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Two women on wine: A time and place for sweet wines

Not just for the novice

Posted: March 2, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

This is Part I of a two-part series.

Contrary to popular belief, sweet wines are not just for the novice drinker. As with most things in life, there is a time and a place for everything. This is an accurate statement when you think of wine, because it is the only beverage that is made in a specific place and at a specific time. As part of the wine genre, sweet wines certainly have their place in our wine cabinet.

Although some wine drinkers will turn their noses up at sweet wines, there is a time and a place when a nice chilled glass of Riesling may be the perfect companion to a meal, or a Port may be wonderful way to end a meal. So what are sweet wines, what are some types of sweet wines, and what do you pair them with?

Sweet wine is determined by the level of residual sugar in the fermentation process. What that means is simply, how much sugar is left in the wine after it has been fermented.

The finest sweet white wines are Riesling and Chenin Blanc. Riesling is Germany's greatest grape and is categorized by the level of the grape's ripeness at harvest. It is usually referred to as Kabinett, Spatlese, or Auslese (least ripe to ripe). Riesling is one of the most food friendly wines. It pairs nicely with everything from pork and poultry to appetizers and desserts. The most common and delicious pairing however, would be with spicy foods. The sweetness of the wine calms down the spiciness of the food, making it the perfect symphony on your palate.

Chenin Blanc, from the Loire Valley in France, has flavors of honey, cantaloupe, melon and quince. It is considered the most versatile grape because it is produced in various styles and sweetness. It can range from off-dry (sweet), to dessert wines, as well as sparkling wines. Janice Robinson, a wine expert, states that in "many ways Chenin Blanc is France's answer to Germany's Riesling." Chenin Blanc is not only produced in France but across the globe. In South Africa, it is commonly referred to as "Steen." In fact, South Africa actually produces more Chenin Blanc than France.

Other sweet white wines would also include Gewurtztraminer (Gewurtz) and Moscato. Gewurtz is another aromatic, off-dry wine with aromas and flavors of honey, apricot, pear and citrus.

Moscato is a light-bodied, fragrant sweet wine with a little effervescence and flavors of peaches and honey. Its name is derived from the Italian word for Muscat, a sweet grape, and is grown in various parts of the world. The most popular is in the Asti region of Italy, giving us Moscato d'Asti. Delicious as an aperitif or with dessert and cheeses, this delightful wine is always a crowd pleaser.

Although the vast majority of Champagne and sparkling wine isn't sweet, there is a small percentage that is. When seeking out these special treasures, look for the description of "sec" (medium sweet) or "demi-sec" (sweet) on the label. These are delightful wines that are enjoyable with a variety of foods, from spicy Asian dishes to decadent desserts. You might like to try Gruet Winery Demi-Sec, a lightly sweet and creamy sparkling wine with vivid flavors of green apples, ripe pears and pineapple. Another favorite is Laurent Perrier Demi-Sec Champagne, rich with flavors of pear and honey and just the right touch of sweetness. It is an elegant way to enjoy with dessert and satisfy your sweet tooth!

While we're still on the subject of sparkling wines, we should mention one of Italy's favorite sparklers, Brachetto d'Acqui. This is a red dessert wine that comes from the brachetto grape. It is produced in the town of Acqui Terme in the Piedmonte region of Italy. It is sometimes referred to as the red equivalent of Moscato d'Asti. This wine is slightly sweet and fizzy, with aromas of ripe fruit and rose petals and soft flavors of strawberry (the signature fruit of brachetto). It is a perfect way to start a meal, and our recommendation would be Terradavino Gattera Brachetto d'Acqui.
In the next article we'll talk about dessert wines, fortified wines, late harvest wines and ice wines. Cheers!


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