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Sweet Wine

Jun. 8, 2009
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Sweet wine, hay making, sunshine day breaking.
We can wait till tomorrow.

Car speed, road calling, bird freed, leaf falling.

We can bide time.

When I talk to new people about wine, I'll usually hear "I don't like dry wines. I like them sweeter," at least once I've found as many men as women out there who prefer sweet wine -- they just don't generally admit it in public. Chances are, many of these folks got smacked in the face with a big-ass cabernet when they first started drinking wine. Since we tend to return to that we find pleasant, and most folks have at least one positive sweet wine experience, "Sweet is better" often plays pretty well. I'm not here to dislodge that idea from anyone's mind.

When yeast is added to wine, the yeast eats sugar, farts carbon dioxide, and pees alcohol. If a winemaker wants to make a wine sweeter, he or she will add something to the wine to stop the fermentation before it's complete, leaving "residual sugar" in the wine. Many wines leave at least a little residual sugar to improve the taste. Also, a lot of mass-produced wines do so as well, since a little sugar can cover a lot of shoddy winemaking.

I go through phases where I prefer sweeter wine. They aren't long phases, mind you, but I certainly can relate to enjoying that sugar from time to time. Since Riesling is probably the best known "sweet" wine, without further ado, I decided to compare an American and a German Riesling:

I started with Pacific Rim 2007 Columbia Valley Sweet Riesling -- Pacific Rim is one of the many faces of Bonny Doon winery. Their Dry Riesling is one of my standard go-to bottles if I'm having sushi or almost any kind of spicy Asian food. I set this up as a side-by-side with the Selbach 2007 Riesling Kabinett, a German Riesling I know to be sweet and basically at the same price point. (Around $10 for either bottle.)

At first taste, the Pacific Rim is much more straightforward. This is a very low alcohol wine -- only about 9%. The nose is peachy and light. The flavor is very fruity and, as promised, sweet. Peaches and pineapples are the dominant flavors. The finish is a little sugary and not as crisp as I generally prefer.

The Selbach was more interesting. The nose was also very light, but the first taste had a lot more going on. Like many German Rieslings, there was a mineral undertone to the sweetness and fruit, giving a flavor I find appealing. The main flavors centered much more on apple and pear. The finish was crisper, again largely because of the minerality. We also tried both of these wines with a spicy stir fry that we put together. With the food, the Selbach outperformed the Pacific Rim as well. The minerality cut through the spices much more effectively.

If you're looking for something sweeter, you're probably better off looking down the German aisle if you're trying to find something in the $8-10 range. For a few dollars more, you'll find some wonderful domestic offerings from places like New York's Finger Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest. For instance, not long ago, I had the chance to try Charles Smith"Kung Fu Girl" 2007 Washington State Riesling. As Charles himself puts it, "WHY? BECAUSE, RIESLING AND GIRLS KICK ASS!" and I wholeheartedly agree on both counts, although the caps are his.

This Riesling is on the sweeter side, but takes off in a number of directions. The minerality of this wine reminds me of an Austrian or German Riesling, but mango, pear, some citrus -- you can find something different with each sip. The finish is slightly sweet and nicely crisp. I first had this at a wine tasting with a number of friends whose palates ranged from "only sweet wines" to "sweet wines really bite." The table was unanimous in praise for this wine. At around $13, it's an absolute steal -- and with a name and bottle design like this one has, it's a perfect wine to bring to a summer party, regardless of the flavor preferences of the gathering.


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