Sweet as Molasses: A wine taboo
I don't know about you, but I've always had a sweet tooth. Friends & family will attest to that. From my obsession with chocolate to freshly baked pastries, the sweet tooth gets what it wants. Ironically, that craving for sweetness ends there and doesn't translate to what I enjoy in wine or cocktails. I prefer things on the drier side. Crisp & refreshing, or acidic & tannic are just a few of the terms that represent what beverages I prefer. It wasn't always like that though when I first began venturing into wine. For a long time after turning 21, I really only purchased off-dry Rieslings or Demi-Sec Vouvray. My wine studies forced me to taste other wines, obviously, and that led to me discovering newfound loves on the dry end of the spectrum. I make note of this because every wine drinker has an entry point or gateway wine to discover that makes them love the beverage. Some people never look to experience anything else once they have found what they enjoy, and that's okay. There are people who only enjoy the fruity, aromatic, SWEET still and sparkling wines of the world. These drinkers can and should be taken seriously, and not have their preferences dismissed as being less than.
STOP shaming your sweet wine drinkers!
At times, the conversation surrounding sweet wine drinkers when they are dining in a restaurant or bottle shopping can infer that they don't understand quality or simply have inferior taste. That is far from the case. Preference has always & will always be a thing. Our palates aren't meant to be wired for the same things (if they were that would be absolutely boring). The biggest reason for this divide in the camps of sweet vs dry wine drinkers can be attributed to our history of seeing sugar as the enemy. Thank you to every diet fad out there [insert eye roll]. Even when consumed in small doses or quantities, sweet things are deemed as bad for your health. NEWS FLASH: everything nowadays could kill ya & too much of anything is a bad thing. Sweetness in beverages, specifically wine, is also attached to the idea of mass production and lack of quality. That notion further alienates those who enjoy sweeter styles from the "experienced" wine drinkers.
Sweetness is a sliding scale that at no point (with the exception of when you get into sparkling wines) means NO sugar when it comes to wine. Sugar is actually an essential ingredient in winemaking as yeast will eat the grape sugars to produce alcohol. Still wine is categorized this way when it comes to sweetness levels: dry, off-dry, medium sweet/medium dry, sweet & finally dessert. These labeling terms change a bit when referencing sugar in sparkling wines (check out my previous post on bubbles for a lovely chart). Those of you who want detectable amounts of sugar on the palate a la wines like Moscato, should shop for bottles labeled medium sweet & above. Off dry wines have a kiss of sweetness that I enjoy (Riesling & Gewürztraminer come to mind) and would be the perfect steppingstone in venturing from full on sweet wines into the drier styles.
One thing that professionals in the wine biz have to be careful of is verbiage when assisting a guest looking for sweeter options. Many of us in the professional beverage world have inadvertently caused many of the stigmas around sweet wine drinkers. A bit of that comes from false industry bias like "african americans only want sweet wine" or "people only want sweet stuff because it's cheap"----the mild class system of it all. We automatically suggest the Moscato on the wine list as opposed to really hearing what that individual enjoys in their wine to help them discover something new. There is a range to sweeter styles just like with any aspect of wine and there are many, MANY options to suggest. Again, by making a thorough investigation into a sweet wine drinkers' palate, you can get them to try something new & maybe something that pushes them towards other styles. A wine professional will & should ask questions like "Do you want something fruit forward & aromatic?" or "Would you like something with more candied fruits on the palate?". These questions will weed out the wines they don't want and dwindle the choices down to what they are really looking for. A dry wine can possess overt sweet fruit tones without having any palatable sugar on the tongue, and this can be a test to gauge just how truly sweet they want their wines to be or if a fruit forward nature is the goal.
I went on this little ramble of a rant because I've noticed an upward trend in the beverage world surrounding sweeter drinks. People are coming in looking for sweeter styles more often than they have over the course of my 8-year tenure in this industry. Cocktails like Espresso Martinis are making a huge comeback and consumers are expressing an obsession with finding sweeter style wines that aren't just from the Asti region of Italy. My fellow sweet tooths & sweet wine drinkers are making a confident turn in the narrative by being unapologetic about their palate. AND they are looking for education on what other options they have to keep that love alive. I'm here to support them & enable their drinking habits from here on out!