In my previous article, which you can find here, I explained that we call wine dry that has no detectable sugar in it. Dry wines are very much in vogue today, but historically it hasn’t always been that way. Before crystal (or granulated) sugar was readily available, grape sugars were a source of sweetness and so sweet wines became popular. In fact, sweet wines from the Tokaj region in Hungary were some of the world’s most famous wines, enjoyed in royal courts across Europe for centuries.
Some of the worlds most famous sweet wines are:
- Sauternes from France;
- Port from Portugal;
- Sherry from Spain; and
- The aforementioned Tokaj from Hungary.
Not only do Port and Sweet Sherry have high sugar levels, they also have high alcohol levels from added grape spirit which allowed then to be stable for long ship journeys without the need for refrigeration.
Contrary to popular opinion most sweet wines are not made with the addition of sugar but rather through the concentration of the natural grape sugars in the grape berry. This is done in a number of ways including:
- Allowing the grapes to stay on the vine (late harvest grapes) until the grapes shrivel concentrating the grape sugars;
- Allowing the grapes to be infected with a fungus called Botrytis, or noble rot, that extracts moisture out of the grape to concentrate the grape sugars;
- Picking the grapes and allowing them to air dry so they shrivel and concentrate the grape sugars;
- Freezing the gapes (Ice wine) and collecting the concentrated juice.
After one or more of these processes the grape juice is then extracted and fermented or added to already fermented wine to create a sweet wine.
Many of us started our wine journey with sweet wines including Crouchen Riesling and Lindermans Porphyry Blanc (or Sauternes as it was known back then), not to mention a nip or two of port or sweet sherry from our parents liquor cupboard.
Since the 1980s, these sweet wines have fallen out of favour with consumers now preferring drier wines. This also means that the sale and production of sweet wine has also fallen. This is a pity as there are some wonderful sweet wine and food pairings to be made, including Thai food where the sweetness balances well with its chilli and spices.
If you want to try some sweet wines I suggest starting with a Botrytis Riesling from Heggies in the Eden Valley or Tim Adams in the Claire Valley. And I’ll be interested to hear what you think of them.
If you love these explanations, you will love Wine Matchmaker’s events where I share lots of interesting and practical wine education. Head over to our events page for more information. I am also happy to tailor corporate events to you needs and budget – perhaps like an exploration of sweet wines with your clients or team. Feel free to reach out to me here for an initial discussion.