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Total Wine's Class on Sweet Wines

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Last week I attended the Sweet Wine class at Total Wine. There are many ways to grow sweet grapes and to make sweet wines. In this class we were treated to two late harvest wines, three botrytised wines and three fortified wines.

There are four means of making a grape sweet. One is to let the grape freeze on the vine. Once the frozen water is removed from the grape, the fruit has a much greater sugar concentration. The wines made from these grapes are called 'Ice Wines.' Another way to make the grapes sweet is to lay the grapes on a mat to dry. A grape left to dry can lose up to 60% of its water, concentrating the sugars in the grape. Wines made from these grapes are called 'Appassimento Wines.' A third way to make a sweet grape is to leave the fruit on the vine late into the season. The longer the grapes is on the vine, the more sugar it will produce. A grape that has had a long hang time is called a late harvest grape, and the wines made from such grapes are called late harvest wines.

The first late harvest wine that we tasted was Anne de K Pinot Gris Late Harvest from the Alsace region of France. This wine has lush almond and honey flavors with a slight minerality on the finish. It retails for $44.99 for a 750 ml bottle

The second late harvest wine that we tasted was a Dr. Heidemanns Bernkastel Auslese. The word 'Auslese' translates to 'select harvest.' It, also, is an indication of late harvest. Made from 100% Riesling grapes, the Auslese had flavors of dried and candied fruit, but with enough acidity to maintain a good structure in this aromatic, honeyed wine. It is lighter-bodied than other late harvest wines, making it more food friendly. It retails for $37.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

The fourth way to make wine grapes sweet is a process called 'noble rot.' A natural mold called botrytise grows on grapes in humid regions. Botrytis takes the water out of the grape, leaving the grapes with a high sugar concentration. We were served three botrytised wines at the class.

The first noble rot wine we tried was from the Loire Valley in France. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, the Chateau de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon had aromas of apples, figs and honeysuckle with a good crisp apple acidity. This Coteaux du Layon retails for $17.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

From Hungary we tasted a Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 3 Puttonyos 2007. Tokaji is the type of wine. It is made from the grapes Furmint and Harslevelu. The 3 Puttonyos is an indication of the sweetness level of the wine. It is, also an indication of the amount of time the wine was aged. There are 6 levels of Puttonyos, the sixth being the sweetest. A three is moderately sweet. Because it was aged for three years, partially in oak, the Tokaji had a beautiful honey gold color with aromas of raisins, pecans, honey and apricot. It retails for $24.99 for a 500 ml bottle.

The final noble rot wine we were served was a Chateau Cantegril Sauternes. From the Barsac region of Bordeaux France, the Sauternes was made from both Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It had flavors of rich caramel apple and candied pineapple with a squeeze of lemon. It retails for $29.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

There are three ways to make a sweet wine. One is to add suss reserve, which is sweetened grape juice. Another is to refrigerate the wine during fermentation in order to stop fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine. The most common way to make a sweet wine is to fortify it during fermentation.

Fortification means to add brandy or another grape-based alcohol to the fermenting wine. The high level of alcohol will kill the yeast and stop fermentation. Our first fortified wine was Terres de Muscat St Jean Minervois, 2012. Known as a Vin Doux Natural, this Languedoc-region wine is made from the Muscat grape. It had a beautiful nose of thyme, menthol and mango. It retails for $11.99 for a 375 ml bottle.

Also, from Languedoc in France was the Domaine de Paulilles Banyuls Rimage made from 100% Grenache grapes. This was our first red grape wine of the night. It had aromas of blackberry, chocolate, and raisins and tasted fantastic paired with chocolate. It retails for $19.99 for a 375 ml bottle.

The final sweet wine of the night was Offley LBV Port from the Douro region of Portugal. LBV stands for Late Bottle Vintage, meaning the grapes are all from a single vintage and the wine must be aged four to six years in oak. This wine had deep, dark fruit aromas like plum and blackberry with firm tannins and a full body. It retails for $22.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

Coming up in August are two classes on Spanish wines. The first class is a journey through different wine regions of Spain. It will held on August 7th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The second class will focus specifically on the Rioja region of Spain. It will be held on August 14th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The cost for each class is $20.

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