in Tokaji, a region in northeastern Hungary, nurture the “noble rot” in ways unlike any other place on the planet. Botrytis concentrates the grapes, but also affects the entire fermentation process, and the supernally tangy, clean, driving, laser-etched quality of Tokaji’s sweetness is just extraordinary. A sacred balance of sweetness, richness and acidity.

Eden Heirloom Blend Ice Cider, $27 (375ml). It’s not wine, and it’s not from a classic region for WWS, but Vermont’s Eden Ice Cider Company is making world-class ciders in our neck of the woods. Similar to ice wine, however, these ciders are made from fruit that has frozen​, thereby concentrating sugars and giving the end result a flavor worth sipping slowly. Eden’s ciders have been featured in countless magazines and other media, and rightly so. This blend combines heirloom varieties such as Calville Blanc and Esopus Spitzenburg with McIntosh and Empire, for an impressively long, complex cider. There are tannins, a rich sweetness and exquisite cutting acidity. It just kind of blows you away, with a smile.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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