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Dessert and Aperitif Wine on Wine Time™ with WineGuyMike™

January 12th, 2014

I’m frequently asked; Mike I like to drink dry or crisp wines but I never seem to like aperitif or dessert wines.  Can you recommend how I might approach these types of wines? 

There are some naturally sweet grape varietals such as Muscat, Huxelrebe, and Ortega that are used to produce sweet wines.  The Sweetness of these particular varietals is enhanced by pruning techniques – eliminating bunches of grapes on the vines to concentrate sugar and flavor.

There are a few techniques that are used to produce sweet wines as well.  One winemaking technique that is used is Chaptalization.   This is when sugar or honey is added prior to fermentation process.  Süssreserve is a German technique of winemaking that adds grape juice to the wine after fermentation has been completed.

Today though we will be focusing on Icewine, a winemaking style where grapes are naturally frozen on the vine, harvested during the middle of the night or early morning and pressed in the extreme cold to separate the juice from the ice crystals.  The fermentation requires special yeast and many months of time.  This remarkable process concentrates the sugar and acids and intensifies the aroma and flavor of the grapes.  The result is very special wine that expresses aromatic flavors of white and tropical fruits.

Natural Icewine by wine regulations require a hard freeze; in Canada the temperature must drop to (-8C or 17°F) colder, and in Germany (−7 °C or 19 °F), this usually occurs months after a typical harvest.  If the freeze does not come soon enough the entire crop can be lost to rot and if the freeze is too severe it can prevent any juice from being extracted when the grapes are pressed.  Animals also love these sweet grapes and left to hang to long grapes will naturally drop from the vine.  This is a very tenuous circumstance waiting for the “perfect” climatic conditions.  Canada and Germany are the world's largest producers of ice wines.  About 75 percent of ice wine in Canada comes from Ontario.

Late Harvest or Noble Rot wine is made from moldy grapes, a fungus known as Botrytis Cinerea.  This process occurs best in vineyards that experience heavy evening moisture with hot sunny days.  This fungus dehydrates the water from the grape and imparts nuances of Honey, and Apricot once the wines are made.  Sauternes from Bordeaux, Hungarian Tokaji, or  Germany’s Trockenbeerenauslese are some of the world’s finest examples of Late Harvest and Noble Rot wines.

In Austria, Germany, the United States, and Canada, the grapes must freeze naturally to be called ice wine.  Cryoextraction is yet another method (that is, mechanical freezing) used to simulate the effect of a frost.  The grapes are not left to hang for extended periods as is done with natural ice wines.  These non-traditional wines are sometimes referred to as "icebox wines". 

Good Dessert and Aperitif wines are sweet but remain balanced due to balanced acidity.  These wines can be served alone or with foods less sweet than the wine.  Quite often, the wine itself can be a dessert, but bakery sweets can be a good pairing.

Whites Dessert or Aperitif wines should be served slightly chilled while the reds should be served at room temperature or ever so slightly chilled.

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