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A Closer Look at How Specialty Wines are Made


Fortified Wines


Fortified wines, like sherry or port, are made by adding brandy to the wine during the fermentation process.  This makes the wine sweeter, more “syrupy”, and higher in alcohol content.  Fortified wines are often dessert wines.  Because fortified wines are higher in alcohol content (above 18%), they are not susceptible to oxidization, and can be aged longer before bottling, or stored and aged after the bottle is open.


Ice Wine


Ice wine is made from grapes which have frozen on the vine.  They are left on the vine beyond the normal harvest date, when temperatures at night dip low enough to freeze the grapes.  Because of the long “hang time”, the grapes sugar content is higher, producing a sweet, high alcohol, desert wine.  The frozen grapes are usually picked at night, or very early in the morning.  The grapes are pressed while still frozen, which produces a very concentrated juice.  Ice wine is an excellent dessert wine, and is best enjoyed chilled.


Late Harvest


Similar to ice wine, “late harvest” wines are made from grapes which have been harvested later than usual.  Their sugar content is higher, and the resulting wine is sweeter.


Champagne and Sparkling Wine


What is the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?  Champagne is sparkling wine that is produced and made in the Champagne region in France.  Only sparkling wine from this region can bear the name “Champagne”.  All other wines made in this method are simply called “sparkling wine”.


The traditional method of making Champagne is known as “Methode Champenoise”.  The grapes are harvested, pressed, and fermented the same way as regular wine.  The resulting wine is often very acidic, and not too nice to drink at this point.  Wines from various vineyards or vintage years may be blended together.  This blended wine is them put into bottles, and yeast and a small amount of sugar are added.  The bottles are sealed and stored for a second fermentation.  The carbon dioxide bubbles produced during fermentation, which would rise to the top of the vat during the fermentation of regular wine, are trapped inside the bottle.  This makes the resulting wine “bubbly” or sparkling.


After aging, usually 1 ½ to 3 years, the bottles go through a process called “riddling”.  They are rotated a little each day and gradually turned so that their necks point down.  This allows the sediment to accumulate in the neck of the bottle.  It is then removed in a process known as “disgorging”.  This is done by freezing the liquid in the neck, removing this plug of ice which contains the sediment or “lees”, and then inserting a cork and the cage which holds it in place.  The Champagne or sparkling wine is now ready to be “popped” and enjoyed! 

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