How to avoid a Sticky situation with your desserts.

At various wine tasting events we host throughout Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties, we are asked all sorts of questions about wine. The one topic which always seems to cause the most confusion is that of sweet wine. Some questions are easier to answer, for example, how should sweet wine be served. The answer is, easy, everything with the exception of Port, should be served as cold as possible.

When it comes to matching sweet wine with desserts the most important thing to remember is that the sweetness of the dish must be matched by the sweetness of the wine. For example, a selection of summer fruits would be paired with a light “late harvest” Sauv blanc or Moscatel, whereas a sticky toffee pudding would need something like an Icewine or a syrupy sweet Pedro Ximinez Sherry. Colour is always a good indicator here, the darker the colour the richer and more intense the wine.

With the festive season ahead of us this is the time of year when people entertain larger groups, desserts are made and we all give sweet wine another attempt. The four main types of sweet wine,  are:-

1. Ice wine –

The grapes for ice wine are picked at a temperature of -8 degrees or lower. As the water in the grapes is frozen, when the grapes are pressed in the winery, a thick syrupy liquid is produced, which is then fermented into a delicious sweet wine. The biggest producers of Ice wine are Germany, Austria & Canada, with Riesling and Vidal being the most common grape varieties. As well as being very sweet, ice wines always have pure fruit character, making them a great match for rich fruity desserts like apple pie or crumble. Due to the extreme methods of productions, ice wine always comes with a premium price tag. Majestic have a great Ice wine by Canadian producers Peller Estate.

2. Late Harvest –

Late harvest and ice wines are very similar in style, however, late harvest wines are more affordable and less intense. The grapes are left on the vine for an extended period of time, increasing the amount of sugar in the grape and this also leads to a natural dehydration of the grape and leaves you with something closer to a raisin. Many different varieties can be made into late harvest wines and as such styles can vary.  The Seifried Estate “Sweet Agnes” Late Harvest Riesling from Flagship wines can be fantastic matches for fresh, lemon-based desserts.

3. Noble wines –

Although this may sound rather unpleasant, this method produces some of the most prized sweet wines in the world such as Sauternes & Tokaji. Botrytis Cinerea or Noble rot is a very particular type of fungus which evaporates all the water from the grapes, leaving behind sugars and fruit acids. It also imparts lovely non-fruit flavours of honey, beeswax & marmalade. As such Noble wines tend to complement desserts with caramel or toffee. ‘Thirty-nine ten’ in St Albans is a specialist in Tokaji, the Hungarian noble wine and well worth a visit.

4 . Fortified wines –

It is said that the process of fortification was invented to help wine survive the sea voyage from Portugal to Britain. Brandy was added to halt the fermentation, leaving some residual sugar in the wine as well as strengthening (or fortifying) it for its long sea journey. Port, Sherry and French “Vin doux natural” like Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise are all fortified wines. They cover a wide range of style, but unlike the other styles, these are high in alcohol and can be too much for light desserts. Port goes well with cheeses to chocolate, whereas Pedro Ximinez Sherry is great when simply poured over vanilla ice-cream. If you like Malbec and Port, I highly recommend you try the Malamado Fortified Malbec, available from Hedley Wright wine merchant in Hitchin.