Not all wines are as they seem to be.
Among the most the fascinating of topics is that of sugar in what putatively are dry wines, in most cases to allow them to be appealing to the broad American public.
This is not a new subject. It arose some 30 years ago when allegations were raised that some wineries we’re making chardonnay with residual sugar, and that such a tactic was an abomination.
And yet some of the most expensive chardonnays made at the time had such low acidity that they actually tasted just a little bit sweet. It was a trend that continued for well over a decade, and even to this day, I taste a number of fairly expensive chardonnays made this way.
Indeed, it has been widely reported that one particular Napa Valley chardonnay is consistently made to be sweet, and it has achieved wide success throughout United States, based on this very trait, according to many reports.
But sugar in chardonnay isn’t where is this trend ends. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Perhaps the broadest use of sugar in an otherwise supposed-to-be-dry wine is with sauvignon blanc. Dozens of California wineries now leave traces of sugar in their sauvignon blancs because it makes them more broadly appealing.
Wine makers often say such a tactic is completely valid since the wines will be served stone cold, and at that temperature, the sugar will be seen as negligible.
Of course, we accept sugar in certain wines as commonplace and expected, such as in riesling and gewurztraminer. But sugar also is useful in wines that are called “dry riesling” because a completely zero sugar wine can often be difficult to sell.
The most egregious use of sugar may be in red wines, especially where the consumer is not told such a tactic was utilized.
The Meomi brand that has become so popular in United States uses sugar judiciously to ameliorate any potential problems that pinot noir poses for newcomers.
Fine wine lovers are aware that $15 pinot noirs are not likely to be very classic in nature, and they seem content to consume pinot noirs without much typicity as long as the price is right. They appear not to be bothered by any potential sweetness.
But it is truly disconcerting when you taste a $75 bottle of cabernet sauvignon that also shows a trace of sugar! This may not be very widespread, but it happens far more that anyone is willing to admit, almost like the emperor’s new duds.
In the case of cabernet, however, what may really be at play isn’t necessarily actual sugar, but such low acidity that the wine simply has no chance at working as a dinner companion.
All great table wine is dry enough to work with food, and wines that are sweet can have only a limited rule with meals.
Very spicy Thai or Indian curry or other hot foods often are best with slightly sweet white wines, and I suppose such foods also might not be too bad with a light, sweet red wine in which there is very little tannin.
But for more traditional dining options, such as wood grilled salmon, grilled lamb, pork loin, and steaks, dry red wines are the usual choices, where sugar has no place.
Wine of the Week
2015 Château Ste Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley ($10)
This is unquestionably America’s greatest white wine value. (It’s frequently discounted.) It is not completely dry, and rather is astoundingly succulent with its floral aromatics and deep level of apple/pear fruit. The Washington winery’s “regular” bottling is a bit sweeter. This dry version (slightly harder to find) is a remarkable achievement. About 75,000 cases were produced, so it should be available in most U.S. markets.