Anyone who has come to have an appreciation for wine has done so through accepting the differences between varietals, whether it was love at first taste or a gradually acquired taste. With newcomers, many are startled by their first sip of, say, a red wine, as they expect it to be sweet and grapey. But most red wine is anything but. So it’s not uncommon for new wine drinkers to seek a sweet wine.
How sweet wines are made.
Sweet wines keep their sugar levels for the most part. This usually means they are lower in alcohol content. Sweet wine is honey sweet containing upwards of twenty-five percent residual sugars. Residual sugar is considered to be the amount of sugar left in the wine after fermentation.
Sometimes a winemaker will let his wine ferment to higher alcohol content and then add sugar to achieve the proper level of sweetness, to cut the bitterness of the wine or to balance the acidity common in most wines. This allows for standard alcohol content of about twelve percent while offering a sweet varietal to wine drinkers. German Rieslings are perfect examples of this.
Other sweet wines are made from grapes that are left to ripen longer on the vine. They are pulled later in the harvest season, are thus called late-harvest grapes and are used to make late-harvest wines. As the grapes over-ripen, they lose water which acts to concentrate the sugars in the grape. The downside of late-harvest wines is that because there is less water in the grapes, less wine can be produced. This can make the price of a late-harvest wine expensive.
Types of Sweet Wine:
Sweet wine comes in many varieties and is manufactured across the globe. Some sweet wines have an extremely low alcohol content because fermentation was stopped early to maintain sweetness. Other times the wine is fortified with grape spirit and therefore has a higher than average alcohol content. Below is my list of various types of dessert wines found on the market today.
These are very complex and greatly acidic sweet wines manufactured in the Bordeaux region of France. They taste very sweet and taste of honey and exotic fruit. They pair well with dishes that are creamy (such as cheese or butter), salty and briny (seafood) or fruity (a fruit tart).
A famous Hungarian dessert once proclaimed to be the King of Wines by Louis XIV of France. They are produced in the Tokaji region of Hungary and Slovakia. Made with rotted grapes, they pair well with strong cheeses, foie grass, fruity desserts. Or even chocolate, cinnamon and toffee. A very similar pairing to a Sauterne wine.
Ice wine is a newcomer to the wine scene, only having been produced in the past few decades and only in Canada, Germany, and the United States. Ice wines are sweet and incredibly refreshing and crisp. They go great with strong cheeses, seafood (especially oysters) and fruit-based desserts. However, they are resilient and can go very well with Asian dishes and acidic flavors.
Sherry is a fortified wine from the Andalusia region of Spain and comes in both sweet and dry varieties. Sweet Sherry pairs very well with red meats (especially game meat or duck), cheese, and fruity desserts. It also goes extremely well with rich nutty flavors or toffee, chocolate or caramel.