Late Harvest (Late Harvest Wine)

Definition - What does Late Harvest (Late Harvest Wine) mean?

A late harvest wine is a type of dessert wine. It usually refers to a wine made from grapes that have been left on the vine longer than usual. These grapes dehydrate, concentrating the juice, to create a wine that is sweet, full-bodied and, usually, dry.

In France, the on-the-vine-dehydration process is called passerillage or passerillé. The level of sweetness is decided by the winemaker and created by when they harvest the grapes. The longer the grapes are left to ripen and dry on the vine, the sweeter the end result. Late harvest wines are usually high in alcohol. They are known for their rich, honeyed flavors. The most common grape variety used in Late Harvest wines is Riesling, though any variety can be used. A more successful grape is one that keeps its acidity while developing high sugar levels resulting in a wine that is sweet but not cloying.

WineFrog explains Late Harvest (Late Harvest Wine)

Late Harvest wines vary in characteristics depending on the variety used to make them. The general guidelines are:

  • Colour: Straw yellow to golden
  • Aroma: fresh fruit, exotic fruit, apricot, peach, flowers, honey.
  • Taste: Slightly to very sweet with heavy fruit notes; almost to totally dry; full bodied; usually a more complex bouquet.
  • Pairing: serve with fruit pies or any other naturally sweet dessert
Late Harvest is, in essence, a sub-category of Dessert Wines. There are many different ways to label a Late Harvest wine, depending on where it is made:
  1. Late Harvest - wines made with the intention of leaving them on the vine to harvest before freezing so as to create a sweet dessert wine. It is not uncommon for wines that were intended to be Ice Wine but due to the climate, don’t meet the necessary requirements.
  2. Vendages Tardive (VT) - French for Late Harvest, the term was coined in Alsace and is legally defined and used frequently there; it is also an official wine designation in Luxembourg.
  3. Spätlese and Auslese - used in Germany and Alsace; Spätlese means "Late Harvest" and Auslese means "Selected Harvest".
Late Harvest can also include other types of winemaking techniques:
  1. Botrytis cinera (nobel rot) wines are considered late harvest wines, since the winemaker has to leave the grapes on the vine until the fungus attaches to the berries. These wines are much sweeter than the usual Late Harvest wines. They include:
    • Sélection de Grains Nobel and Sauternes (France)
    • Tokaji (Hungary)
    • Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (Germany)
  2. Ice Wine is made by leaving the grapes on the vine until after they have frozen. These wines are on the sweetest end of the sweet wine spectrum. They are most commonly produced in Canada, Germany and Austria, though can be found from other wine regions.
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