How the world’s most famous dessert wines are made

by Feb 3, 2021News0 comments

rieslings.jpg

Dear reader,

Comfort is something we can all agree on. Think comfort food like rich pasta, splendid casseroles… Yum!

So… let’s bring comfort to the glass with dessert wines.

Dessert wines… rich, perfectly sweet – and yet achieved through careful, passionate winemaking. No, it’s not a matter of pouring sugar – even though some sweeter high-quality wines, such as with dosage, in Champagne, do it gracefully.

Late harvest, noble rot, drying grapes, frozen grapes, fortification – different techniques yield marvelous dessert wines.

Here are the practices that winemakers use to achieve perfect sweetness for the world’s most prestigious dessert wines.

Late harvest

Better late than… any other moment

The patient act of letting certain grapes on the vine to overripe, under certain conditions, is key to making sweet wines.

As these grapes are left to be picked after the general harvest period (staying until November or even early December), they increase their sugars – lowering acidity to the right touch. To this, winemakers opt not to ferment to dryness, keeping alcohol levels low.

The world’s most famous late harvests include German and French produces from grapes such as Riesling (Spätlese/Auslese), Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

Sauternes (photo by Pascal Moulin)

Sauternes (photo by Pascal Moulin)

Botrytis

The one and only noble rot

The world is made of accidental discoveries, and we are lucky that one seemingly destructive fungus is actually a wonder to make delicious sweet wines.

Botrytis cinerea, which we come to usually know as noble rot, develops well in some damp areas, growing on the skin of certain white grapes, raisining them to hyperconcentrate their sugars. Of course, yields are pretty low and good botrytized wines are quite expensive.

Look for varieties such as Riesling, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc can produce honeyed, rich sweet wines. Think Sauternes and Barsac, the wonders of Riesling’s beerenauslese such as Staffelter Hof’s and trockenbeerenauslese, Hungarian Tokaji (Furmint), Quarts de Chaume (Chenin Blanc).

Dried grapes

Raising the raisins

Another way of concentrating sugars in a natural fashion, a thousands of years-long Mediterranean tradition, is simply by drying out grapes. Yes – wine from raisins!

These “straw wines” include French Vin de Paille, Italian beauties as Vin Santo, passiti like Venetian Recioto, as well as other interesting sweet treats such as Commandaria (Cyprus) and sweeter Sherry.

Frozen grapes

Chill out – a lot.

1200px-Frozen_grapes_in_Luxembourg.jpg

No wonder they’re called Ice wine or Eiswein. These are extremely rare wines, made only in extremely cold, frosty regions where producers have to rely on the natural hard freezing of their grapes, helping to separate their sugar from the frozen water. And they have to be pressed before they thaw. Very quick action is needed, indeed.

These usually thrive only in certain regions of Canada and Germany, under strict regulations, while other countries as Switzerland also do it. In cases of mild winters, it can get to the point of special authorizations being issued for winemakers to freeze their grapes mechanically to get the job done. Riesling, once again, is the top grape for these honeyed botrytized-style flavours.

Fortification

Taking it higher

fortified wines.jpg

Okay, we’ve already gone through the marvels of fortified wines!, but since this is another subject, these could never be left behind.

Unlike other dessert wines, sweet fortified wines become sweet thanks to an artificial intervention: cutting fermentation short with the addition of neutral grape spirits such as brandy in earlier stages of the process. Since this infusion kills the yeasts that ferment the wine before sugar is converted to alcohol, an interesting result comes: a naturally sweet wine, but with higher alcohol levels. This helps both red and white grapes to achieve the right dessert-like aspect, as the reds are generally intolerant to the abovementioned raisin-like methods.

Think Port, think Madeira, think Sherry, think Vin Doux, think Moscatel de Setúbal: despite their differences, rich, nutty and caramelized fruit flavours are seen throughout different versions of each.

* * * * *

We at Alti Wine Exchange have the utmost pleasure of offering a few options that can do wonderfully as dessert wines. Don’t miss out!

Until next time!


More you might want to read…

 

Explore More from Our Blog

Alti Wine Exchange Indexes: 2021 overview and trends for 2022

Sergey Glekov Senior financial analyst The Alti Wine Exchange Indexes are a family of equal weighted indexes which trace price performance of fine and rare wines and shows equal weighted average returns on them. The indexes are subdivided by most important wine...

They have created the perfect storm for controlled demolition of money

I’m glad to be back talking financial insights, one glass of wine at a time. First they shut down the economy, to save lives. With the closure of the economy, production ceased. To compensate for non-production or reduced production, people were paid not to lose...

Spanish Cava Sparkling Wine: What You Need to Know!

Spanish Cava Sparkling Wine: What You Need to Know!

What is a Port Wine?

DEAR READER, Let’s start February off with a simple question: Good morning, Mr. Ferdinand, What is a Port wine? -Jacques Thank you, Jacques, for your brevity. Let’s get down to business! Ports are an underrated, very particular type of wine made in the Douro Valley,...

What to Expect for Fine Wine Investments in 2022

Let’s face it, between an ongoing COVID pandemic, erratic markets, fires, floods and major humanitarian crises, 2021 was exhausting. And though none of us can be sure what to make of 2022, we can say with confidence that fine and rare wine investments are looking...

Holiday Gift Guide for Fine Wine

It’s that time of year again! And so begins the search for the perfect holiday gift. Something unique, something that shows you truly care. How about a gift that keeps on giving? An investment. Imagine their surprise when you tell them that their gift is resting...

FAMILY-RUN WINERIES

DEAR READER, As I grow immensely in popularity, I’ve noticed more of you interested in my personal life. I didn’t begin e-blogging with this in mind, but I don’t mind indulging every now and then. I imagine my intellect intimidates a lot of you, so maybe shedding some...

The Truth about Fine Wine

Fine wine. What does that really mean? The truth is, as words, they don’t mean much. There is no official classification system for the title “fine wine.” It’s not like the regulated usage of “Premier Cru” or “Grand Cru Classé,” for example, rather anyone can throw it...

Maipo Valley Reds

DEAR READER, I am again-and-again charmed by my readers’ curiosity! It reminds me of being a young sommelier, ready to take on the world one glass at a time. I know far too much to feel that way again—but at least I can experience a shred of it through you all! Dear...

Liquid Harmony

Harmony. Think Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Think Picasso's The Old Guitarist. It’s that moment when various elements come together to create magic. And magic really is the word, no? Wine can also sip in harmony, and I can think of no better example than the...

Where Does the Phrase “Aging Like Fine Wine” Originate?

DEAR READER, I received this charming question from an inquisitive reader last week. Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, Where does the phrase “aging like fine wine” originate? It’s so fun! -Imani I just love your question! What a lively spirit you have, Imani! I’m more of a...

NOSTALGIA AND THE ADELAIDE DOURO RED

DEAR READER, Let’s get down to it! Dear Sommelier Ferdinand, I respect your point of view, but I must ask: don’t you think worshipping wines is partaking too mightily in the past? Wouldn’t you rather create your own memories than indulge in nostalgia? -Ethan Ethan,...