The bad sweet wine you've had in the past is just bad wine—the sweetness has nothing to do with itby Barry Smith / July 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
A lot of people don’t like sweet wine—but not all sweet wines are alike. Many of the most versatile grape varieties turn up in sweet or dry versions: the waxy, honeyed wines of Loire-grown Chenin Blanc; the dry, off-dry and sweet German Rieslings from the Mosel. Hungary’s famous Furmint grape used in Tokaj can also produce refreshingly different flavours like that of Oremus’s Mandolas; while Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon can be blended together to produce silvery, opulent white Bordeaux or Sauternes. One of the world’s greatest wines, Château d’Yquem, is produced in this way.
But arresting the alcoholic fermentation in order to leave copious quantities of residual sugar—as much as 35 grams per litre in some cases—will only produce a satisfyingly complex wine if there are sufficient quantities of balancing acidity. For it is the sweet-sour balance of these wines that lifts them out of the ordinary.
It is sweet, insipid wines that people are probably thinking about when they dismiss the whole category out of hand. And yet these are simply bad wines. As ever, it pays to look closer. Sauternes, for example, can be extraordinary but they tend to be heavier, more viscous than the lighter wines made across the river in Barsac. Château Climens is made there and it is glorious. It has a gentle, cool sweetness and a bitter orange marmalade finish.
Others will be more inclined towards the exuberance of a Château Rieussec from the stable of Château Lafite. It’s a matter of temperament. My friend, the philosopher…