Those that prefer sweet wines to their drier counterparts often get put in a box by other wine drinkers. If you’re one of those whose taste preferences fall into the sweet camp, you may even have been labeled “green” when it comes to wine, someone who is still stuck playing for JV while your other drinking pals have moved on to Varsity, but this labeling is just simply wrong and here’s why:
Unfortunately, in the U.S., sweet wines get a bad rap – we’ll explain the reason for this shortly – but some of the most celebrated and highly coveted wines in the world are sweet, from Rieslings, to ice wine, Sauternes and the luscious Amarone, these are all wines collectors seek out, and even place in ranking above those powerful and dark reds so many other wine drinkers consider more of a “thinking” drinker’s beverage.
Sauternes is a prime example of a sweet beverage whose praise is higher than that of its more powerful red peers. A wine that is made in the region of Bordeaux, when the classification of 1855 was made, Chateau d’Yquem was the only château to receive Premier Cru Superieur Status (Superior First Growth), placing the château and its sweet wine above even the greatest reds that the region produces – sorry Lafite. If there’s not a more ringing endorsement for the potential high-quality of sweet wine, then we don’t know what is.
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What gives sweet wine such a bad rap here in the U.S. are the cheaper wines out there – we’re talking about many of the wines under $10 – that use sugar in order to mask the poor qualities and cheap fruit used to produce the wine. If a winemaker makes a mistake, or the ingredients used to make the wine were poor, one of the quickest ways to hide those imperfections is by adding sugar, because the sugar’s flavor is so dominant, and often pleasing to our palate, that we miss the imperfections.
Michael Moss explains the power of sugar as a mask in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat. In the book he explains that while butter and ice cream are relatively the same substance, our brain knows we don’t want to eat a scoop of butter – we can taste the fat – but because of the power of sugar, when it comes to ice cream, our brain can’t say no as easily. Therein lies the power of sugar when it comes to masking a cheap wine.
And this all goes back to why certain wine drinkers (often snobs) immediately label those who prefer sweet wine as “basic.” But if you preference is for the sweeter side of vino, there’s nothing wrong with that, just seek out wines like the ones we listed above; their sweet consistency is a natural byproduct of the process in which the wine was made, whether it’s because the fruit was allowed to over ripen, it was frozen, or it was even slightly pruned. No additional sugar was added to the wine in order to hide something, instead the sweet flavor was the natural result of the winemaker’s techniques.