Sweet dessert wines are really something special, but they don’t tend to have as big of a following as some of the larger red wines do. This is probably for the best because there are very few great sweet dessert wines out there. Too many people have bad ideas when it comes to sweet wines as well, mostly because they have had bad experiences tasting low quality ‘sweet’ wines in their past. Truly great sweet wines are difficult to find because they are difficult to make. A high quality sweet wine such as Sauternes will change your outlook on sweet wines forever. Here is a rundown of how dessert winemakers make their wines so sweet.
Sweet wines require a lot of sugar, but getting sugar out of grapes is quite a difficult chore to accomplish. You might wonder then why winemakers don’t just add a big bag of sugar to their recipes. The answer is because that would be considered cheating. Adding sugar to wine is called chaptalization, and in many countries the process is actually forbidden. It is permitted in certain colder regions of the world because it can be used to strengthen the alcohol content of some wines. An example of this is Champagne. In fine dessert wines the required amounts of sugar must be pressed from actual grapes.
Fine sweet wines usually require overripe grapes. Because of this many winemakers will leave the grape on the vine as long as possible to increase its natural sugar level. The harvest times for these overripe grapes can be very late in the season. Once in the vat these wines are not fermented for dryness, which preserves a lot of their natural sugar. Some specific sweet wines even utilize a type of fungus called Botrytis to concentrate the sugars of the grape. Another technique that winemakers can use to increase the sugar levels of grapes is to completely dry them out. Getting this amount of sugar from natural grapes is what makes sweet wines so rare.
If you haven’t yet tried a high quality sweet wine, it is highly recommended that you do. A classic sweet wine can change your life. Its rarity and difficult fermenting process makes for a truly spectacular wine.