Sweet wines were once considered to be the finest wines in the world, and for good reason. They have incredible longevity and age worthiness, they require labor intensive production methods, and long barrel aging at the winery. They’re also made in historic and storied regions expressing a true sense of place. All of these factors make sweet wines worth a second look.
Today, there is a negative perception of sweet wines among many Americans, which is so unfortunate. Historically the first popular wines on the US market were sweet, starting with White Zinfandel from California and Sweet Lambrusco styles from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Today, savvy wine drinkers want to distance themselves from the sticky-sweet styles of the past. This is a pity.
There are so many strengths of sweet wines. Not just for dessert, the food pairing options are endless. You can use them in cocktails to create drinks with a wonderfully full texture. Cocktail drinkers who don’t yet know they love sweet wine should give them a try!
Two of the most traditional sweet wines are Bordeaux’s Sauternes and Italy’s Vin Santo. Discover the classic expressions and expand your palate.
Located in the southern part of the Graves region in Bordeaux, Sauternes is home to a luscious botrytis-affected sweet wine made mostly from Sémillon grapes. The region has the ideal climate conditions to produce noble rot (a good fungus that concentrates grape sugars and shrivels the grapes to raisins) due to the morning mists. Grapes are grown in tiny yields and harvesting must be done by hand in several passes through the vineyard selecting individual botrized berries.
Try Sauternes with its intensely perfumed aromas and flavors of orange peel, honey, apricot, marmalade, tropical fruit, and caramel and match it with savory dishes. Making a cheese board? Delectable blue cheeses like Roquefort, or stilton pair expertly. Hard sheep’s milk cheeses like Spanish Manchego have a salty character that will also match well. Don’t forget the classic pairing of Sauternes and foie gras for a decadent appetizer. Or, be adventurous and pair it with fried chicken. Its salty and fatty deliciousness is a match made in heaven with Sauternes.
Lighter style Sauternes can be used in cocktails as well. Sauternes is delicious in a mulled wine or try a ‘saujito,’ a new take on the classic rum mojito. Alternatively, serve it with Perrier, and orange zest for a simple aperitif.
Sadly, Sauternes has been facing a devastating crisis for the past 30 years due to a lack of demand for their sweet wines. In an effort to stay afloat, many producers have shifted to making dry wines in addition to sweet. Try 2018 Blanc Sec de Suduiraut ($23.99) for a top example of a lovely dry white made by a Sauternes house.
Two styles to try:
2008 Suduiraut (375ml) $54.99
Mouth-watering and luscious flavors of honey, citrus, zest, apricot, and mango, complemented by vibrant, racy acidity. Rich and full-bodied with tons of complexity, depth and concentration of flavors.
2015 Les Justices Sauternes (375ml) $34.99
Ripe kiwi, white plum, white blossoms, and lime zest shine on this youthful and bright expression of Sauternes.
Vin Santo is Italy’s signature sweet wine made by the appassimento method of hanging grapes in attics or rafters to dry, concentrating the natural sugars. Sun-drying grapes is one of the oldest methods of making sweet wines and the style is famous throughout Tuscany. After grapes are dried in the loft of the house, they are fermented, and then aged in small barrels, sealed and stored in the loft for 5–10 years. These wines are made in tiny lots and tend to be expensive due to the tiny production and many years of barrel aging before they’re sold. The price is worth it!
Vin Santo styles are dark amber in color, with layered flavors of dried apricot, lemon, and toasted almonds. The rich fruit flavors are balanced by zippy acidity and high alcohol.
For the mixologist, swap in Vin Santo for honey syrup in your Bee’s Knees cocktail to add a rich mouth-coating texture.
Try these styles:
Vicchiomaggio San Jacopo il Santo (500ml) $16.99
Castello Vicchiomaggio is one of the most beautiful estates in Tuscany, with some of the region’s most spectacular wines. The vineyards have a perfect southern exposure to attain ideal ripeness and concentration of fruit. Owner and winemaker, John Matta, has been named “Italian Winemaker of the Year” four times: 1997, 2002, 2005, 2010, a rare honor. This special Vin Santo offers ripe and rich flavors of honey, dried apricots, and toasted vanilla.
2013 Ferragu Veneto Red Passito (500ml) $79.99
This intense sweet wine is filled with red fruit flavors. It comes from Valpolicella in the Veneto region in Northeast Italy, not from Tuscany. It offers complex notes of spiced cherry jam, cooked plums, and baking spices. Pair with fine dark chocolate.
Remember, “sweet” should not be considered a dirty word for wine lovers! Discover how stunning traditional sweet wines can be.
Visit Elyse Genderson at Schneider’s (300 Mass Ave NE) to discover wines you’ll love.