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Two Women on Wine: With wine, it is all about style

Still, sparkling or fortified and dry, sweet or off-dry

Posted: May 25, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: May 25, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

There are countless times when customers tell us they don't want or like a wine that is too dry, preferring something sweet. Upon delving further into the customer's needs, we find that the classification of dry versus sweet wine offers some confusion among novices and wine lovers alike. As we continue to probe their preferences, we often discover what they're really looking for is a fruity wine, not necessarily a sweet, dessert-like wine.

Within the three basic styles of wine - still, sparkling and fortified - there are three sub-categories of dryness and sweetness. Dry wine has very little or no sweetness, off-dry is slightly sweet, and sweet, as in late harvest and dessert wines, is exactly as the name implies.

In red wine the flavor profile is either dry or sweet, and is easily defined and detected once you understand what you are looking for. In white wine the terms dry, off-dry and sweet apply. For your drinking pleasure, we will define and discuss these terms as it relates to your wine taste.

Dry wine: This is defined as "one in which there is no sugar remaining after fermentation." In addition to the absence of sugar, dry red wines have a component that plays into the dryness, called tannin.

Tannin is derived from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Tannin is not actually a taste, it is a sensation you feel by the bitterness or "puckering" in your mouth when tasting a dry red wine. To identify what tannins are, brew a strong cup of tea and drink it before you put milk or sugar in it. This will give you a pretty good idea about the sensation of tannins.

Sweet wine: Sweet is an actual taste that your taste buds can detect. Sweet red wines are typically dessert wines, like Port, Sherry, or Madera. When searching for a wine, sweet should not be confused with "fruity." Fruitiness in a red wine is the distinctive aromas and flavors of fruits, such as raspberries, cherries, plums, strawberries or blackberries. In white wine, fruits like pear, peaches, apple or melon can be present. The term "fruit forward" denotes the presence of lots of fruit flavors up front on your palate.

Off-dry wine: The differences between these two terms can be better understood when discussing Riesling. This food-friendly wine and a big favorite with sommeliers, is Germany's noblest grape. The biggest misconception and misunderstood aspect of Riesling is that they are all sweet. This is so far from the truth. Because of its well-balanced blend of acidity and residual sugar, this noble grape is a lip-smacking dry or off-dry wine.

German Rieslings are classified according to the level of ripeness, and not by the amount of residual sugar. The "sweetness" is a result of the natural ripening of the grapes. The longer the grapes ripen, the sweeter the wine. Rieslings are available from the driest (Kabinett) to the sweetest, syrupy Trockenberrenauslese.

One of the most sought after Rieslings is Icewine. This wonderful treasure is harvested and fermented while the grapes are still frozen, resulting in the highest concentration of its natural sugar.

Recommendations: Some examples of dry whites are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Gruner Veltliner and Chablis. For an off-dry white try Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Gewurtztraminer. Dry red wines include Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec, or the Italian varietals of Chianti or Borolo. If you'd like to enjoy a wine at the end of your meal, you might consider the sweet Moscato, Tokay or Sauternes.

So when deciding whether you want a dry, off-dry, sweet or fruity wine, try to remember the differences between them. If you're not sure, let your wine merchant help you with your selections. Cheers!


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