Sweet wines are a bit like Marmite; they make some weak at the knees at the mere thought, while others are completely revolted by them.
Whether you love them or loathe them, I’m often asked the question: how are they made?
The answer is not as straight forward as you might think.
First of all; they do not just add lots of sugar to make them sweet!
What qualifies as a dessert wine? Technically we’re talking a minimum of 150g of sugar per litre, and when you consider that full fat coke sits around the 100g per litre mark then you can see that these pudding wines are really very sweet indeed.
There are actually lots of different ways to make wines sweet, and today I’m going to focus on one particular style known as ice wine in Canada (or eiswein which is the German/Austrian counterpart).
When it comes to ice wine, the clue to how it’s made is in the name – it’s wine which is made from frozen grapes.
Do they just chuck the grapes in a freezer?
If only it were so simple! In fact, to make proper ice wine you need to leave healthy grapes out on the vine until it reaches minus 8 degrees – usually the middle of winter. At this point the grapes are picked (often in the middle of the night) and crushed whilst still frozen. The majority of the water content stays behind in the form of ice and out trickles a sweet, syrupy liquid which is the base of your ice wine.
This is then fermented until the desired alcohol content is reached and then it’s interrupted. This leaves behind lots of unfermented sugars, meaning that the resulting ice wine tastes lusciously sweet.
The average bottle of ice wine will generally have over 200g of sugar per litre, and can even hit the 350g mark. But the trademark of great dessert wine is that there is enough acidity to balance out the sweetness, making it still seem like a refreshing drink.
As you can imagine, there aren’t many places in the world that you can get the right conditions to make natural ice wine. Add this rarity factor to how labour intensive the process is and it’s unsurprising that they don’t come cheap. A half bottle of ice wine can easily set you back at least £30.
If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some you can either drink it alone, pour over vanilla ice cream, or if you have a sweet tooth then a chocolate fondant simply begs to be paired up with a glass.
What’s your opinion of sweet wine?