WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

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WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Postby Robin Garr » Wed Sep 27, 2006 11:53 am

Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Monday's dissertation on sweet red wine yielded a surprising amount of helpful mail from other wine enthusiasts and folks in the wine trade who've faced the dilemma of coming up with good recommendations for people who want red wine but haven't acquired a taste for dry table wines in the traditional style.

Let's open up the mailbag and take a look at a few of the most interesting suggestions.

First, offering a cheeky "recipe" that might horrify wine snobs but that actually makes sense under the circumstances, Virginia reader John H. wrote: "This may sound crazy, but here's a suggestion I give those 'sweet wine' fans (I work at a winery and we produce almost entirely dry wines). Lots of folks come in looking for a sweet wine ... red or white. I simply tell them to add from 1/2 to a level teaspoon of sugar to a glass of any decent inexpensive red wine and watch their eyes light. I have seen this happen from personal experience after putting a bit of sugar in their tasting glass. Of course, most folks think it's sacrosanct to add anything to wine. But, hey, that's how a lot of off dry wines are produced. Let them play winemaker at home! ... Good red (or white) sweet wine is out there. In fact, it is to be found in our kitchens!"

Interesting concept. One of these days I'll give it a try ... just for the sake of science.

Many of you offered specific sweet-wine alternatives. John P. in Tennessee wrote, Another sweet red Italian wine is <I>irbet</i>, which is described as '<i>mosto parzialemente fermentato di uve aromatatiche</i>' ('partially fermented grape juice from aromatic grapes,') the grape in question being <i>brachetto</i>. It is a creamy, very fruity wine of low (5%) alcohol content. It makes a refreshing aperitif, but is also nice with desserts that employ nuts or almond paste."

My friend Harald in Vienna commented, "Obviously, there are many more more or less sweet red wines to be found in Italy. Most of them are also '<i>vivace</i>' which means slightly fizzy. Most are quite simple but
nevertheless quite pleasant. I fondly remember a very nice Marzemino from Conegliano in this style."

Harald also offered a technical observation: The spec sheets on the Cagnina di Romagna that I featured Monday indicated that the wine boasts 70 grams per liter of residual (unfermented) sugar, well into the very sweet category, yet I described the wine as
"gently sweet, not sticky-sweet but beyond off-dry." Frankly, I had wondered the same thing myself: The specs seem at odds with the taste of the wine in the glass, which I described as the sweetness of fresh fruit rather than the sweetness of candy. All I can say, Harald, is that I call them as I see them. Er, taste them. The Cagnina was pleasantly sweet but not cloying to my taste buds, and that's a good thing.

Wine retailer Jenny J. pointed me toward "a sweet red that literally flies out of the store. It is called La Sera Red Malvasia. On the back label is La Sera Malvasia di Casorzo. Imported by Matt Brothers, New York, NY, from Italy. It is slightly sweet, and has a slight sparkle. We recommend this wine to anyone who asks for a sweet red wine. It is quite popular."

I wouldn't mind giving that a try. Ditto for the sweet Hungarian red recommended by Jason E in Michigan: "I know, I know, not another Merlot. But I have found one that is quite appealing and may be the answer for some who are seeking a sweet red. It is a Merlot that come out of Hungary ... imported by Lionstone International. ... the label reads: 2004 Merlot '<i>edes minosegi vorosbor</i>' or sweet red wine. I have found this quite delicious and you might as well."

Recommending a grape variety rather than a specific wine, reader Mario S. suggests Aleatico for those seeking a sweet red. Several of you also pointed out that many wineries in the Eastern U.S. and Canada make sweet red wines, usually from <i>Labrusca</i>, native American wild grapes. This species, with its strong "grape jelly" aroma, is also familiar in old-fashioned kosher wines. It's an acquired taste for many wine lovers, but certainly offers a readily available sweet-red option for those who've acquired it. On Seneca Lake in New York's Finger Lakes wine country, the Fulkerson winery makes a popular sweet red called "Red Zeppelin," reader Kelly S. reports. According to the winery Website, it's a blend of the native Catawba and a French-American hybrid called Rougeon, and sells for an affordable $7.

Francois in D.C. offered a Web reference to Teliani Valley Kindzmarauli, a semi-sweet red made from the indigenous Saperavi grape in the Republic of Georgia; and reader Gretchen R., whose parents lived in Russia, reported that sweet reds were, and are, immensely popular in Georgia, Russia and other countries in the region.

Finally, "Bangkok Dave," a viticultural advisor in Southeast Asia, sent in this intriguing report about a wine that most of us are unlikely to be in a position to try: "'Next door' in Myanmar [formerly Burma], vintner Burt Morsbach makes a very appealing sweet red (non-fortified) from a Black Muscat variety. I am unsure if its the Black Hamburg variety that the now-deceased Novitiate winery in Santa Clara used to turn out, which was great. Nevertheless, it is pleasing. He also produces an equally nice Blanc de Noir from the same grape and it is also off-dry. Ayathya Vineyards in north-central Myanmar is the winery."

And this, I expect, is just about as much as most of us want or need to know about sweet red wine. We'll change the subject on Friday.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Postby DebA » Wed Sep 27, 2006 12:15 pm

Thank you for all the great info on sweet reds, Robin! I am one of "those people" too ;) I have yet to acquire a passionate palate and desire for the dry table reds beyond an accompaniment to a lovely grilled steak dinner. I am ordering several bottles of the Cagnina di Romagna that you highlighted on the site and plan toorder others you've mentioned in this post. Thanks! :cool:
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Re: WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Postby Dave Erickson » Wed Sep 27, 2006 1:46 pm

Valckenberg Dornfelder is an off-dry German red for about $10 that we sell with some success.
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Re: WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Postby Bob Ross » Wed Sep 27, 2006 2:05 pm

Coincidence on coincidence, Robin -- thanks for you very interesting dissertation on sweet reds.

This suggestion is only 20% red wine (unless the Malvasia is a red version), but it's so good I'll try to sneak it into the pile for consideration.

Two months ago I tasted a vin santo from Fattoria di Fèlsina -- it was so delicious I bought 6 bottles at $35 each for 500ml size.

Today Matt Kramer has a column devoted to the same wine; here's a short extract:

This 1998 vin santo from Fattoria di Fèlsina is superb. A honey-hued blend of malvasia and trebbiano with a 20% addition of the red grape sangiovese, this is a dense, rich vin santo with surprisingly refreshing acidity that's almost roomfilling in its multiplicity and intensity of scents: apricots, nuts, pineapple, tropical fruits, raisins, and gingerbread, to name a few.

To use a word I rarely apply to any wine, a vin santo such as this is fabulous. It's also a wine that, because of its individuality, you serve as an aperitif or, more traditionally, as an after-dinner accompaniment to nuts, aged cheeses such as pecorino, pound cake, and most classically of all, with biscotti. Serve it cool, but not cold.

Sorry if this wine is too far off the sweet red track, but it's a great wine in any event.

Regards, Bob
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Re: WineAdvisor: Readers talk back - Sweet red wine

Postby Ian Sutton » Wed Sep 27, 2006 3:11 pm

Interesting thread. Also add aleatico di Puglia into the dessert reds.

Sometimes peoples preferences for sweeter red wines are influenced by tasting some pretty poor, unripe, high yield red wines, which are all acid and green edges, with little fruit. As mentioned the commercial solution for this is often to add sugar (aka chaptalisation).

However present people with a nicely balanced good quality wine, maybe with a bit of age on it, then often their eyes light up. It's not sharp or bitter, it's taste is smooth and there's plenty of flavour - in fact much more so than the sweeter one which in comparison is a bit simple. Thus they might not prefer sweet wines, but do prefer them to green and nasty dry wines.

I certainly recall some quite disgusting cheap overcropped french wine in my youth - put me off wine for ages. Thankfully standards have improved (and are improving) at lower end of the scale. International competition is also helping and the quality vs. price ratio of places like Chile is very impressive for those dipping toes into the hobby.


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