Do you know what it means?
Late harvest, as the term implies, means that the grapes were harvested later than is usual for the region and/or variety. Late harvested grapes are left on the vine longer to allow them ripen even more than normal, becoming richer in sugars and flavors. As they continue to ripen they also dehydrate and shrivel, further concentrating the sugars and flavor compounds.
In general the term late harvest on a wine label is also an indication of style – an indication that the wine will be sweet and is a dessert wine. Late harvested grapes are often so rich in sugars that the yeasts die off before all the sugars are converted into alcohol, leaving a certain amount of residual sugar.
Many late harvested grapes are also affected by noble rot, but this is not always the case. See my earlier post on noble rot to read more about this style of late harvest wine, with Sauternes and Tokaji being two of the most well known examples.
While late harvest wines are usually sweet and they do not have to be. They can in fact be almost or totally dry. If so they will be higher in alcohol and fuller in body than if the grapes were harvested at normal ripeness.
While Riesling is probably the grape variety most well known for late harvest wines all grape varieties, including red ones can be used for late harvest wines. For example, in California you will find an increasing number of late harvest zinfandel wines.
(Image: Underlying image by Sadovnikova Olga/Shutterstock)