The sugar level determines the character of the wine, but this essential indication (especially for the choice of the food/wine pairing) is rarely indicated on the label. However, when tasting, it is not always easy to sense it. A fruity white wine, for example, may wrongly give an impression of sweetness. A tannic white wine (aged in barrels) or very acidic will give the actual impression of being drier than it is. In this article, we help you determine the differences in wine!
DRY WHITE WINES
This category includes lively or fat wines.
For a wine to be dry, its alcoholic fermentation must transform all the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. The longer the fermentation, the less sweet the wine.
Dry white wines have a dominant acidity. They leave few traces (called legs) in the glass, are easy to drink, awaken the taste buds and whet the appetite. The acidity here is not a defect as long as it is mastered. On the contrary, it represents the column that gives the wine its freshness and its capacity to age well.
Four main flavors characterize dry white wines: floral, fruity, lemony or iodized. They are perfect with seafood, raw or cooked fish without thick sauce, cold cuts…
In Luxembourg, white pinots, auxerrois and rieslings (except late harvest) are dry white wines. In France, the Loire Valley is full of dry white wines, especially those made from Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy…). In Burgundy, the majority of Chablis (Chardonnay grape variety) is also part of this family.
Contrary to the dry white wines, the dry white wines deliver a volume and a fullness that cover the mouth. But to be harmonious, these wines must contain enough acidity, otherwise they become heavy and mushy, to the point of nausea.
Like the great Burgundies or the wines of the Rhone Valley, they are often aged in barrels (Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, Condrieux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape…). Some pinots gris or chardonnays from Luxembourg, also aged in barrels, are fat dry white wines. They can be served with rich dishes such as creamy poultry or game birds.
SWEET WHITE WINES
There are several methods to obtain a sweet or syrupy wine. How to determine the differences in these white wines?
During the late harvest, very sweet grapes are harvested because part of the water in the pulp has evaporated. The wine obtained will then be sweet. At the table, the spicy exotic cuisine is well suited, as well as blue-veined cheeses (Roquefort, blue cheese…).
Pushed to its maximum, this technique allows – if the climatic conditions are met – to harvest frozen grapes to produce the precious ice wine.
In some regions, the winemaker will try to obtain the noble rot (botrytis) on his grapes. The fungus absorbs the water from the berries, concentrating the sugar considerably. This method is used to obtain sauternes or tokays… The German Trockenbeerenauslese (Moselle, Saarland…) or the selections of great Alsatian nobles go even further, since the grapes are harvested practically dry.
Finally, it is possible to make sweet white wines by the passerillage method: these are straw wines. The winemaker harvests perfectly healthy bunches and places them on shelves (sometimes lined with straw) in a well-ventilated room. The natural evaporation will allow the drying of the grapes and the increase of the sugar level.
Straw wines, ice wines and late harvest wines obtained thanks to noble rot are sweet wines. They will be with dessert, but also simply for themselves, at the end of the meal.
AND THE RED WINES?
Red wines are mostly dry, the fermentation leaving very little residual sugar. Nevertheless, there are some examples of sweet red wines.
Harvested at high maturity, banyuls, rivesaltes and maury (Roussillon) or rasteau (Rhône valley) are natural sweet wines. Here, the fermentation has been stopped by adding neutral alcohol of wine origin which allows to keep the sugar while increasing the alcoholic degree. Port wine is also produced using this method.
In Italy, the appassimento method is also used to produce sweet red wines, especially in Veneto (Recioto della Valpolicella).
These wines are perfect with chocolate desserts.
Text written by Erwant Nonet.
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