Ah the sweet life
DR MICHAEL RYAN
And I thought Sauvignon Blanc was a polarising topic! Just like Ford versus Holden, the Maroons and the Blues or Lennon versus McCartney, as is sweet versus dry wine. The topic often immediately results in a bold display of crow’s feet and pursed lips of disapproval.
It’s a shame a lot of so-called vinophiles dismiss sweet wine. I suppose the rub is that like a lot of products, it has to be made well and in a thoughtful purposeful process. Just any old sweet concoction will see the drinker spit it out akin to a fire breather. Good fruit, appropriate handling and technique with supporting acidity for balance are the trick.
The spectrum of sweet wine includes those lightly sweet ones known as “off dry” to the cloying heavy syrup like wine and fortified wines. Like all things in nature’s kingdom they all have their place. A little knowledge of the type of wine and its structure paired with its appropriate food match will result in an enhanced gastronomic experience. The versatility is that they can start an evening and bookend it.
Some grape varieties are naturally sweeter, such as Muscat Blanc. Some are dry but are perceived as sweet with rich fruit aromas e.g. Viognier. The residual sugar can be quite low, but certain aromas trick our brain into thinking it is sweet. Sometimes the grapes can be left to ripen longer and hence more acid is converted into sugars. This is known as “late harvest.”
The wine fermentation process can be halted by the addition of brandy spirit or cooling the fermentation down resulting in higher residual unfermented sugars. Grapes can be left on straw or racks to allow water to evaporate and hence increase residual sugar. Sugar can simply be added as a dosage as in Demi sec Champagne.
Ice-wine is made in Canada and Germany. It is made when it snows and the resultant frozen berries allow sugars to separate from water. They are expensive as they occur rarely with the right climatic event and require the whole crop to be picked within hours.
A most elegant technique is to allow one of nature’s micro-machines to suck water out of the grape. Step forward the fungus known as Botrytis cinera. When the conditions are moist, Botrytis can develop, covering the grape skin, using its micropipette, piercing the skin to extract water. If dry weather follows it dies off leaving a sultana like grape.
This process is known as Noble Rot. It can be a curse or a blessing depending on the wine maker’s mission. The great Sauternes of Bordeaux, Hungarian Takaji and German Spatlese Rieslings are made this way. The fungus also adds complexity in the form of compounds called phenyl acetaldehyde.
2015 Jim Barry Lavender Hill Riesling- this is an off dry style with lower alcohol of 12 per cent and increased residual sugar, White peach and rose petals and hints of citrus make this wine enticing. The palate snicks the front end with soft fruit and gentle acidity. Great with a soft cheese but I enjoyed this with ceviche king fish.
2014 De BertoIi Noble One Riverina Semillon- this is the King of Australian dessert wines, always showing intense golden yellow colors. The bouquet explodes with honeyed peach aromas. These secondary layers start to exude Asian spice and vanilla, the palate is smooth and long with nice acidity like candied pineapple. I love this with crème Brule.
Lustau san Emilio Pedro Ximenez (PX) – this is a Spanish Sherry that is ace of spades black. Complex licorice, Muscat raisins fill the bouquet. It has a silky voluptuous palate. Serve chilled with a midnight soft blue cheese and homemade walnut and fig log.