How Sweet Wine is Made
One of three ways:
1. Stop fermentation
- All the sugar in the wine is not fermented into alcohol, fermentation can be stopped with a few different techniques.
- Sometimes this is achieved by adding more alcohol (a neutral spirit) to stop fermentation, these are fortified wines. Some fortified wines include: port and fortified Muscat.
- Another way of stopping fermentation is by filtering out the yeast in the wine, without yeast, fermentation cannot continue.
2. Adding a sweet component
- Sometimes unfermented grape juice is added to the final wine to increase sweetness.
- This is common with sherry and sweet German wines, in Germany the sweet component is called the "sussreserve."
3. Concentrated grape sugars
- Grape sugars can be concentrated in a few ways to result in a sweeter final wine.
- One way is by drying the grapes, either on the vine or after harvest. Drying the grapes decreases water content, leaving high sugar levels.
- Another way is through noble rot ("botrytis") which punctures the grape skins, causing them to shrivel and water to evaporate. This is common in the classic sweet wines of the world, especially in Germany, France, and Hungary.
- A final way of concentrating grape sugars is freezing the grapes. When the water in grapes freezes, it leaves sugar and flavor compounds. This is how famous German Eiswein are made, as well as Icewine in other parts of the world.
Moscato is one of the fastest growing wine categories in the United States. Moscato, or Muscat, actually refers to a family of grape varieties with one major quality in common: an intense grapey flavor.
The two most common varieties of Muscat grapes make very similar wines: Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains (the most famous) and Muscat of Alexandria. These are used to make Italy's famous Moscato d'Astis and Asti, as well as Moscatel in Spain and Portugal. The "Moscato" seen on shelves at liquor stores will be made with one of grapes from the Muscat family.
At it's best, Moscato has complex, full aromas include grape, citrus, peach, apricot, and floral notes. It is best consumed when it is youthful, fruity, and fresh, on it's own as an aperitif or with any dessert, especially fruit based dishes.
There are many other delicious dessert wines available, too. Some of the most famous include:
- Sauternes (France): Some of the most famous, and most expensive, dessert wines available. Characterized by a rich sweetness balanced by lively acidity.
- Riesling (Germany): Many Rieslings are made in a sweet, dessert style with higher residual sugar. Look for those labeled Spatlese, Auslese, and Eiswein, or the rare Beerenauslese and Trokenbeerenauslese.
- Icewine (Canada): Canada is becoming famous for is Icewine dessert wines made with frozen Riesling and Vidal grapes.
- Muscat (France, Spain, Portugal): Aside from popular Moscatos, Muscat is used to make rich, delicious dessert wines in many European regions. Look for Moscatels, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and vins doux naturals.
- Tokaji (Hungary): One of the oldest dessert wines in the world, Tokaji was refered to by France's Louis XIV as "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum"--"Wine of Kings, King of Wines."
Other Sweet Wines
Sweet reds are also gaining popularity. Their light, fruity style is the perfect introduction to red wines. Look for labels that specifically note "Sweet Red," as well as red wines like Lambrusco.
Wines made from other fruits like apples, plums, or strawberries are also available. They are a nice break from traditional table wines and can make for a fun alternative for parties and dinners.
Chocolate wines are also growing in popularity. Taking a page from chocolate and wine pairings, many winemakers have added chocolate to their wines to create a unique, rich dessert wine. While some wines are made in a port style with a dark chocolate infusion, others add a cream-based chocolate blend to either red or white wine, similar to a cream liqueur, but with chocolate and wine!