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.
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 irbet, which is described as 'mosto parzialemente fermentato di uve aromatatiche' ('partially fermented grape juice from aromatic grapes,') the grape in question being brachetto. 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 'vivace' 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 'edes minosegi vorosbor' 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 Labrusca, 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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Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006