Natural sweet wines
A southern French speciality, natural sweet wines are produced predominantly in the Languedoc-Roussillon, and are occasionally raised in large glass containers exposed to sunlight.
The invention of natural sweet wines dates back to the thirteenth century. This practice first started in Languedoc-Roussillon. A doctor from Montpellier discovered the marriage between grape liqueur and his brandy. Unsurprisingly, natural sweet wines have become a regional specialty. The best known in the Hérault region are : Muscats de Rivesaltes, Frontignan, Mireval and Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. In the Pyrénées-Orientales: Maury, Banyuls and Rivesaltes…
These wines are often produced in arid soils and in a hot, dry Mediterranean climate. Four varieties of grape can be used to make them: Grenache, Muscat and Malvoisie for white wines; and Maccabéo for red wines.
Natural sweet wines (or VDN – Vins Doux Naturels) are fortified wines. A winemaker explains: “These are wines which are first vinified in a traditional manner from grapes harvested when fully ripe, but whose fermentation is halted by adding alcohol.” Stopping the fermentation allows the wine to become both alcoholic and naturally sweet.
In the Maury appellation, they are exposed to the sun for several months in large glass containers known as “touries”. This helps with their oxidation process. The result: voluptuous colours and fragrances. Sweet white wines give off scents of honey, apricots and orange blossom. The amber and copper red wines generate sweet citrus flavours, and aromas of cocoa and spice.
They release bursts of flavour as a starter with melon, or as an accompaniment to a chocolate dessert.