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Sweet Wines

Sweet Wines: Red, White, Ice, Late Harvest, Fortified or Dessert


Glass of sherry
Bill Boch/Photolibrary/Getty Images
Sweet wines have a unique following. Some are looking for a sweet wine as their introduction to the world of wine, sort of transitionary path from sweet, flavored soda to the more sophisticated beverage of the almighty "dry red wine." Others prefer the full-bodied flavors of a fortified wine, be it Port or Sherry, as an after dinner treat complete with strong cheese or a variety of desserts.

What Makes a Wine Sweet?

A wine is rendered sweet due to its residual sugar (RS) content. When grapes are brought in from harvest they are crushed and then put through fermentation. During fermentation the sugar is converted to alcohol by yeast. If fermentation is halted prior to complete conversion from sugar to alcohol, some of the sugar will reside in the wine, hence the term "residual sugar." Obviously, the more residual sugar in a wine, the sweeter the wine will be.

Sweet Red Wines

While sweet red wines are certainly less common than sweet white wines, they are available. Port is perhaps the most famous sweet wine made from red wine grapes. Next, there are some dessert wines that are also made from red grapes with higher levels of residual sugar and a sweet, unctious profile. Some ice wines are also crafted from red wine grapes, though these are a bit harder to find. As for sweet red table wines, Germany's Dornfelder and Italy's Lambrusco are top "go to" reds what lie on the sweeter side of the spectrum.

Sweet White Wines

Sweet white wines are far more common and considerably easier to find than sweeter-styled red wines. The first stop on most treks towards sweet white wines begins in Germany with Riesling, though Riesling can be made in dry, off-dry and downright sweet styles, the sweeter style is what consumers are most familiar with. Next stops on the trail of sweet white wine often include ice wine and late harvest styles, such as Sauternes.

Sweet Wines: Ice Wines Ice wine is a truly unique, dessert wine, made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine and then fermented. Originating in Germany and reaching star status in Canada, ice wine is one of the sweetest wines around, because the grapes sugars are extremely well concentrated as the grape freezes.

Sweet Wines: Fortified Wines While not all fortified wines are made in a sweet style, many of them are. However, the most famous fortified, sweet wine has to be Port. If a sweeter fortified wine is desired, then neutral grape spirits are typically added within the first day and a half of fermentation. Once this additional alcohol is added to the still base wine, the yeast stop converting sugar to alcohol and all of the remaining grape sugar is left in the wine as residual sugar.

Top Picks for Sweet Dessert and Ice Wines

For those seeking a delicious dessert wine find that will pair well with a wide variety of your favorite desserts or act as dessert itself, here are the top wine finds that lie distinctly on the sweeter side of the vine.

Top Picks for Sweet Fortified Dessert Wines

Fortified wines are an unusual class of wine, that offer richness, age and class to many desserts and rich food favorites.

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