So now, we’re taking a look at sweet wines - a perhaps under-appreciated area of the wine world.
It’s easy to be dismissive. After all, we don’t all have a sweet tooth, right? It’s not serious. Well for one, sweet wine is delicious, diverse and fascinating in its own right. And for two… we’re not really that bothered by ‘serious’ at Humble Grape anyway.
So let’s get started, shall we!?
So what is ‘sweet wine’ exactly?
A good question, though the ground rules are pretty simple. With dry wine, all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol before you drink it. Sweet wine is made with sugar left over. Unsurprisingly, how much sugar determines how sweet it’s going to be. Not counting sherry, Port or Madeira for example, as these are wines that have been fortified further.
Surely you can just dump some extra sugar in?
Well… maybe. Normally when winemakers add sugar to fermenting wine they’re hoping to sneakily boost a lacklustre or unripe vintage – they’re hoping all that sugar will be converted into alcohol. This is called Chaptalisation, and it’s prohibited in many wine-making countries. Most places where it’s legal, require winemakers to say on the label.
So how do you make an authentic sweet wine?
Ooh, good question, with lots of fascinating answers. There are two basic ways:
Grow grapes that have sugar to spare for both sweetness and alcohol. It helps if they get a lot of exposure to sunshine so they’re extra ripe, or you could harvest very late – most of the sweet wines we have at Humble Grape are late-harvest wines.
Remove water to concentrate the sugar. In sunny climates, you can dry the grapes out before you begin making wine. In damper climates, you can use a special fungus – see below – and in cold climates, you can hope the grapes freeze while they’re ripening to make ice wine.
Ice wine? Fungus? Seriously!?
Ice wine is very cool (sorry). They tend to have great acidity to balance the sweetness, but it’s a risky proposition (letting your crops freeze isn’t normal practice, let’s be honest! Low yields can also make it an expensive venture.
Botrytis cinerea or “Noble Rot” is a fungal infection that squeezes water out of the grapes and imparts honey-like flavours. It can contribute to amazing sweet wine, but again, careful management is needed to stop the rot ruining the crop.
So what’s the best way to drink sweet wine?
Well, hey – we should all enjoy our wines however we like. There’s not a ‘proper’ way per se, but we can offer a few recommendations. We like it either as a dessert wine, or accompanying food. Our general rule is that the wine should be the sweetest thing involved – so it’s a perfect pair with fruit, pastry etc, but maybe go easy on the chocolate. We also love to pair it with something savoury and rich. Salty blue cheese? Sign us up. Pâté and sweet wine for Saturday lunch? Heaven.