Popular Dessert Wine Styles
A meal without a dessert to sign off with is never considered complete. If the sweet delicacies that a patisserie chef creates isn’t your cup of tea, allow us to introduce you to an equally potent replacement, better known as dessert wines.
Different countries have different norms based on which a wine may or may not be a dessert wine. The final decision is based on the amount of residual sugar in the wines . Any wine with more than 50gm of sugar per liter is a sweet wine, this figure can go up to 100-150 gm/liter in a Sauternes or 450 gm/liter in a Tokaji. Following are some of the popular dessert wine categories:
It is an interesting process where the grapes are allowed to be frozen before they are harvested. The water molecules are frozen leaving concentrated sugars in the berries to be extracted. This does not happen every year, only when the temperatures drop dramatically. Canada and Germany are 2 nations where you get this extreme climate; they are also the world’s largest producers of the wine.
The entire extraction process has to be conducted while the berries are still frozen; the resulting extract is very small, one of the reasons Ice wines are expensive. Because these wines are frozen before Noble Rot (keep reading to know more) sets in, despite being honey like sweet the wines also have acidity and freshness. Riesling is the most popular grape varietal for Ice wines, but Vidal and Cabernet Franc are also used and experiments with other grapes are also on going.
This is a technique where the grapes are laid out on straw mats and left out in the sun to dry out before they are crushed. This process is called appassimento from which the name Passito is derived, these wines are also known as ‘straw mat’ wines. Water content of the grapes evaporates due to the drying out leaving only sugar and flavor rich berries. The aim is similar to that of Ice wine except the process used is completely opposite.
Passito wines are made mostly in the Mediterranean region like Italy, Greece, some areas of France, Germany and Austria. In Italy, the technique is used to make different wines, Vin Santo are wines made of Trebbiano and Malvasia, Recioto is used only in the Valpolicella region, Passito can be used for any grape; Greeks straw wines are also known as Vinsanto while the French create Vin de Paille in the Jura region. Muscat grapes are commonly used for these wines. The wines tend to be rich, bold with exaggerated fruity nose and palate.
You have definitely heard of a Late Harvest; Indian Late Harvest Chenin Blanc was quite the rage couple of years ago and still is the favorite choice for novice wine drinkers. Again this is a self explanatory name, where the grapes are left on the vine for a while longer and are harvested later than usual. This is done so that the grapes can ripen a little more, increasing the sugar content in the fruit.
Noble Rot is a layman term for the disease Botrytis cinerea which affects ripe grapes in moist and damp conditions. If the weather dries out, the disease leaves the grapes semi dry or half raisined, which means with more sugar content. Winemakers and growers deliberately inflict the disease onto the grapes for its drying out tendencies which result is sweeter wines. Picking of Noble Rot grapes is tedious and time consuming as they need to be picked carefully by hand.
Some of the most popular dessert wines which use Noble Rot include Sauternes, Monbazillac, Cadillac from Bordeaux, France using Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, Hungarian Tokaji made using Furmint grapes and German Auselese and Kabinett wines made of Riesling.
If the weather doesn’t improve continues to be damp, noble rot then converts itself into deadly grey rot which decays the entire harvest.
Wines to which distilled spirit has been added are known as fortified wines. These are strong wines with upto 17% alcohol. Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala are the best known fortified wine. (To know more about fortified wines click here)
Dessert wines tend to be higher in alcohol compared to other wines and accordingly should be consumed with care. They are heavy, rich with powerful fruit forward nose and palate. These wines aren’t meant for guzzling, they are best enjoyed in small serving and cherished the way you would your favorite single malt.
Featured Image: Chateau de Monbazillac, makers of Monbazillac dessert wines in Bergerac, Bordeaux.