Sweet Wine

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sweet wine has a history that goes back to before the production of the first cane sugar. Then, as now, it required propitious conditions and specialized techniques, making it scarce. From the Middle Ages in Europe until very recently in the West, sweet wines conferred high status upon those who consumed them. Legends ascribe curative powers to sweet wines and declare them appropriate for the deathbeds of kings, thereby increasing their aura of the miraculous.

There is something genuinely miraculous about sweet wines, because yeast tends to convert all the sugar in grape juice into alcohol (and various fermentation byproducts), resulting in dry wines. Despite all the advances in winemaking technology during the last century, sweet wines still sometimes come about by accident when yeast fails to do its job properly. However, it is not by chance that many low-priced red and white wines on supermarket shelves that seem to be dry are actually slightly sweet. The sweetness in these wines has been added, usually in the form of grape juice concentrate, to make them taste more immediately appealing. Here we find a parallel to “savory” convenience foods with added sweetness.