Sweet Wines

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Sweet wines have a bad reputation in the United States. We tend to think of "sweet wines" as being in the family with wines we sampled in high school, with a consistency and sweetness comparable to cough syrup. Once we're grown up, we decide that "dry" wines are much more sophisticated. So we ask for dry wines in restaurants, and in liquor stores. But we must not really know what we're asking for, because nine times out of ten, the wine we taste, and say, "yes, that's it!" is, technically speaking, a sweet, or semi sweet wine.

An actual sweet wine, in wine terms, is one in which there's a little unfermented sugar left over. Pretty easy to identify, wouldn't you think? Surprisingly, that's not necessarily true. Many of the most popular, seemingly dry wines, such as a very popular California Cabernet Sauvignon, contain unfermented sugar in the mix. This very "sugar added" Cab is one of the best selling in all of the United States.

On the other hand, genuinely dry wines are often mistakenly identified as being sweet. Chardonnay, no matter what your tongue tries to tell you, is a dry wine. All the sugar has been converted to alcohol. However, that doesn't mean it lacks a fruity, full flavored quality. This fruity quality is one of the most highly prized among wine producers. One of the nicest Chardonnays around, Limoux, is terrifically popular--as a "sweet" Chardonnay. You can call it sweet if you want to, it's still the same lovely wine no matter what. But the fact is, if it's a Chardonnay, it's a dry wine.

Another example of a technically dry, but seems-sweet-on-the-tongue wine is Rioja, a summery Spanish red. Rioja is delightful with light meals. It is considered a delightful pairing with goose, duck, smoked ham, and grilled meats.

How Sweet It Is

Then, of course, there are the bona fide super-sweet wines, those meant for enjoyment after dinner, or with dessert. There are some very civilized options within this category. One is fizzing Italian wines made from the Muscat grape. These delicately bubbling wines are delightful with fruit, and perfect for a summer dinner outdoors. The Grand Old Gentlemen of after dinner drinks, of course, will always include Genuine Port (made in Portugal), and Genuine Sherry (made in Spain).

A very popular French wine-liqueur, which for hundreds of years was enjoyed exclusively by the winemakers of Languedoc, is Cartagene. Cartagene is a sweet, fruity liqueur that is said to accompany chocolate giddily well. Regardless of what kind of "sweet" wine you're looking for, the point is to enjoy the wines you enjoy. Rediscover the genuine sophistication of semi-sweet wines, enjoy the fruitiness of otherwise dry wines, and bask in the luxe richness of super-sweet dessert wines. The sweet life, indeed.


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