Sweet White Wine

There are many types of sweet white wine produced around the world. "Sweet" simply refers to the fact that there is some level of residual sugar in the wine which makes the wine taste sweet. However, this can vary considerably from just slightly off-dry (just slightly sweet) to super, sticky sweet, and everything in between. Therefore, sweet is a misleading term if used alone...what you really want to know is "how sweet?" While off-dry or even moderately sweet wines often pair very nicely with food (for example, German Spätlese or Auslese Rieslings are sublime with slightly spicy Thai food!), very sweet wines are often enjoyed alone at the end of a meal as a dessert wine.

Sweet white wines can be made several ways:

  • Late Harvest Wine: Some are simply late harvest wines which are picked late in the season when the grapes have developed more sugar. When the alcoholic fermentation ends, either naturally or by being stopped intentionally by the vintner, there is residual sugar left over which makes the wine sweet.
  • Fortified Wines: Others have their fermentation stopped by the addition of alcohol, a neutral grape spirit. These fortified wines will be sweet if the fermentation is stopped early while there is still considerable unfermented sugar present. While the most famous of these types of wine is a red wine, Port, there are sweet Madeira and Sherry which are produced in a similar fashion.
  • Ice Wine: Some sweet white styles are made by letting the ripe grapes freeze. After pressing the grapes the ice crystals are filtered out and the resulting wine is concentrated in flavor and sugar, resulting in intense, vibrant wines which are very sweet.
  • Botrytis Cinerea: Some of the most concentrated and sweet whites are made from grapes affected by a fungus called Botrytis. This "noble rot", as it is called, dehydrates the grapes as they grow, resulting in rich, concentrated and sweet wines.

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