Hands up all those who, in a room full of wine drinkers, would declare a preference for the sweet stuff. Unless you are among aficionados, or brave souls indeed, it is a fair bet you will not be bowled over in the rush. According to those in the know, however, the oft-heard confession, 'I don't like sweet wines', robs the majority of much wine-drinking pleasure. Of course, 'stickies', as dessert wines are affectionately known, are not intended to be consumed in the quantities of either red or white wines. However, a small glass at the end of a meal can make for a delectable treat. 'Consumers are unfortunately conditioned to think that sweet equals low quality, and so who but the most thick-skinned would be prepared to proudly order a sweet wine,' says Simon Tam, director of the International Wine Centre. What is interesting, he adds, is that the best wines in the world are both fruity sweet and sometimes sugar sweet (as in the case of dessert wines). 'Sweet wines are often in the too-hard basket because consumers cannot imagine how to consume something that is so intense and concentrated in the same quantity and manner as, say, a big glass of chardonnay,' Tam says. 'Consumer demands drive supply and if the wine merchants themselves have the same thoughts, then they are unlikely to promote and popularise sweet wines.' Lillian Haynes, managing director of Wine'N'Things, agrees that dessert wines suffer from an image problem. 'Dessert wine is my favourite after-dinner drink but it is under-sold here. It's not generally available and the quantity is usually limited.' Drinking dessert wine is not an established habit in this society. It is more expensive by comparison, and many restaurants do not sell it by the glass. At the same time, Ms Haynes says, dessert wine completes the drinking cycle at a dinner. 'It complements dessert. It's a total contrast to white or red wines and offers a totally different pleasure. It is not supposed to be consumed in volume but is for drinkers to appreciate the quality and taste.' Mr Tam says that learning to enjoy sweet wine is relatively easy, since just about all of us would naturally prefer the pleasant, 'warm and fuzzy' feelings of sugar rather than sharpness in acidity, unpleasant bitterness or extreme temperatures. A good way to start is to set up sweet wine in a practical way, served with a soft, semi-matured cheese such as brie or camembert - not necessarily at the end of a meal, but just as 'munchies' when friends drop in. Mr Tam says that such a match will make for 'a sensational partnership'. Ms Haynes offers two recommendations to get the ball rolling, the first being the gold medal-winning Villiera Inspiration Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2000 from South Africa ($114 for 375ml). It has a brilliant golden appearance, and is intensely fragrant with hints of honey, raisins, marmalade and nuts. On the palate it is rich and sweet, but with sufficient acid to balance so it lingers forever. Her other choice is De Martino Noble Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2001 from Maypop Valley, Chile ($80 for 375ml). The wine's golden colour and stunning bouquet of peach, papaya and honey provides tropical appeal. It is perfectly balanced and smooth on the palate. It is unctuous and rich with firm acidity, giving it a refreshing edge. It not only complements desserts but also foie gras and blue cheeses. Drack Mung, operations manager at Watson's Wine Cellar, says you need not spend a fortune to enjoy a good dessert wine. While prices vary enormously - up to $5,000 for a Chateau d'Yquem from Bordeaux, one of the most expensive dessert wines in the world - the more reasonably-priced choices from Australia will suit most people's needs. He recommends the D'Arenberg Noble Riesling from South Australia, at $200 a half-bottle. Annette Pocklington, general manager of Kedington Wines, recommends a Santa Rita Late Harvest Semillon 1999 vintage from Chile. It is fairly light dessert wine, without a cloying, sticky sweetness, and retails at $98 for 375ml. A top-notch dessert wine from South Africa is the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 97 vintage, a 'quite remarkable' Cape wine that is not botrytised, allowing it to have its own unique complexity ($320 for 500ml). Another option, from Australia, is the slightly lighter Woodstock Botrytis 99 vintage from McLaren Vale. Comprising 75 per cent riesling, 15 per cent chenin blanc and 10 per cent frontignac, this light golden wine is sweet on the palate with a clean, fresh finish ($120 for 375ml). A sweet little number from Hungary is one of the recommendations from Helen Richards, assistant brand manager and sales development executive at Maxxium China. From one of the unique, classic wine areas of the world, Royal Tokaji Aszu Blue Label 1996 is a golden yellow tokay with a pronounced appley nose. It is a five-puttonyos wine, indicating its sweetness. Full bodied but not heavy, with a good acidity and finish, it sells for $278 (500ml). Five puttonyos (literally meaning the number of baskets of grapes that go into making one cask of Tokay) indicates the sweetness of this rich dessert wine. The Chateau Filhot 1997/98 White Bordeaux (France) is a pale lemon yellow (Sauternes), the nose having apricot and honey sweetness but with little evidence of botrytis. A very clean and refreshing style at $425 for 750ml. Another French offering, from one of the oldest family-owned firms in the Rhone Valley, is Muscat Beaumes de Venise 2000/01 - Paul Jaboulet-Aine ($263 for 750ml). Intensely perfumed, 100 per cent muscat from vineyards around the hilly southern Rhone town of Beaumes de Venise, with the nose and taste of apricots and peaches, this wine has an appealing balance of acid and fruit and should be consumed cold and young, either as an aperitif or as a dessert wine. Because of its high alcohol content, Jaboulet's Beaumes de Venise can last up to two weeks, refrigerated, once it has been opened. Finally, from Italy comes the Muffato Della Sala 1997/99 - Antinori Castello Della Sala Estate ($238 for 500ml). Medium-gold colour with peachy-honey aromas, this rich dessert wine is fresh and well-balanced, with great elegance and complexity. The wine has an extraordinary freshness but at the same time is rich and velvety on the palate because of the naturally elevated sugar content. The main grape varieties used are sauvignon bianco, grechetto, traminer and riesling.