Some consumers are seeking sweet wines, which only seems natural considering most of us love anything sweet. But somewhere along the way sweet wines were dubbed with an unsophisticated and inferior image. Truly appreciating sweet wines requires an understanding of the distinct differences in the styles.
Most sweet wines get their sweetness from added sugar or a natural viticulture process.
The sugar can come from sweet reserve juice, grape must (fresh-squeezed juice along with pulp, skin and seeds) or grape concentrate. These are added to the wine after it has been fermented. These wines are generally more simple styles and less expensive.
Mother nature also has a hand in creating utterly luscious sweet wines. French Sauternes gains its sweetness without the addition of sugars but from grapes in the vineyard. The region’s unique climate encourages a fungus known as botrytis rot, which “attacks” the grapes and causes them to shrivel and rot, concentrating the sugars.
Sweet ice wines occur only when mother nature decides to wave her magic wand over the vineyard with ripe grapes hanging late, waiting for the optimum temperature of 21 degrees to concentrate the sugars, acids and flavors. These sweet wines have no sugar added but involve painstaking and expensive processes resulting in an expected higher price tag.
What makes a wine taste sweet is based on the amount of residual sugar in it, ranging from 0 to 100 grams per liter. Following are a few examples of how to navigate retail stores for wines ranging from dry to very sweet.
VERY DRY | Cabernet, Chianti, Shiraz, Syrah, Brut Champagne
- 2007 Piccini Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy (about $14 retail)
- 2007 Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling Wine, California (about $28 retail)
OFF DRY | Warm-climate Chardonnay, German “trocken,” French “sec”
- 2008 Franken Silvaner Spatlese Riesling, Germany (about $14 retail)
- 2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, California (about $68 retail)
MEDIUM | German Rieslings or “auslese,” Spanish “dulce” and French “doux”
- 2009 Vertikal Blue Auslese Riesling, Germany (about $18 retail)
- 2007 Rudi Wiest V Buhl “Jazz” Riesling, Germany (about $24 retail)
SWEET | Hungarian Tokaji, Late Harvest Rieslings, Port, Sherry
- 2008 Polka Dot Sweet Rielsing, Germany (about $13 retail)
- 2007 Tokaji Aszu 4 Puttonyos, Hungary (about $40 retail)
VERY SWEET | Icewine, Sauternes, German Beerenauslese, Amarone, French Moelleux, Italy Dolce
- 2003 Chateau d’ Armajan Sauternes, France (about $30 retail, 375 ml)
- 2006 Jackson Triggs Riesling Icewine, Canada (about $53 retail, 375 ml)