how sweet wines differ from each other? (Discover sweet wines part 2)
HOW SWEET WINES DIFFER FROM EACH OTHER?
How a wine was made can predict the sweetness of the final bottling. Sweet wines are either fermented directly from grapes with concentrated juice, like with late-harvest wines, or by halting an ongoing fermentation with alcohol, temperature or sulfites, or in some cases, adding a sweet agent after fermentation. They can be made from any variety in a location suitable for growing.
Let's discover with WeWine how sweet wines are produced in different ways!
1. Late-harvest grapes
Unfortified wines, sometimes called “naturally sweet,” come from grapes that have been concentrated in some way. This could mean grapes harvested late in the season, a style common to cooler climates. It can also be achieved from a period of drying after harvest, or inoculating the fruit with fungus like Botrytis cinerea, a k a “noble rot.”
Whatever the technique, the goal is to reduce water content, which amplifies the grape’s remaining sugar, acid and flavor. The more water you let dry out, the more intense the wine.
Passito is a name of a type of wine made from method appasimento.
Some grapes are picked at harvest time, but left to dry, typically on mats, from a few weeks to a few months. This ensures high acidity and supervised drying. In Italy, this style of winemaking is called passito. It’s used to make both dry and sweet Amarone.
Other styles simply demand waiting until all berries on the vine resemble raisins at which point they’re picked meticulously by hand and pressed.
Waiting for grapes to get to this state is tricky. If rain and hail aren’t a threat, there’s always the risk of unfriendly rot or even birds that will eat your crop. In wineries where sweet wine is not the lone style produced, vintners often must weigh potential losses when they decide whether to create a sweet or dry wine.
When sugar levels get too high, it also inhibits the yeast. In basic fermentation, yeast consumes sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. When there’s too much sugar, the yeast becomes overnourished and can’t do their job, creating another potential risk when producing wines in this style.
3. Botrytized wines
Wines made from grapes infected by noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea, are among the most famous and expensive in the world. This method was said to be first practiced in the Tokaj region of Hungary before it spread to Germany and France, though it’s limited to regions where the climate and fog can trigger the rot.
These wines can only be made during the best vintages, and noble rot is not always guaranteed to take hold on the crop.
4. Ice wine
Ice wine is a method where grapes are picked when the weather becomes cold enough for them to freeze. The grapes must also be pressed while frozen. This yields a more concentrated juice by leaving much of the water behind, still frozen in the grape. This method originated in Germany, where it’s called eiswein. It’s also become particularly popular in Ontario, where it’s trademarked as icewine, generally made from Riesling, Vidal Blanc and even a unique red variation based on Cabernet Franc.
5. Fortified sweet wine
Since yeast dies at alcohol levels greater than 18%, fortifying a wine to that degree or higher is an effective way to stop fermentation and retain any leftover sugar. Wines like Port, Madeira, and France’s vin doux naturel (VDN) are all produced this way. An entry-level bottle produced in this style costs less typically than a naturally sweet wine.
One technique to create fortified wine is by using a mutage, or unfermented grape juice blended with a neutral spirit, and mixing it with the fermenting wine in order to raise alcohol levels and stop the yeast. Mutage can even be consumed on its own, often with brandy being used as a base, more commonly called mistelle. While not technically a wine, mistelle can have similar aging potential and drink like a fortified wine.
Let's explore WeWine's top sweet wines here.