SWEET WINES FOR BEGINNERS
When thinking about fine wine, the sweetness is not the first attribute that beginning wine drinkers picture. Some of the finest wines in the world, however, fall under the “sweet” category. With names like Reisling, Port and Muscato, sweet wine is world-renowned.
Sweet wines are gaining popularity throughout the world, particularly in North America. Many sweet wine types mean that the market for them is continually expanding. As well, sweet wine is not limited to just red wine or white wine as there are both sweet red wines and sweet white wines.
The process for making sweet wine varies, but with improving technology, winemakers can manipulate every stage of the grape growing process. Typically, sweet wine grapes stay on the vine longer, allowing more water to evaporate but keeping the same sugar content.
Earlier harvesting techniques, however, are allowing grapes to retain more flavor and less alcohol. Whether these grapes come off the vine later or earlier is not as much of a factor compared with how long they are left to ferment once pressed.
This handy chart outlines how much sugar you might expect to find within a glass of sweet wine. Although as little as 18g/L of sugar can constitute a sweet wine, many recognize 35g/L as the minimum amount of sugar required to be an official sweet wine.
HOW IS SWEET WINE MADE?
The process for making a sweet wine can vary widely. There are, however, a few general methods that growers prefer when perfecting their sweet wine.
Typically, a grape that will find its way into a bottle of sweet wine ripens on the vine longer than normal. Often referred to as “late harvest,” these grapes lose more water if left on the vine longer. Picture a fruit tree whose fruit remains on the tree. The fruit gets soft and becomes attractive to birds and other animals because of its sweetness.
The same thing applies to grapes left to sit on vines. The summer sun drastically reduces water levels within the fruit. The same amount of sugar, however, remains in the fruit. The result is a grape that has a much higher sugar content than a grape harvested for a dry wine.
Another popular method for creating sweet wines is picking the grapes and then letting them ripen off the vine. Typically, this method results in a sweeter wine, as the water evaporates more quickly than it would in grapes still on the vine.
Lastly, many winemakers prefer to take regular grapes used for dry wine and interrupt the fermentation process. Removing the yeast before it eats up all the sugar in the grapes creates sweet wine. Many popular sweet wines such as Muscato use this technique.
TYPES OF SWEET WINE
There are many types of sweet wine. With no definitive scale as to what constitutes the upper and lower levels of sweetness in sweet wine, there is an abundance of options for buyers. As well, winemakers do not like to include detailed analysis of their wines, making classification all the more difficult. There are, however, several world-renowned types of sweet wine.
Riesling is a type of grape from Germany that is now one of the most popular in the world. A popular misconception among beginning wine connoisseurs is that a type of grape can be only dry or sweet. This is false, and the Riesling grape proves this.
Grapes classified as Riesling are white. In wine parlance, this means that Riesling grapes are actually green. Once they are dried and processed, they become less green and more white—hence the term “white wine.”
Although typically known as a sweeter wine, some of the most popular Rieslings today are dry. These grapes do, however, make excellent, moderately sweet wines. Grown throughout the world, Rieslings are truly world-class white wines.
Native to Northern Italy, this grape produces a very sweet wine that often pairs with desserts. Confusingly, Muscato comes in several varieties such as pink, white and red. Grape varieties do come in different colors, allowing for unique tastes within a grape profile.
This sweet wine typically comes with less alcohol—sometimes as low as 5.5 percent—than a typical bottle of dry wine. With such a low alcohol content, the amount of sugar rises significantly.
With so many different varieties of Muscato grape, it is inevitable that many regions throughout the world produce Muscato wines. The Italian versions, however, are among the best in the world.
BUYING SWEET WINE
Buying sweet wine is often an overwhelming process for many people. With so many varieties to choose from, a buyer should first consider how they intend to pair their sweet wine. Depending on what you want to drink the sweet wine with, you might opt for a different level of sweetness.
Sweet wines vary greatly in terms of alcohol content. Many feature lower alcohol levels. This is not always indicative of how sweet the wines will be, though. For beginning wine drinkers, subtle sweet wines are an excellent way to get to know wine. They are sweet enough for a beginning drinker but also closely resemble drier wines.
Those looking to pair sweet wines with dessert should look into wines containing higher sugar contents such as Muscato or Port wines. These are red and white sweet wines, and one color is not associated with greater sweetness.
HOW TO DRINK SWEET WINE
Most wines taste best when chilled. Sweet wines are no exception. As a rule of thumb, most wines achieve a full body in the neighborhood of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Even higher-sugar sweet wines such as Ports are ideal at slightly less than room temperature.
Sweet wines are not just for dessert. Lower-sugar sweet wines are excellent with cheese, meats or on their own. Wines with a higher sugar content may be too sweet to pair with desserts. In this case, many choose to indulge in, say, Port wines on their own.