I have a major sweet tooth. It’s been that way forever. As a kid, I would always have a stash of candy around (I still do). If I earned a dollar I would bike down to the local store and buy 10 Jolly Ranchers. But I almost always shared my stash. And now, with my life so engrossed in wine, it’s only natural that my sweet tooth would be fulfilled with dessert wines, right?
I’m fascinated by the process that most late harvest dessert wines go through to get to their sweetness. The grapes are kept on the vines for an extended period of time so the brix (sugars) are really high. The sugar levels can range based on region and varietal, but generally are much higher when picked than a typical wine from the same grape.
Not all of this sugar will be converted into alcohol during the fermentation process leaving behind residual sugar. Sugar that’s left over will then create the sweetness in the wine. At some point (when the wine-maker deems it appropriate) the fermentation process will be stopped.
But wait, there’s more!
In really special spots throughout the word a good mold called botrytis can grow on the grapes. This good mold concentrates the juice by removing some water content from the grapes. It literally dehydrates them. Less water = more juice. That is a very good thing. The mold is sometimes referred to as noble rot. Some Chardonnay producers will actually use a few percent of botrytis infected grapes to increase the richness in their Chardonnay wines.
This year, as mentioned in a previous post, everything was late harvest. By my estimation most late harvest wines will be picked between now and mid-December, but some may not happen at all. We’ve had some significant rain in the area already which means that beautiful botrytis may turn into bad mold ruining the otherwise great late harvest wine. Bummer.
Most late harvest wines I’ve come across in Sonoma have been made from one of three white grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. All of these offer different flavor profiles keeping life interesting for me. When I’m out tasting wine, I always ask if they have a late harvest offering. Most of the time it’s not on the menu.
Since I love sweet things, I usually try to pair this type of wine with different desserts. I’ve tried everything from cookies to cakes and tarts to ice cream. But some appetizers and cheeses are extremely nice as well. Here are my top three dessert and late harvest pairings.
1. Molten Lava Chocolate Cakes
2. Apple Pie or Tart
3. Peaches or Apricots reduced down with some of the wine and poured over ice cream.
So here’s the deal: Don’t fear the dessert wine. Okay? It’s not out to get you. Just because it’s sweet doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Just think of what you might want to sip it with. Most wines are designed to be paired foods and this type of wine is no different. Some may be too sweet to sit down and just enjoy a glass. They need food to counter balance some of the sweetness in the wine.
If you try to pair them with different desserts and you still don’t like it, then I guess all I can say is, “More for me”!