So, what exactly are dessert wines? Dessert wines, as the name suggests, are very rich and sweet wines that most often have gone through a special step in the winemaking process. There are three main styles of specialty dessert wines that are available: Late Harvest, Beerenauslese (Botrytis), and Ice Wine.
Late Harvest wines are a lighter style of dessert wine. The grapes that are used for Late Harvest wines are left on the vines longer than a typical wine. This additional time on the vine allow the grapes to ripen more and as the grapes ripen, the sugar content (referred to as residual sugar) of the grape increase.
BEERENAUSLESE or BOTRYTIS
Beerenauslese or Botrytis wines take Late Harvest wines a step further. Grapes selected for Botrytis wines are left on the vine even longer for maximum sweetness and concentrated flavors. The grapes are left on the vine until they become so overripe that they almost rot and develop a “noble mold.” Grapes are then hand selected and handpicked to produce a very rich and sweet style of wine.
Ice Wine is one of the most sought after dessert wines in the world. Grapes for Ice wines are left on the wines even later in the season than Botrytis wines…until the grapes actually become frozen on the vines. Ice wines are one of the most difficult wines to produce because the winemaker has to rely on nature to freeze the grapes before they rot on the vines. For Ice wines, the winemaker does not want them to enter a state of Botrytis. Ice wines have a level of sweetness similar to Botrytis wines.
Botrytis and Ice Wines tend to be fairly expensive because it takes twice as many grapes to produce these wines and because of the special circumstances required to produce these wines. They are also only usually available in half bottles.