Wine is great for any time of day; morning, noon, night. You name it, there is a wine that perfectly matches the time. Quite honestly, I could make wine a full meal easily. Champagne/sparkling for an appetizer, sauvignon blanc for a first course, pinot noir/sangiovese for a second course, Malbec/syrah for a third course, then port for dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
The one thing I get asked all the time is what deciphers a dessert wine from just a sweeter wine and what is the difference in dessert wines, anyways?
We will focus on the difference between ice wine and late harvest wine today since there are hundreds of styles of dessert wine around the world.
Ice wine (or Eiswein in German) is one of the hardest wines to produce. Ice wines wait until the first freeze of the year (typically 1-2 months after harvest). Frozen on the vine, they are picked at around 20 degrees and pressed while still frozen. Most of the vineyard workers pick in the dark of night while the temperatures are the coldest to ensure the grapes are frozen.
The grapes will typically be twice as sweet as Coca Cola and take 3-6 months to ferment before being bottled.
The story goes: In 1794, winemakers in Franken, Germany were forced to create wines with the frozen grapes available for harvest that year. The result was extremely sweet but extremely delicious wines. They became so popular, the eiswine technique was adopted.
The process for ice wine is tedious. After harvest, the frozen grape marbles are immediately brought to a grape crusher and into a grape press. Imagine trying to crush a marble with a nearly frozen press, the results are many, many broken presses. Only about 10% of the liquid in the grapes are used for ice wine. Imagine caring for these vines for the whole year to only see 10% of the product complete? A lot of work for a small gain! This is why you will see steeper prices for true ice wines. Look for labels from Canada, Germany, and Austria. Some northern US states that border Canada make it as well.
Late Harvest Wine
Late harvest wine is picked roughly the same time as ice wine, 1-2 months after harvest (but in warmer climates, so no snow here!). The grapes are left hanging to become sweeter over time and the sugar content becomes more concentrated as the grape dehydrates. It is basically like pressing raisins and getting the bare minimum juice left to create that syrupy goodness.
Because of the higher residual sugar, there is also a higher alcohol content than most wines, so they are served in 2-3 ounce pours rather than the traditional 5 ounces. Alcohol content ranges from 18-20%. Phew!
One of the most sought after late harvest dessert wines is from Sauternes, France. This particular dessert wine is created from a fog phenomenon. The Sauternes region is located next to a foggy section of the Garonne river. The fog creates a mold on the grapes and infects them with a fungus called “noble rot”. The mold is a less than desirable gray color and are not easy on the eyes. The mold sweetens the grapes and makes a deliciously sweet wine.
Who would have thought that a mold could make one of the world’s most expensive wines? It definitely is a “noble” rot. Har har.
All of this rain is making Malibu look more like Ireland than a beach town (no complaints!) Our land is being replenished and our wells and lakes are feeling full again. This is also a great start to our year, rain early on in harvest is exactly what we need to start a great vintage year.
We have been pruning our vines, gearing them up for spring. We hope that this rain continues (since we are looking to be at least halfway out of our drought!) but slows as spring emerges.
The biggest indicator of a good year will be the weather. From bud break to harvest, we rely on the weather to help us create a beautiful wine to offer in the coming years.
The ultimate year would consist of ample rain in the winter, easy breeze in spring time and an Indian summer before harvest. Warm summer days and cool nights are the perfect puzzle pieces for a successful growing season. But every year is different and unpredictable (ahem, El Nino).
This is why you hear many people say “2012 was a great year for California wines” or “2012 was a terrible year for France.” Weather in the US in 2012 caused one of our best vintages to date, while in France, it was one of their worst (in their opinion). If you are a collector, you bear this date in mind when buying wine. If you are a novice drinker, it will not affect your choices as much since wines still tend to be consistent (most of the time).
If you are buying or tasting boutique wines (like Semler) you can taste the weather patterns in the wine. High alcohol and bold flavors express hot summers while lower alcohol and higher acid indicate some weather battles. Both of these factors result in a great wine, they just will age differently. Wines tend to be consistent throughout each year. Once you taste vintages year after year, you can notice subtle differences that you may have missed before. This is the “terroir” of the wine.
There is an art to cultivating and helping the grapes grow to maturity. A vineyard manager must make sure the grapes are flowering, watered properly and have adequate air flow.
Wine is delicious art.
So, what happens if the weather isn’t exactly ideal? That’s what the winemaker is for. Wine can be manipulated with different yeast strains, types of wood barrels vs. stainless steel, aging process, etc. There is an art form to creating a beautiful wine. Just because some wines have faults doesn’t mean the wine is bad. Every winemaker creates with the intention of letting nature speak for itself. Sometimes we need to make up for what nature couldn’t do.
Every artist is different, as is every winemaker. Winemakers follow ideologies that they were taught along their career and these ideologies vary in every AVA or country. You can’t appropriately compare Picasso to Leonardo da Vinci, so why compare a French winemaker to an Australian winemaker. Find your niche and drink up.
Wine is art. Appreciating art is divine, and I appreciate it every night.
It is finally February; I have never been so excited to be done with the first month of the year! Last month I tried and failed to stick to the Whole30 diet that basically every woman on Instagram was doing. I can take out sugar, carbs, dairy, even food from my diet, but wine? You must be taking crazy pills. The wine guy at WholeFoods would send out a search party if he didn’t see me for a month, or even a week for that matter.
You can still drink a glass of wine a night and be your healthiest, fittest self. You just have to be smart about the type of wines you are drinking. There are plenty of studies that show wine is in fact good for your body. It has 13 essential vitamins and minerals, it’s basically like taking a multivitamin! But the sugar content is the real kicker here for absolute heath and weight management. Full transparency, I would rather choose wine over food any day but you may not be as dedicated to wine then I am.
TIPS TO DRINKING SMART:
1. Choose wine with a lower alcohol content: Wine with less alcohol tends to have less sugar. Dry white wines (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde, German Riesling, Chenin Blanc) have the least amount of calories with 110-150 calories per 5 ounces with 9-12% alcohol. Red Fans? Dry red wines with less than 13.5% alcohol will be your best friend (Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)
2. Choose European wines: Whaaaaat? Yes. Europe has incredibly strict wine laws that restrict alcohol content to a certain parameter. Remember, alcohol content is key, so go on a world tour and try something new!
3. Stay away from “New World” wines: America to Argentina to Australia, new world wines boast high alcohol and high sugar wines that will undo all that hard work at the gym.
4. Eat Protein!: If you are like me, I am always thinking of French fries after downing the third glass of Pinot. This isn’t because you are weak, the wine is just really good at peer pressuring you. Alcohol enhances the taste of salt and fat so your brain tells you to reach for the bad stuff. To prevent the little voice telling you to make midnight bacon, eat a handful of almonds or cheese to calm your cravings before pouring the first glass.
5. Earn that glass: The greatest glass of wine is one after you kick your own butt at the gym. During my demise with Whole30, I allowed a glass of wine after a great workout and never regretted a thing. Maybe it’s just me, but thinking about getting a “bikini body” doesn’t motivate me at the gym, knowing wine is at home does.
6. Everything in moderation: This is one of those tips that I have to say but don’t follow.. Obviously one glass is better than three but my best writing is after at least two glasses so we give and take here.
So, I passed the Sommelier Exam and officially have enough knowledge to order off of a restaurant menu without breaking out in a sweat. You can call me “baby somm”.
What is great about the world of wine is you are never finished learning. I was taught by 4 Master Sommeliers (all of which were in the documentary SOMM, if you haven’t seen it, get on it) and they made it very clear that you will never know everything about wine. Even the Masters are still students.
I love educating people on wine, and a tasting room is the perfect classroom. Where else in the world can you go and learn about something then get rewarded by getting to drink? Tasting rooms my friend. Tasting rooms are incredibly intimidating but we all want to teach you. You can learn immense amounts over a glass of wine, so ask away! I haven’t heard it all but here are some that I’ve been asked quite frequently.
Frequently Asked Wine Questions (as heard in a tasting room)
1. Q: Is wine vegan?
A: In LA, this questions pops up more than in other areas but it is not a silly question by any means. Most wine is NOT vegan. To filter the wine (make it clear by taking the particles out), many winemakers use elements that are not considered vegan. Thankfully, the internet is making it easier to locate vegan wines due to dietary restrictions, so google away!
2. Q: Do the vines die in the winter?
A: The vines do not die (see Lillie’s article). They are merely hibernating and gearing up for the cold. Their nutrients are pulled down to their roots to protect themselves from frost damage. In the spring, they soak up a little sun and get ready for a new harvest!
3. Q: Do you add the fruits, spices, herbs, etc. to the wine to give it the flavor on the tasting notes?
A: This question is my favorite because we don’t add a single thing. The grapes give these characteristics all by themselves. The winemaker can manipulate the fermentation process or add a yeast that brings out the wines characteristics more but those little babies do it all on their own.
4. Q: How many grapes are in a bottle of wine?
A:Typically 500-700 depending on the grape variety. Some grapes are smaller than others. If you really think about it, depending on the price of the bottle, some grapes can be $0.25 each! The oldest winery in France broke down their grape cost and it came to $10 a grape! That’s a $5,000 bottle!
5. Q: How do I hold the glass?
A: Many people forget that wine is a living and breathing being! The more air you give it, the more aromas and tannin breakdown. If you warm it up, it can lose some key characteristics and even fall off and go bad. Always hold the glass by the stem, the lower the better. Your body heat can warm up the glass and ruin your experience with the wine. Also, you look classy doing it.
Have a grape day!