Personally, I believe there are more wine drinkers out there that enjoy an off-dry or sweet wine more than they would like to admit. It would seem that sweet wines have fallen in a category of the uncultured wine drinker’s choice. The type of wine reserved for the mouth breathers that cannot appreciate the subtle essences and complexity of “higher quality” dry wines … This, as a matter of fact, is not true. Sweet wines are not necessarily of lower quality, there are many dry wines out there which are much worse than sweeter wines.
The main culprit of this perception is wine snobbery. People assume they are of a better class of wine drinker depending on the style of wine they are seen drinking… This simply is not the case.
Sweet wines have been around since ancient times. Roman winemakers allowed their grapes turn to raisins on the vine or they would leave the grapes to dry out on straw with the result that the wines would be sweeter and more flavourful. As a result, these wines could be stored longer and would not perish as easily when transported, as the additional sugar would act like a type of preservative.
When a wine is made, a specific amount of residual sugar remains after the fermentation process and depending on the amount of sugar that has been left behind determines the grade of sweetness in the wine.
- 0 – 5 grams sugar per litre = Dry wine
- 5 – 12 grams sugar per litre = Off-dry
- 12 – 30 grams sugar per litre = Semi sweet
- 20 grams sugar per litre and more = Very sweet or dessert wine
- Badsberg Wine Cellar’s Badslese situated in Rawsonville
- The iconic Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia
- Perdeberg‘s Weisser Riesling in Paarl
- Boekenhoutskloof‘s Noble Late Harvest from Franschhoek
All these sweet and dessert wines share one thing in common: It’s not the amount of sugar, whether high or low, that makes them so good, but it is the acidity in the wine that compliments the sweetness. A sweet wine with too much acid will taste too green or tart, and the lack of acidity will make the sweet wine taste flabby or even straight out cloying. The sweet-spot (pardon the pun) lies in a sweet wine in which the acidity is in balance with the sugar level and creates a wine that is still tastes crisp and refreshing.
Sweet wines are often overlooked when paired with food.
Next time with spicy hot food, try a off-dry Riesling or Bukkettraube. With a creamy fish paté, Chenin Blanc is a winner and Gorgonzola also matches beautifully with Noble Late Harvest wines.
So, next time don’t shy away from asking for a sweeter wine when enjoying your meal. The bottom line remains to be true is: Drink the wine that you enjoy, no matter the price, the producer or the perception.