Day 450

In Business Ethics, we completed our last in-class case study worth yet another 5% by watching two videos by a late American economist calling for an end to welfare and social security, and then responding to it.

In Sensory Evaluation, it was our last class of wine and food, so it was fitting that today’s class dealt with the end of the meal: desserts accompanied by fortified wines or dessert wines.

There are several paths one can take to arrive at dessert wines:

  • Late harvest wines: Leave the grapes on the vines longer. The longer the grapes are on the vine, the more sugar is produced inside the grapes.
  • Dry the grapes: Pick the grapes, then hang them or lay them on straw and let them completely dry out until they are raisinated, concentrating the sugar in the dried grape.
  • Deliberately leave the grapes on the vines too long, then cross your fingers that a) it will rain b) the wet grapes will get attacked by a mold called botrytis cinera (aka “noble rot”), and c) the weather will turn dry afterwards. If all these things happen, the botrytis will punch small holes in the grape’s skin through which water can escape, concentrating the sugars in the grape. Make wine from these (yes, mold and all–yecch!) and it will be very sweet. However, it’s a gamble: if the weather stays dry all fall, the botrytis will stay away; and if the weather doesn’t dry up after wetting the grapes, your harvest will turn into a squishy rotting mess. In Hungary, such botrytis afffected wines are called Tokaji, and the sweetness of the wine is measured by the number of baskets of grapes (puttonyos) it takes to fill the grape press. The more water that has been lost, the smaller and sweeter the grapes will be; therefore, the higher the number of puttonyos, the sweeter the wine.
  • The ice wine method: leave the grapes on the vine to face winter. When the temperature drops to -8°C (17°F), most of the water inside the grapes will freeze into ice, leaving just a small amount of sugary syrup still unfrozen. Harvest these grapes and immediately press them, resulting in a very concentrated, sweet wine. There’s only a few wine regions in the world where it gets cold enough to do this, including Germany and the Niagara region of Ontario.
  • Or take a high sugar wine that is fermenting, and add spirits to it. The higher alcohol kills the yeast, halting the fermentation prematurely, while there are still residual sugars in the wine. The end result is a sweet “fortified wine” known as port in Portugal, or vin doux natural in France.
  • Or if you are in Spain, add the spirits after the fermentation is complete to make sherry.
dessert wines

Dessert wines: (L to R) Hungarian tokaji (4 puttonyos), Niagara icewine, 2007 vintage port, 10-year-old tawny port, sweet sherry

In the case of port, you also have to decide whether to barrel age it or bottle age it. Bottle aging results in ruby port, which can last for decades, or even centuries. Barrel aging results in tawny port, which doesn’t age as well.

Regardless of how the dessert wine is produced, the rule of thumb is that the wine should always be sweeter than the food. (If the food is sweeter, it makes the the wine taste sour and acidic.)

With that theory out of the way, it was time to bring out some dessert wines and pair them up with pecan tarts, dried fruits, brownies, fruit cake, and fruit flan.

Life is sweet.

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