Magazine article Sunset

The Secret of Sweet Endings

Magazine article Sunset

The Secret of Sweet Endings

Article excerpt

* For several years - until I knew better-1 thought of dessert wine as overkill. From cake to creme brulee, dessert was just fine all by itself. Who needed something sweet to drink besides?

Clearly, I didn't know what I was missing: one of the most indulgent pleasures on the planet.

Absolutely nothing compares to the deliciousness of a noble sweet wine. Today, if I had to make a choice between the two, I'd drink the dessert wine and skip the dessert.

Thankfully, though, the two are not mutually exclusive, for the marriage of a great dessert and a great dessert wine ranks as one of the most hedonistic experiences a wine drinker can have.

What makes a sweet wine great, ironically, is not the sweetness. There are dozens of sweet wines that are about as compelling as a lollipop. That's because sweetness alone can taste unpleasantly sugary and monodimensional.

As pastry chefs know, sweet things need a counterpoint. So although it seems counterintuitive, a dessert wine needs good acidity. Without it, the wine will seem like a big sugar bomb in your mouth.

Achieving that perfect tension between sweetness and acidity is anything but easy. In fact, great dessert wines are some of the most difficult wines to make. And despite the common misconception, none of the methods involves adding processed sugar. As it happens, the sweetness is simply the grapes' natural sugar.

So how does a dessert wine come to be? The grapes can be:

* picked after the regular harvest at a point where they are very full of natural sugar (these are usually called "late-harvest" wines).

* allowed to "raisin," thereby concentrating the sugars.

* allowed to freeze (as in German icewine), so that when the grapes are pressed, the water remains as ice, leaving just the syrupy concentrated sugar.

* attacked by a fungus such as botrytis cinerea (the "noble rot" that makes French Sauternes), which sucks out the water, shriveling the grapes and concentrating the sugars.

All of these processes are difficult, and they carry with them countless risks: deer, birds, wild boars, and other animals love to eat sweet grapes: the grapes may be attacked by unfavorable molds or other diseases; weather may destroy the crop first; and so on. Dessert wines, as a result, are produced in small quantities and are almost universally expensive. …

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