DISCOVER SWEET WINES (PART 1)
When you hear the phrase "sweet wine," you might immediately think of a candy-like liquid that runs across your tongue. But that's not the fairest description of this delicious wine. Sweet wines offers a variety of flavors, fragrances, and finishes.
Many of today's most favored wines are dry ones. But there's no reason to only enjoy dry wines and leave sweet wines off the table. In fact, the oldest official wine region in the world — Douro, Portugal — is renowned for its Port wine, a sweet fortified wine.
What makes sweet wines different than other types of wines? Let's explore with us today.
When is a wine sweet?
Whether a wine is “sweet” isn’t easy to answer. But a glance at the alcohol by volume (abv) can provide a clue.
Many dry wines have more than 14% abv, while a bottle with alcohol below 10% is often a sweet wine, such as Kabinett Riesling or Moscato d’Asti.
Although we can easily find information about sweet wines but understanding which are technically sweet, and to what degree, is critical.
How to measure the sweetness in wine?
The sweetness means the sugar, measured in grams of sugar per liter that remain in the finished wine. Dry wines have no perceptible residual sugar, and are typically fermented to 0–3 grams per liter. However, some dry wines still contain even up to 8–10 grams of sugar, or about 2 ½ teaspoons, per liter. The perception of sweetness varies depending on a number of factors, from the grapes’ natural acid to winemakers' technique.
(Residual Sugar: Unfermented grape sugar in a finished wine.)
In addition to the taste on our palate, the presence of sugar adds perceptible weight to the wine and changes its texture.
Sugar helps to balance high-acid grapes, a surprisingly common technique, but these wines are still classified as dry. Though there’s no obligation to, most producers will indicate on the label if the product veers into the vague territory of off-dry, or slightly sweet, wine.
In a sparkling wine, this can be labeled “extra-dry,” to the confusion of many. In Champagne, the scale from driest to sweetest is: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry (or Extra-Sec), Dry (or Sec), Demi-Sec and Doux. Champagne: Has a dosage level that yields 12 to 17 g/l of residual sugar.
Sweet wines are best made from grapes with high acid content. Acid structures what otherwise can be a bland sweetness, while residual sugar makes acidic flavors and aromas more palatable.
Even in the sweetest wines, the role of acid cannot be overemphasized.
How long can sweet wines age?
Sweet and fortified wines can be aged for a long term. Produced with an emphasis on acidity and added preservation power in the form of high sugar and sometimes alcohol, these wines are famous for their longevity.
Vintage Port is meant to be aged for at least 15 years, although multiple decades are preferred. The same applies to quality Madeira, the cooked wine said to last forever. Tokaj and Sauternes are unfortified wines that can be aged for decades, which has led to record-breaking prices at auction for antique bottles.
As these bottles age, the sweetness does not disappear, but the wine picks up darker flavors. It strikes a better balance on what may have tasted like simple sugar when the wine was young.
Serving sweet wines
When serving guests, lightly sweet wines like a Halbtrocken Riesling or Amabile Lambrusco will generally be consumed quickly, like dry wines. However, most people tend to sip sweeter options slower, so consider the appropriate serving size with a very sweet wine. Many serious sweet wines come in half-bottles that befit their concentrated contents.
Sweet wines can be served in regular wine glasses, especially if you only enjoy them occasionally. However, decorative miniature glasses should be avoided, as they inhibit the swirling and smelling that are a valued part of appreciating these wines.
All sweet wines should be lightly chilled. It tempers the perception of sugar, but doesn’t obstruct delicate flavors.
With so many styles and variables, from the way a wine was made to its grapes and age, it’s clear that sweet wines are no less complex than the dry ones that receive most of the public’s attention. Those curious enough to discover them will be rewarded with a slew of new and unique flavors and textures, all made possible thanks to sweetness.
Sweet Wine Food Pairings
As mentioned, sweet wines come in a range of sweetness levels and can be made from red grapes and white grapes alike. Depending on which one you choose, these sippers are fantastic partners for a variety of foods and desserts. You can even enjoy them as dessert on their own.
Since there are so many types of sweet wines, we'll go with the two main categories: sweet red wine and sweet white wine. Keep in mind that when dealing with food and wine pairings, you want to assess the wine’s acidity, body, tannins, and alcohol content along with the dish’s ingredients and flavors.
For example, a heavy sweet wine can overpower a light seafood dish. Pairing takes practice, so be patient, don't worry too much about the "rules," and remember that everyone's palate is different.
Food Pairings for Sweet Red Wines
Sparkling sweet reds like vin doux naturel go great with any rich chocolate dessert, including truffles, cake, or tiramisu.
Food Pairings for Sweet White Wines
Sweet white wines such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer make a delightful complement to many foods, including soft cheeses, creamy pastas dishes, chicken, and smoked meats. These wines also pair particularly well with South Asian and Indian dishes (for instance, sauces with honey or tamarind).
Sauternes, with its honeyed notes of apricot and butterscotch, makes a fine match with creamy desserts like crème brulee, cheesecake, and custards.
Moscato is perfect with appetizers, sweet brunch dishes, dessert, and alone as an aperitif.
Let's discover our most delicious sweet wines here.