Wines according to their sugar content can be categorized as dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet. During alcoholic fermentation the yeast consumes the sugar coming from grapes and produces alcohol and Co2. If the final wine you want to produce is dry, you allow the yeast to consume all the sugar. The more sugar your grapes have the more alcohol they can produce. Most types of yeast used in winemaking can only ferment up to a certain alcohol level. Usually this is around 15-16% alcohol, beyond this point the yeast gets poisoned by the alcohol and dies. If your grapes are extremely sweet, your yeast will never ferment all the sugar, thus your wine will be sweet. You can also stop the alcoholic fermentation at an earlier stage with the addition of a spirit (Fortified wines). The alcohol kills the yeast and leaves residual sugar behind. In this article we will only focus on the sweet wines made from very sweet grapes.
There are several ways to increase the sugar level in your grapes. For example, in Cyprus winemakers harvest their grapes and lay them outside in the sun. This helps the water within the grapes to evaporate and therefore concentrate the sugars. Now your grapes have so much sugar that your yeast cannot ferment it all. The best example is Commandaria, the oldest manufactured wine in the world. Wines made with this method are also called Straw wines.
In other countries (usually in colder ones) winemakers can make sweet wines from grapes that have been affected by botrytis (noble rot). This is a type of fungal “disease” that dehydrates the grapes and thus increases their sugar level. Again our grapes end up with so much sugar that our yeast cannot ferment everything. These wines are often called botrytized.
Late harvest wines are made from grapes that are left on the vines that past their normal harvesting time. The more time they spend on the vine the sweeter they become. The grapes used are mostly healthy but small amounts of botrytized grapes can also be used. Some good examples are the Auslese (selected harvest) wines in Austria and Germany.
Another unique and rare way to make sweet wines is with frozen grapes. These are called Ice Wines and are made from healthy and late harvested grapes that frizzed naturally on the grapevine. The water within the grapes freezes while the remaining sugars and other dissolved solids do not. This means that during the pressing process most of the water is left behind as ice. Only a small amount of concentrated juice is extracted. The best examples are found in Germany and Canada.
Fikardos Winery is producing for the second time in its history Sunnama, a dessert wine made from sun dried grapes. The first Sunnama was made back in 2004 and was aged in oak barrels for 8 years. Only a small amount of Sunnama was ever produced. The wine is only available at the winery.
(Sunnama is not a Commandaria but instead a dessert wine from the Paphos region. Commandaria can only be produced in the Limassol area.)
This year’s Sunnama is made from our Xinisteri vineyard in Choulou village. The process of making Sunnama starts from the vineyards. Three weeks ago we visited our vineyards and pinched the stem just above the grapes. By doing so we stopped the juice flow between the vine and the grapes. The grapes were then left to dehydrate. It’s the same idea as straw wines but in this case the grapes are dried on the vine. The grapes are now harvested and will soon be vinified into wine. The fermentation process is expected to last 2-3 months.
If you wish to try our 2004 Sunnama just let us know during your visit. The wine is available for tasting to everyone.