català   español

 We like the Mediterranean country and landscape. The strong summer sun  gives its energy to the grapes. The grapes absorb and concentrated the water from soil. The sunlight encloses sugars in the grapes. When you see a bottle of sweet wine you have in front of you bottled Mediterranean sun ready to spread it out anyplace you are,... Barcelona or New York.
They are called sweet wines because of the method used to produce them. The method attempts to keep in the wine the natural sugars from grapes. Wine is fermentation of grape juice by yeasts to produce alcohol. Drinks made by mixing grape juice with alcohol are not considered sweet wine. You can find some drinks like this called 'mistela' or grape liquor. 
Most wines contain some sugar and sometimes they can be a little sweet but we are referring to real sweet wines. That is, when the content of sugars is more that about 60 grams per liter. That creates a well defined sweet flavor. The alcohol content could be between 15 and 20% vol.

We can make sweet wine from any variety of grapes nevertheless wine producers have been selecting the better varieties to make sweet wines over many centuries .  We can find the following varieties in our land:
 Muscat:  Moscatell d' Alexandria (very common and has a typical taste) , Moscatell little grain o Moscat fin (more aromatic than the previous one), Garnatxa negra (Black Grenache , typical fruity taste and tanicity), Garnatxa blanca (White Grenache with particular fruity taste) . Other grapes: Macabeu, Malvasia  and Monastrell.

Three methods to produce sweet wines are known. All are traditional and being used for many centuries.
Every method starts from grape juice of a specific variety. It is very important to select the best grapes to obtain quality wine. Only perfect grapes are selected on harvest and defective ones are rejected. The grapes will be squeezed at low pressure. That allows to get primary juice without strange flavors from seeds, skins and wood.
The natural sugars from the grape are converted into alcohol by yeasts. The wine alcoholic content at the end depends on the sugar content in the grape and the method used to produce it. Today the fermentation process is performed at controlled temperature in order to preserve the aroma in the wine.


The first method is the one most used in Catalonia. The method was described in the 13th century by Arnau de Vilanova. He was an important medicine doctor in old Aragon Kingdom (It included Catalonia+Aragon+Balearic Islands+ some territories  south of France at that time) . The method is performed by  stopping  the fermentation by adding some pure alcohol  from wine distillation. The fermentation stops because the yeast cannot survive when alcohol content rises above 15% vol. The sugar content kept in the wine depends strongly when the moment when the alcohol is added. Sweet wines obtained from this method are specially sweet , have a flower smell and are well flavored with the original taste of the grapes.
The second method consist on leaving the grapes to mature completely in the fields in order to have more sugar than could be converted into alcohol by the yeast. When the alcohol rate kills  the yeast , part of sugars remained.
This wine tastes stronger, is very sweet, has a fruit smell  and a dry grape taste.
The application of any of the described methods depends on the climate conditions of the country. Only in some warm areas the grapes are mature and dry enough to enable to production the wine using the second method. Every producer selects the variety, the appropriate time of harvest and the method in order to get the desired features of the future wine.

There is a third method used in those lands where the grape could not get the amount of sugar necessary to make sweet wine by the other methods. The normal grape juice is boiled to evaporate water and concentrate the sugar in order to get the appropriate amount needed to ferment to alcohol as well as keep some part of the original sugar. The obtained syrup can be mixed with fresh juice  to improve the wine. This wine is often sweet enough but very flat, without aroma (lost by boiling) and is similar to liquors  or 'mistela'. Traditionally, in some places, the third method is used to produce drinks for home consumption and that products  are not sold in the normal market 

Many procedures applied to produce normal dry wines are used for sweet wines as well.
It is very common to preserve the wine in oak barrels to mature it. The wood flavors will pass to wine and change its taste. The sweet wines normally don't  acidificate because of their relative high content of alcohol, however some ageing processes in barrels take place in contact with air and that oxidation creates special taste known as 'rancio' in the wine. Another practice is to mix in the barrels some new wine with the old one. These wines are called ’reserve’ or 'hors d'âge'. These wines are very complex because of the wood and a special rare fungi living in the barrels.   

 We talked about sugar but which ones do we have in the grapes?
We can find the followings sugars:
Fructose: Fresh flavor and fruity.
Glucose: Dense and less sweet.
Glycerol: Greasy sugar. It creates tear shaped drops on the cups.
We can find organic acids too. A characteristic acid in grapes is tartaric.
The dark red color in red grapes comes from colored compounds called polyphenols. They create the red color of  the grape's skin.
 Tannins are astringent compounds coming from seeds and skin. There are volatile organic compounds responsible for the good smell. There are esters.

There are many differences between wines according to their variety and the production method . Some typical smells and flavors in sweet wines:
AROMA : Flowers, honeysuckle and jasmine
, apricot, peaches, cítrus, date, dry fruits...
FLAVOURS: Fruits: peach ,plum, apricot, fig. Honeycomb and honey, jams, candy ...

Each variety gives its properties to create the flavor and aroma:
Muscat, Moscatell : Flower smell.
Grenache  : Tanins, berries, jam.
Try to taste and identify.

Sweet wines can be served as an appetizer (very frequent in the Roussillon), as dessert wines and why not, at any time for pleasure. We recommend serving them moderately cool. At high temperature we can smell too much alcohol vapor. In general we can keep open bottles i but we recommend to refrigerate them. If we keep them for a long time (weeks) they show oxidation (darker color) and lose freshness (taste flat). Therefore it is recommended to drink them over a short period of time. There is no problem to finish a normal bottle (50 or 75 cl) when some guests are invited and the wine is as its best quality. Try it !

                                                     Go to the top                       Back to DOSSIERS

   Llicència de Creative Commons  Non profit site, Free diffusion. Mention required.                      Email                                                      Last update : 04-Jun-2014