How to pick out a sweet wine for your Valentine. Because any wine has the potential to be sweet!
This is amazing news for those of us who enjoy the sweeter things in life. So how can we actually tell if the wine we pick out will be sweet? There are some clues: fermentation, alcohol content, varietals, regions and perceived sweetness.
Fermentation is an interesting process. Essentially, it is changing sugar into alcohol. A ripe wine grape has wild yeasts (also known as “bloom”) living on its skin and is full of natural sugars. When the skin of the grape is broken or crushed by the winemaker, fermentation can start. The yeast goes to work, consuming the sugars inside the grapes and converting them into alcohol. If this fermentation is stopped early before it is completely converted into alcohol, you’re left with a sweet wine.
Alcohol content can also be a factor in determining the sweetness of a wine. It is very common for a sweet wine to be low in alcohol content, because the fermentation process is stopped before most of the sugar can be converted into alcohol. This is why some of our favorite sweet wines, like Riesling or Moscato, tend to be on the low side in terms of alcohol content.
Certain varietals are known for being used in a sweet style. If you choose a wine from one of these varietals you may not ALWAYS be correct in whether or not the wine is sweet, but there is always some level of sugar in them. Examples of these varietals are Riesling, Muscat and Gewurztraminer. (If you can pronounce “Gewurztraminer” correctly on your first try I will give you 3 million dollars and my firstborn child.)
Regions can often contribute to the sweetness of a wine. Particular regions tend to make certain styles. Germany produces sweeter white wines, while Italy and France tend to stay on the less sweet side, and New World wines, like those from California, are often fruiter and perceived as sweeter.