Popular Sweet Wine Varietals

Riesling

This varietal is grown in Germany, Austria, Alsace (France), New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. This wine can be either a white or a sweet dessert wine. For the purposes of a dessert wine, it is harvested with noble rot, icewine or chaptalized to add sweetness. Higher in acid and lower in alcohol, this sweet riesling pair well with fresh fruit, soft cheeses, and foods with a higher salt content to balance things out.Read More

Vouvray

A very popular, cold climate Loire Valley wine, considered to be an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (classified wine). These wines can be made as sec (dry) for which you will find additional information on them in the white wine page. The sweet vouvray wines include Demi-Sec (semi-dry), Moelleux (sweet, botrytized) and Doux (sweetest, botrytized and heavy or syrup like). They are higher in acidity and often require 4-5 years of bottle aging. Almost never oak aged, vouvray is produced in traditional steel tank and is popular as a still and sparkling wine. You will find similar notes in vouvray as sauternes, including honey, nuts, Asian spice, gala apple and fig. On the nose you will get a massive perfume that include white flowers and honeysuckle. This wine pairs well with rich foods, pastry, cakes, soft creamy cheeses, and decadent reduction sauces including duck, dove, and grilled poultry.

Chenin Blanc

Another wine from the Loire Valley that has seen cultivation expand to other New World countries including South Africa, Australia, Spain, and spread out over 12-15 states across the U.S. This varietal is typically high in acidity and thus requires smaller yields in the vineyard, and is picked at an exact time often late in the year when the maximum amount of noble rot has infected he grape. You will find notes of green apple and mineral or a chalkiness that opens up to flavors of honey, chocolate/almond or nuttiness, along with citrus and exotic fruits. This wine pairs exceptionally well with spicy Asian cuisine or Mexican foods, however its versatility expands it to other culinary avenues as well.

Muscat

Also known as Moscato, Muscatel or Muscadel and grown in many countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and smaller countries like Greece, Moldova, Lebanon and Slovenia to name a few. Served as both a sparkling and sweet still wine, the grape will range in color from white to black. Muscat grapes are high in sugars, flavonoids (antioxidants) and are used in edible grapes, raisins and sweeter style wines including a slightly fizzy wine style called Moscato d’Asti. In Spain and Portugal, this varietal is typically used in fortified wines and brandy. You will find a straw like or golden color to the wine with almonds, honeysuckle, peach, apples and pear on the nose. On the palate you will find a fruit forward profile that will dominate with apricot and peach.

Sauternes

The big boy, or granddaddy of sweet wines. This wine carries decades of history and prestige and are often expensive. From the Graves region within Bordeaux and produced from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes which have been affected by noble rot. As the cold climate and mild dampness affects the area with annual regularity, noble rot and the cold cause the grapes to raisin causing the acidity and chalkiness that will also reveal apricot and honey. With age Sauternes gets darker often starting out pale yellow to straw yellow and getting darker as years progress, sometimes to a lighter brown. With ageing potential over 100 years, Sauternes are highly collectible wines and are served chilled with a variety of dishes including fois gras, crème brule, chocolate, cakes and with soft or moldy cheeses.

Icewine, Eiswein or Ice Wine

A delightful dessert wine harvested while the grapes are still frozen on the vine. Typically harvested in the most grueling conditions, in the dead of the night deep freeze conditions, grapes are picked, without botrytis affecting the grapes. Harvest must take place in a few hours since a deep freeze affects the grape’s cell walls and is destructive if the grapes thaw. As a result, farmers are on high alert and must have a labor pool ready to harvest the grapes in a few hours. Icewines are concentrated, sweet and possess minerality and have a range of flavor profiles since the varietals can shift from Riesling to Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Muscatine grapes. The authority on icewine is Canada, however other cold climate regions like Germany and Oregon have icewine production. Icewine is well suited for chocolate desserts and are accentuated with truffle or caramel toppings or fruit.

Tokaji

Originating as far back as the 1530’s, Hungary and Slovakia are the only countries permitted by law to use the Tokaj or Tokaji name under the brand as it is a designated controlled appellation. Only six grape varietals are permitted under the Tokaj regulation to be used in the fermentation process that includes Furmint, Hárslevelı, Yellow Muscat, Zéta (Oremus), KövérszŒlŒ and Kabar. The Tokaj process of making wine includes a harvest under conditions of noble rot (botrytis), which following a long summer preceded by a brutally cold winter, allows for a raising of the grapes resulting in a super sugar concentration.

Aszu grapes are stomped into a paste like consistency called Aszu dough (puttonyos) that is then blended with wine must for up to 48 hours. Following the blending process, the wine is placed in wooded vats and racked. A slow fermentation process results which can take up to a few years. A Tokaji is classified by the number of Puttonyos added to the casks and can range from 3 to 6 Puttonyos with six being the most prestigious.

Essencia, which is a nectar that bleeds off the racks from the Aszu can also be bottled. As it has such a high concentration and a much smaller fraction of production, it is often consumed in smaller glasses and is quite expensive due to its cellar capacity to last over 200 years in bottle. Tokaji can be consumed with fruit, cheese, or decadent cake, however its scarcity and exclusivity really makes it a standalone wine.

Port, Vinho Porto, Porto

Produced in the Duoro Valley in Northern Portugal, port can be produced by over 100 different grape varietals, however it is typically produced using five different varietals, namely Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tempranillo, Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional. Port is classified into two groups; barrel aged and bottle aged port. The taste profile of ports includes nuttiness (hazel nuts), leather, jerky, bacon and currant. A good way to describe the power of ports is to describe it in terms of “grip” which describes its lasting power on the palate.

Barrel Aged Port is designed to be consumed in the short term and include:

  • Tawny Port – produced from red grapes and exposed to wooden casks that allow for partial oxygenation that produces a darker, richer color. Typically consumed as a dessert wine. Tawny ports are designated by year or by non-year. Designation such as 20 year Tawny indicates the blends are from wines that have been in barrel at least 20 years.
  • Colheita Port – A tawny port from a single vintage, which unlike vintage port must be in barrel at least 20+ years. White Colheita ports have been created, however red Colheitas are more traditional.
  • Garrafeira Port – A rare occurrence where a single vintage harvest is produced and barrel aged, upon which the port is transferred to a glass bottle for continued aging.

Bottle Aged Port is designed to be consumed in the short term and include:

  • Ruby Port -
    the least expensive port, blended in large steel or concrete tanks to protect its rich color. Ruby ports are extensively used for cooking or immediate consumption and do not improve with age.
  • Reserve Port
    a blend of various vintages of lesser desirable ports.
  • Rose Port
    limited exposure to the grape skins and produced in a style similar to rose wines. Not widely popular and recently introduced into the marketplace with lukewarm demand at best.
  • White Port
    produced from white grapes and usually fermented for longer periods of time, typically served chilled or blended with cocktails. With increased bottle aging it will acquire a darker color.
  • LBV or Late Bottle Vintage Port
    a single vintage port that is typically the result from weak demand and over barrel ageing. Typically it is filtered (unlike vintage port) and meant for immediate consumption with out the requirement of extensive aging and decanting.
  • Crusted Port
    a blend of several vintages of higher quality unfiltered ports. Requires the port to be bottle aged for at least three years before release.
  • Vintage Port
    accounting for 2% of total production, vintage port is produced from a declared vintage, with a minimum of two and a half years in barrel before bottling with an additional 10-50 years in bottle before its ready to consume. As this is the most prestigious Port and smallest production, the decision to declare a vintage port is not taken lightly and it is not done every year in an effort to maintain the highest standard.