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Made to be Sweet Enough

Sweet wine is delicious and unjustly maligned, indeed sometimes it seems Christmas is the only time this style of wine is openly accepted at the table. For a society that has such a sweet tooth it surprises me that many people have such a strong reaction against wines with any residual sugar. They can be wines of great beauty when they are well crafted and balance their sweetness with a refreshing acidity, so that they don’t taste flabby and cloying. They are also a wine style that excels when matched with food and can turn a yummy dessert into an unbelievable tasting experience. To help you understand a little more about the sweet wine styles, here is a quick guide as to how they are made.

There are 3 main ways to make sweet wine. The first is to stop fermentation without fortifying the wine, this can be done by either using grapes harvested as normal or by drying out the grapes so that there is a high concentration of sugar in the juice. To stop the fermentation process you can lower the temperature of the fermenting juice so that the yeast cannot operate anymore and then filter it away from the microbes, or by adding some SO2 to kill off the yeast cells. The second way to make a sweet wine is by adding brandy to the wine whilst it is still fermenting - this will kill off the yeast cells and leave plenty of sweetness in the wine naturally. Finally, you can ferment a wine dry and then add back some sugar to make it sweet again, this is often done using grape juice and is often done with cheap, mass market sweet wines.

When winemakers want to make unctuously sweet wines they usually try to dry out the grapes in one of three ways. The rarest way of doing this is allowing consistent sub-zero temperatures to freeze the water out of the grapes to enable the winemaker to produce Icewine/Eiswein, this makes a very pure style of sweet wine. Far more common is the use of botrytis, or noble rot, which is a type of fungus that grows on the vine and causes the grapes to dehydrate very quickly and tends to produce fruity wines with a spicy character. Winemakers who use this technique must be careful that they encourage the right sort of rot otherwise the fruity sweet wine can become musty. Finally, the winemaker can simply leave the grapes to dry out on their own, either on the vine or hung up in a store room. This often produces wines that have a richer style with more dried fruit flavours.

Now that you know a little more about how sweet wines are made, here are a few of our favorites that should be a welcome treat at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas! And if you want to check out the sweet wines on our Christmas offers just click here.

Toro de Piedra Reserva Late Harvest, Toro de Piedra, Chile £12.95

Inspired by the avant-garde sculpture "Toro de Piedra", this wine represents all the intensity through their great concentration and elegance. Intense notes of peaches, walnuts, almonds and honey. Broad and balanced palate, thanks to its good acidity.

Elysium Black Muscat 375ml, Quady Winery, California, USA £16.95

The Quady Winery specializes in crafting sweet wines from the Muscat grape varieties. The Black Muscat is a deep, plummy indulgence with rose aromas and lychee fruit. Perfect with chocolate desserts or blue cheeses, or with foie gras.

Crusted Port, Fonseca, Douro, Portugal £21.95

Crusted is a rare, traditional style of Port that doesn't carry a vintage because it is a blend of different years that are bottled unfiltered. This is intensely sweet, with firm but ripe tannins and a deep, concentrated core of dark plums, blackcurrant, mocha and sweet spice.

Noe - 30 year old Pedro Ximenez 375ml, Gonzales Byass, Jerez, Spain £28.95

Luscious and sticky, this sherry is super sweet yet hugely complex and layered, with flavours of dried fruits, spices and caramel - liquid Christmas pudding! Amazing on its own or when poured over vanilla ice cream.

Goldschatz Trockenbeerenauslese - 37.5cl, Oliver Zeter, Pfalz, Germany £32.95

Oliver Zeter has created a Trockenbeerenauslese cuvée from Sauvignon Blanc, Ortega, Huxelrebe, Rieslaner. Its incredibly exotic, delicate yellow fruit coupled with hints of nougat, chocolate and coffee make it the perfect accompaniment for warm chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream!

Recioto della Valpolicella - 37.5cl, Musella, Veneto, Italy £34.95

The perfume on the nose is filled with elegant aromas; including red fruits, especially cherry, aromatic herbs, up to more spicy scents. The acidity of the wine keeps this sweet red well-balanced, with both a sweet component and is never too sharp.

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