Sweet white wine and vinification

Discover the secrets of making a good sweet white wine

Increasingly appreciated by oenophiles and lovers of good wine, sweet white wine is exceptionally rich and balanced . It falls on a fairly broad continuum, ranging from semi-sweet white wine to very sweet white wine . These styles of wine thus make up the range of sweet white wines .

The vinification of sweet white wine starts from the principle of the alcoholic fermentation of the juice of white or red grapes . But its sweet flavor is obtained from special manufacturing processes, which increase its residual sugar content. Depending on these processes and the residual sugar content obtained, we will speak of semi-dry , sweet , syrupy , natural sweet or liqueur white wine.

However, it is necessary to conceptually clarify each style of sweet white wine in order to fully understand the meaning of what we consume.

Semi-dry white wine: a slight sweet taste

White wine is said to be dry when all the grape sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation . Conversely, sweet wine is known to contain a certain amount of residual sugar . If we consider the sweet white wine style, we will see that the semi-dry white wine appears in the foreground with regard to the residual sugar content.

In reality, during the vinification of sweet white wine, part of the sugar contained in the grape is simply transformed into alcohol , while the other part remains in the wine to give it its flavor. In the case of semi-dry white wine , this quantity of residual sugar is between 4 g and 30 g per liter of wine.

As is the case with any sweet white wine, the vinification of dry white wine is based on the principle of the maturation of the grapes. Maturation is the phase of the process during which the grapes will begin to lose water after reaching their maximum natural sugar content. The elimination of the water contained in the grapes will cause a higher concentration of sugar than usual. Well known, raisining and botrytization are two processes based on this principle, and are generally used to obtain good sweet or sweet white wine .

A good residual sugar content can also be obtained by mutage . The process is quite simple, it is enough simply to add alcohol to the wine in order to be able to interrupt its alcoholic fermentation .

Sweet and syrupy white wines: richer and sweeter wines

The sweet white wine is made from grapes that have undergone a slight over-ripening . It also has a relatively low alcohol content (less than 12.5%), with a residual sugar content of between 30 and 50 grams per liter of wine.

As for the sweet white wine , the over-ripening of the grapes is even more advanced. It is sweeter than sweet wine, insofar as its residual sugar content is greater than 50 grams per liter of wine.

We will speak of straw wine or straw wine for a sweet wine with lots of aromas. Straw wine is produced from grapes that undergo passerillage .

The vinification of sweet sweet white wines

The principle of over-ripening grapes is the basis of the vinification processes for sweet and syrupy white wines. This principle is often implemented in so-called passerillage and botrytisation techniques.

Raising , also called air hydration, is a technique that consists of letting the berries dry out on the vine beyond the harvest date. It is more used for the production of sweet white wine.

Botrytization , on the other hand, is a technique that involves a fungus (botrytis cinerea) on healthy, well-ripened grapes, thus causing brown rot in the grapes . This process is also called noble rot , and is only obtained when the climate and the region are favourable. The best sweet wines are obtained by noble rot, which gives them specific aromas.

In addition, another process for obtaining sweet white wines consists of using frozen grapes (ice wine). Harvesting frozen berries in the winter season has a definite advantage. It gives a syrupy flavor to the wine. However, this vinification technique also requires maintenance of the vines and special climatic conditions.

A sweet wine is ideal with foie gras, you can pair a Jurançon , a Sauternes or even a Monbazillac .

Alsace wine: varied grape varieties for special white wines

Alsace is famous for its great sweet white wines . It is a region that has a wide variety of grape varieties, the most famous of which are:

  • Sweet Riesling that offers a nice combination of sweetness and acidity. It is also famous and much appreciated for its mineral flavors which give the consumer a sense of terroir,
  • The Gewurztraminer , known for its aromatic character and all its sweetness. Oé offers Gewurztraminer, an organic wine produced by Domaine Schmitt & Carrer,
  • Pinot gris , muscat and many other ingredients complete this list of sweet sweet wines from Alsace.

The particularity of the white wines produced in Alsace is due to the late harvest and the selection of noble grapes found there.

Natural sweet white wine and liqueur white wine: another way to obtain sweet white wine

The addition of alcohol at the time of fermentation can interrupt it: this is the process of mutage . If alcohol is added during fermentation, natural sweet wine is obtained. Conversely, if we add alcohol to it at the very beginning of fermentation, then we will obtain liqueur wine .

Natural sweet white wine: a more pronounced sweet taste thanks to mutage

Natural sweet white wine is a white wine made from overripe and mutated grapes . During alcoholic fermentation, the must is added to ethyl alcohol, in order to interrupt the fermentation and keep the residual sugar in the wine. Unlike sweet and syrupy wines, it is not obtained by botrytization or passerillage. Its sugar content can reach up to 150 grams per liter of wine.

The vinification of the sweet white wine is carried out in a traditional way by operation of mutage. It can be mutage on the liquid part or on the solid part (this is the marc). Its high residual sugar content comes only from the grapes, and the yeasts are lysed by the alcohol, which stops the fermentation. The wine obtained certainly has a high degree of alcohol, but in return it retains a lot of residual sugars. It can be produced on a poor and dry site, with shale or limestone soils.

Natural sweet white wine is most often obtained with grape varieties such as Maccabeo, Grenache or Muscat blanc à petits grains . Moreover, it is very popular with aperitifs and desserts.

White liqueur wine: a little brandy for more sweetness

It is a smooth, enriched style of white wine, fortified from the addition of cognac to unfermented grape must. As with other sweet white wines, this will stop the fermentation of the grape must.

White liqueur wine is distinguished from sweet white wine by the particularity of its mutage. In fact, for a white liqueur wine, the mutage will take place at the very beginning of the alcoholic fermentation by the addition of cognac brandy. It will therefore be softer and will have a much greater influence on the flavor of the wine.

White liqueur wine is available in several regional styles and varietals. This is the case, for example, of white Ratafia which is produced in the Champagne region of France.