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    Sweet Wines

    Sweet wines go nicely with foie gras, as well as many styles of deserts but they are less popular nowadays than they used to be

    by Jérôme Chambon

    They are several methods to produce sweet wines. During fermentation, yeast converts sugar into alcohol and the fermentation keeps going until there is no more sugar. Most yeast will die when the alcohol level reaches around 15 degrees. So, to produce sweet wines, the fermentation must be stopped by either adding alcohol or adding more sugar components. However, these two methods are not necessary if the sugar levels in the grape juice are so high that residual sugars will remain in the wine after the fermentation process.

    Interrupting the fermentation by adding alcohol is called “fortifying” the wine. Port in Portugal, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and Muscat de Rivesaltes in France, Moscatel de Valencia in Spain and Rutherglen Muscat in Australia are well known fortified wines.

    The sweet component addition is mainly composed of grape juice or concentrated juice and this is used to produce sweet wines in Germany as well as in Spain for some style of sherries. However, the best sweet wines are not produced by the two methods described above but instead by producing grapes with a high concentration of sugar. They are three main ways to produce this kind of grape. The first one is to dry the grapes, so that there is less water and more concentrated sugar.

    This method is used to make Recioto wines in Italy, vin de Paille in France and Pedro Ximénez sherry in Spain.

    The second one is to use Noble rot to make the grapes rotten. Botrytis cinerea is a mold that attacks the skin of the fruit and makes it shrivel, by concentrating sugar and acid. Sauterne, Vouvray and some Alsace wines in France, Tokaji in Hungary and sweet wines in Germany and Austria use this process.

    The third method is to pick the grapes in winter, when the water inside the berries is frozen and can be removed giving a concentrated high-sugar juice. The result of this method is called ice wine and is mainly made in Canada, Germany, Austria and France. The most famous premium sweet wines are Sauterne from France, Tokaji from Hungary as well as some ice wines from Germany and Canada.

    The most legendary sweet wine is Château Yquem, which is the only superior first growth of the Barsac and Sauternes ranking of 1855. Sauternes and Barsac are located on the left Bank of Bordeaux, south of the Graves area. Sémillon is the main grape variety, while Sauvignon Blanc is also used to add acidity and aromatic flavors. The high level of acidity and alcoholic content of this wine allows it to age very well.

    Sweet wines go nicely with foie gras, as well as many styles of deserts but they are less popular nowadays than they used to be. Their personality of an old-style wine and their high sugar content condemns them, while rosé and sparkling wines enjoy a “newfound status” and are enjoying an increase in sales worldwide.