For many of us, the first wine we ever sipped was cloying, kiddush wine. Palwin’s Number 10 on Shabbat or during a long Seder night. Many still prefer to accompany their meal with wine on the sweeter side, but there is a whole range of dessert wines on the kosher market which are specifically crafted to be paired with puddings. Dessert wines are produced from grapes with a very high sugar content. During wine’s normal fermentation process, the natural sugars are converted into alcohol. Unlike regular dry wines, the winemaker stops the process early, so there is still some natural sweetness.
Like regular wines, this class of wines can be red, white or rose; still or sparkling and range from just a little bit sweet to a sticky sugar bomb. A good pudding wine is not just sweet, but balances this with acidity with to stop it being too syrupy.
How is it made?
Virtually any grape variety can be used and they can be made in any wine-making region in the world. Only the ice wines are limited by region — see below.
There are three main methods of making dessert wines: Late harvest — from grapes picked so late in the season, they are super sweet and almost raisins; Ice wine — from ripe grapes frozen on the vine, in northern countries where frosts happen relatively early in the year, like Austria, Germany and Canada; and lastly, fortified wine — like Port — which is also made from late-picked grapes with a high sugar content, but to which grape brandy is added during fermentation. That stops the process and keeps the drink sweet.
Two variations within the Late Harvest category are raisin wines — made from grapes which have been air-dried, often in the sun, before being used; and wines sweetened as a result of noble rot, the nickname for a fungus called botrytis. This fungus can, in the right climate, add very sophisticated flavours to the grapes and wonderful depth to the wine. These wines, referred to as liquid gold in our house, can be kept for years due to their unique flavour profile and high presence of sugar, allowing them to be preserved for decades. The most famous noble rot wines are Sauternes from France, which can be very valuable and are highly sought after.
WHICH ONES TO CHOOSE?
Late harvest wines:
These wines are usually white in colour and are always meant to be drunk cold.
Look out for: Hagafen Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (£19.99); Chateau Piada Sauternes (£49.99).
Need to know: They also have the ability to be stored for many years and make a lovely gift as they are usually sold in both 750 ml and 375 ml (half bottle) formats.
Serve with: Late Harvest wines would be perfect with a biscuit, a fruit tart or even a cheesecake. The Chateau Piada Sauternes would work well with a salty hard cheese or a blue cheese like Roquefort. It also works well with caramel and vanilla flavours, cheesecakes and chocolate desserts, and many different types of cheese.
Ice wines are intense and crisp, and should be drunk ice cold. They can be kept for around 5 years unopened. Some of the ice wines have a particularly high sugar content, and these can be kept for even longer, in some cases up to 30 years. Opened bottles of ice wine should be kept in the fridge with the cork in, and can keep for up to two weeks — longer than other types of wine.
Look out for: There are currently two ice wines I recommend made by Tzafona Cellars in Ontario, Canada — Tzafona Ice wine (£35.99) and Tzafona Cabernet Sauvignon ((£41.99).
They pair perfectly with hazelnut and caramel flavours as well as fresh and baked fruit, particularly apples and apricots.
These include Port and Port-style wines as well as Vin Santo and Madeira. These tend to be higher in alcohol and also have a longer shelf life once they are opened. They are served at a cool room temperature.
Look out for: Porto Cordovero Ruby (£29.99) or Or Haganuz Har Galil (Port style) (£18.99) — an Israeli port-style wine made using traditional port methods.
Serve with: Ruby Ports are perfect for serving with apple tarts, cheesecake and chocolatey desserts. It’s also delicious with cheese and with dates.
A range of dessert wines will be available to sample at KFWE 2020 on February 10