There are few words loaded with more needless derision in the wine world than “sweet”. I’ve seen it a thousand times: a customer walks in and asks me about a certain wine, lets say a Riesling. It happens to be one of my favorites, so I opine with unbridled enthusiasm about the wine’s ripe melon and citrus fruit...
There are few words loaded with more needless derision in the wine world than “sweet”. I’ve seen it a thousand times: a customer walks in and asks me about a certain wine, lets say a Riesling. It happens to be one of my favorites, so I opine with unbridled enthusiasm about the wine’s ripe melon and citrus fruit, complex aromas and pure minerality. As soon as I even hint at the wine’s pleasingly sweet character, more often than not, the customer’s face will scrunch up in displeasure as they put the bottle back. “I only like dry wine,” they say. The wine goes un-drank. It’s unfair both to the wine and to the customer.
The same customer walks in on a different day. I’m pouring samples at the tasting bar including a Montlouis — Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. It’s a huge hit.
The customer remarks how much they like lemon-y flavor and “how dry it is.” I leap on the opportunity.
La Grange Tiphaine Grenouilleres
“Well,” I say through a half grin, “it is a demi-sec, so technically it’s fairly sweet.”
In horror, they drop their Riedel glass which explodes in a glittery shower of expensive Austrian crystal shards. The room goes quiet.
“How can that be!?! I only like dry wine!” they gasp.
At this point, they will have to get a glass of water and take a seat to think about the experience. Having your wine horizons expanded can be traumatic.
The lesson here: what we say we like and what we actually like can be quite different. At the wine shop, I get asked “is it dry?” more often than I get asked if I work there. Yet in tastings, people love wines that have a touch of residual sugar, if not quite a lot of residual sugar. This is not to say that people don’t enjoy dry wines but they don’t dislike sweet wines as much as they might think.
Dessert styles like France’s Sauternes and Hungary’s Tokaji are some of the most desired, highly rated, and expensive wines on Earth. But a lot of pleasure, complexity, and culinary inspiration can be found in less prestigious semi-sweet table wines. White wines such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Muscat can be found in both sweet and dry styles, both of which are worthwhile but quite different. High acid white varietals like Chenin Blanc and Riesling, can be overly sharp and jarringly acidic when bone dry. They are often richer, rounder, and attractive in a fully ripe, semi-sweet style. Interestingly, like in cooking, acidity counters the perception of sweetness, so sweet wines with high acid — like the demi-sec Montlouis mentioned in the example above — taste almost dry. It’s got to be tasted to be understood.
This entry is less about education than it is about advocacy. When’s the last time you bought a German Riesling Kabinett and drank it alongside your roasted pork loin? How about split a bottle of Gewurztraminer with some soft, stinky cheese and an adventurous loved one? Or even just drink half a bottle of Moscato (it’s 5.5% ABV, you can do it) with a good book on your back porch? If you can’t remember, it has been too long. Don’t be afraid to let yourself enjoy it.
2014 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett $29.99 – There is probably nothing I love more than Riesling, especially German Riesling, and especially German Riesling from the Mosel. That’s why I picked this Kabinett from Fritz Haag, one of the top names in the Mosel with a history that stretches back to the early 17th century. Winemaker Oliver Haag works with two hillside vineyards in the town of Brauneberg, Juffer and Juffer Sonnenhur, both of which are planted exclusively to Riesling. This Brauneberger Kabinett comes from both sites and is classic Mosel Kabinett: clean and bright with a slight sweetness and ethereal, otherworldly minerality. If you haven’t fallen for Mosel Riesling yet, this citrus and herb driven, delicately refreshing Riesling is as charming and easy to love as possible. Drink this now with freshwater fish and lighter white meat preparations, or age it for 2-4 years in your cellar.