Having discussed some of the best known sweet wines, Port and Sherry, I thought it might be fun to briefly examine two lesser known styles of sweet wine; late harvest and ice wines. Both are made from grapes picked very late in the season, but there are some key differences.
Late Harvest Wines
Late harvest wines come in many different shapes and sizes. From France’s famed Sauternes (“saw-tairn”) to Hungary’s precious Tokaji (“toe-kai,” like when you say “hi”), there are hundreds of “late harvest” wines. Not all late harevest wines are created equal, though. Sauternes and Tokaji are some of the most sought-after and high-priced wines in the world, whereas a late harvest “Auslese” Riesling from Germany might only set you back $15. The difference in price comes partly from how the grapes are harvested and vinified and partly from the quantity produced, but more on that later.
By definition, all grapes used to make late harvest wines are allowed to hang on the vine longer than those intended for dry table wines. This causes the ripening process (véraison in French) to continue through late fall and early winter, which greatly increases the sugar content of the grapes. The “Brix” of grapes, which is a measurement of their sugar content, is often around 24° to 26° for dry table wines, but it can be over 35° in late harvest wines. Each 1° Brix represents approximately 1 gram of dissolved sugar per 100 grams of liquid. Table grapes, as a point of reference, typically have around 17° to 19° Brix, which gives you an idea of just how sweet wine grapes are when harvested and how very sweet late harvest wine grapes would be if eaten. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday I went to my first wine tasting as a “trade” member when I attended the Washington Wine Trade and Media Tasting at Stella’s Fish Cafe in Minneapolis. The event was sponsored by the Washington State Wine Commission as part of their “Washington State Wine Month” promotion. My co-worker and I sampled about 100 different wines. There were only a couple of dessert wines offered, more on those below, but some dry table wine standouts were:
- Tamarack Cellars: Aside from being one of the friendliest people at the event, owner and winemaker Rob Coleman makes some amazing wines. At $16 retail, the Firehouse Red was probably the best red blend I tasted all day. It’s a perennial award winner in the wine mags and now I know why. His $15 Chardonnay was also amazing, considering that Chardonnay doesn’t do particularly well in Washington. It was just about as well balanced as a Chardonnay can get and the quality-to-price ratio (“QPR”) is unbeatable.
- Middleton Family Wines: The table by Middleton Family Wines was another one at which I probably could’ve spent all day due to their knowledgeable and very friendly rep. They were sampling wines from their Buried Cane and Cadaretta brands, all of which were fantastic. Across the board, these were some of the most aromatic wines we tried. Even the reds, which were categorically tight at this event, had wonderful bouquets. The 2009 Buried Cane Columbia Valley Riesling, which is fermented dry, was probably the best I had and it’s a steal at $14 a bottle retail. Their Cadaretta 2010 White Bordeaux Blend ($23) would’ve actually fooled me in a blind taste test as actually being a Bordeaux Blanc. The 2008 Buried Cane Hartwood Red Rhone Blend ($25) was also delicious. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been trying to put together another article about one of my favorite dessert wines, but my day job has gotten in the way of that. I do want to publish something, so I’ve put together another sweet wine news roundup for you. I like this article format, so I might make it a regular occurrence on the site. It gives me a chance to research and to keep abreast of what’s going on in the sweet wine world.
Without further ado, here are the interesting articles I found this week;
- Leah Koenig discovers that Austria makes a lot more than just Gruner Veltliner. Like its neighbor, Germany, Austria makes some amazing sweet wines. Many of these wines are made in the province of Burgenland and are affected with noble rot. If you’re familiar with Germany’s sweet wines, Austria’s use of similar terminology should help guide your explorations.
- Sticking with the American sweet wine theme, you should also know that some of Virginia’s wineries are making good sweet wine. One Charlottesville restaurant and food blogger recently visited Barboursville Vineyards (great website!) and discovered they make a delicious and reasonably priced passito-styled dessert wine called the Maxlavio Passito. Passito-style wine making involves drying the grapes on straw mats as a way to concentrate their sugars and was probably invented in ancient Carthage. The most renowned (and expensive) style of passito dessert wine is Tuscany’s Vin Santo, while Amarone della Valpolicella is a famous passito wine that’s fermented dry. Before dropping $100+ on a 1/2 bottle of Vin Santo, perhaps you should try the offering from Barboursville?
- Finally, wine blogger Meg Tiffany takes a look at a fad that I really hope dies a quick and painful death: Chocolate Wine. Ms. Tiffany is a lot more kind than I would be if I ever actually reviewed this product.