2016-12-01 / Wine Notes

How Sweet It Is

Robert D. Richards, CSW

Around the holidays, we often find ourselves reaching for something sweet, but there’s no reason that craving should be limited to cookies and pie. Dessert wines are a festive way to cap off a meal or even just share with friends while sitting around the fire.

Dessert wines come in many varieties, but they do all have something in common. The grapes used to make them had a high concentration of sugar that killed off the yeast and stopped fermentation while they were being made. Getting the sugar levels high enough to accomplish this feat of winemaking can be accomplished in several ways.

Some grapes are left on the vine past their ripening prime, so that the sugar levels will continue to rise. These grapes are referred to as late harvest. If you taste a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, you will experience a light, sweet wine that still retains some of the crispness associated with the varietal.
Another way to maximize sugar levels is to allow grapes to remain unpicked far past their ordinary harvest to the point that they actually freeze on the vine. The frozen grapes are harvested and immediately pressed and fermented to create what is called “ice wine,” or Eiswein, an almost-syrupy quaff.

Still a third way of making a dessert wine is to use grapes that have been infected with Botrytis cinerea, also known as the “noble rot.” Yes, you guessed correctly, the grapes literally rot on the vine — becoming shriveled like raisins — before being pressed into a delicious dessert wine. Sauternes, the expensive, sweet Bordeaux, is made by this process.

Sauvignon Blanc used to be the primary grape in Sauternes; it helps to add crispness to the sweet wine. Today, its main component is Sémillon. If you’ve ever tasted Chateau d’Yquem, the region’s storied producer, you’ll know why this rot is considered noble. And Sémillon is a good grape because it is highly susceptible to a Botrytis attack. Here are three wines to try when you find yourself attacked by a sweet tooth craving this season. •SCM

Chateau Roumieu
Lacoste Sauternes 2011

(#48539, $23.99)
Made from 100 percent botrytized Sémillon grapes, this wine exhibits notes of honey and spice.

Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc Aconcagua
Chile Late Harvest 2012

(#80118, $18.99)
This late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc has hints of apricot and citrus, with balanced acidity for a strong finish.

Kiona Chenin Blanc Ice Wine
Estate Bottled Red Mountain Washington 2014
(#47363, $26.99)
Showing tropical and floral notes, this Washington state wine’s residual sugar is
tempered nicely by its crisp acidity.

Robert D. Richards, CSW, is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and has passed the first-level certification of the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers.

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