Sugar is used to produce the alcohol in wine. To elaborate, the sugars contained in the crushed grapes are broken down into both ethanol and carbon dioxide during fermentation. However, not all sugars can be broken down in this manner. Furthermore, too much alcohol created through fermentation can end up killing the microorganisms responsible for the entire process. Combined, these factors ensure that all wines contain residual sugar, which is one of the main factors behind the sweetness of wines.
However, it is not the sole factor responsible for wine’s sweetness. Other important factors include the wine’s acid, alcohol, and tannin content. Both acid and tannin serve to overwhelm the sugars’ sweetness, while alcohol adds to it. However, it is important to note that even though alcohol tastes sweet on its own, high alcohol content means that the wine contains less sugar. In short, imbibers interested in learning to distinguish sweet wines should purchase a wine of the month club membership.
Production methods for sweet wines have been around since ancient times. For example, Roman authors recommended ripened grapes for producing sweet wines, while the Greeks preferred to produce their sweet wines using immature grapes that had been sun-dried for higher concentration of sugar. Although modern winemakers understand the art better than their ancient counterparts, similar methods are still used to increase the concentration of sugar so as to produce sweeter wines.
For example, the ice wines produced in Canada’s Niagara region are so sweet because of the methods used to harvest the grapes. First, the grapes are permitted to remain on the vine until the first frost, meaning that there is more time for the grapes to store sugars produced through photosynthesis. Second, the grapes are not harvested until the freeze has set in, meaning that the resultant must contains much higher concentrations of sugar because much of the moisture has been turned into ice.
Of course, sweet wine clubs can also be produced using other methods. Champagne is an example of wine that is sweetened through adding more sugar to the must, while other sweet wines might be produced using raisins, ripe grapes, and even grapes that have been shriveled using a fungus called Botrytis cinerea.
Sweet wines have been been a source of enjoyment for many thousands of years, and those who care to look can always fine one, even today. Why not join a wine club and do some sweet wine exploration of your own?