Satisfying Sips for a Sweet February
Jan 29, 2020 06:36PM
by Sandra Crittenden
Sweet wines are produced throughout the world from a wide variety of grapes and fruit in an array of styles.
The history of sweet wine is as long as the history of wine. Greece has been making it since at least 800 BCE. Most early winemaking is believed to have produced a drink that was much sweeter than modern wines.
As winemaking became more refined in certain areas, reputations began to be built on quality. Russian Czars sought golden treasure in the form of Hungarian Tokaji while British monarchs drank the famous sweet and equally golden wines of Sauternes.
In order to produce a high-quality sweet wine, winemakers must start with very sweet grapes and then stop the alcoholic fermentation before the yeasts have processed all the natural grape sugar. This will create a sweet, rich wine.
Other techniques may also be employed to concentrate grape sugars, such as allowing grapes to freeze on the vine to create Ice Wine (or Eiswein depending on its origin), drying grapes on mats to create Passito style wines like Italy’s famed Vin Santo, harvesting at a later time to get riper grapes, or even allowing a certain type of rot, called Botrytis or Noble Rot, to overtake the grapes.
Styles of sweet wine can range from sparkling to still and from off-dry or lightly sweet to lusciously sweet. The wines may have a fairly low alcohol level like Moscato d’Asti which is usually around 7% ABV, or they may have much higher amount such as fortified Ports which are typically around 19-20% ABV.
Sweet wines can be consumed throughout a meal if the menu is well thought out. A touch of sweetness can help balance both salty and spicy flavors in food.
Classic pairings of savory food with sweet wine include Sauternes with foie gras, off-dry or sweet Riesling with spicy Thai cuisine, and Ruby Port with Stilton cheese. Demi-sec or Extra Dry Champagne can be served with all the previously mentioned foods as well as with buttery and salty popcorn for a movie night at home.
Veuve Clicquot introduced their new fully sweet or Doux Champagne called Rich to the American market last year. They suggest serving it over ice and adding complimentary flavors to the glass like pineapple or grapefruit slices, cucumber, and even tea to create a simple and refreshing sparkling cocktail. This drink works equally well with seafood dishes as it does with jalapeño heated Tex-Mex and fruity desserts.
Moët Ice Imperial is similar in style, though it has less residual sugar, it is also created to be served with ice.
While sweet sparkling wines can be served just as their dry or Brut cousins in flutes, coupes, or white wine glasses, other styles of dessert wines should only be poured in small amounts, typically just 2-3 ounces and slowly savored whether enjoyed alone in lieu of dessert or with food. Family heirloom antique wine glasses are often the perfect size.
While many of these wines come in half sized bottles, do not be afraid to choose a traditionally sized 750ml bottle of wine from the following styles. When stored properly, wines like these can be slow sipped with different pairings for a few weeks. Due to the higher acidity, sugar, and/or alcohol, these wines will last longer after opening than their drier counterparts.
This extended shelf life allows for an extended sweet Valentine celebration. Wine-loving couples can take turns creating new pairings for the same bottle. These wines should be kept tightly sealed and upright in the refrigerator after opening.
Hungarian Tokaji has a long history albeit a difficult one. It was hailed as the wine of kings for centuries, but phylloxera in the 19th century, followed by two world wars and Soviet occupation in the 20th century, almost ended its reign forever. However, foreign investment in the region following the fall of communism brought the famed vineyards back to life and the golden treasure back to the bottle.
The number of puttonyos on the label (from one to six, with six being the sweetest) lets consumers know the level of sweetness in the bottle. Expect intense aromas and flavors of ripe peach, hazelnut, spice, and honey balanced by a fresh acidity. Royal Tokaji is the standard setting brand.
Sauternes is the famous sweet wine from Bordeaux. It is golden in color and lusciously sweet with enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. It is bursting with aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and ripe peach with nutty notes and a persistent honeyed finish.
The most famous is Chateau d’Yquem which has been making the succulent drink so long that even George Washington was a customer. While the price on that bottle might not be for everyone, there are many other producers making the sweet wine at more affordable prices.
Port wine comes from Portugal and is made in different styles. Ruby Ports and LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage, are best with dark chocolate desserts complemented by cherry or raspberry toppings or fillings, while Tawny Ports are better with the caramelized flavors of pecan pie, flan, or creme brûlée. Tawny Ports are also tasty with harder, dry cheeses like Manchego as well as with smoked cheese.
Top of the line vintage Port will work with the same desserts as Ruby and LBV but truly shines alongside a more savory selection of blue cheese and walnuts.
February, the month of love and Mardi Gras, is the perfect time to try something with a little residual sugar left in the bottle. Whether alone or with cheese and dessert, these wines make any occasion more festive, and they definitely make life a little sweeter.
The Cajun-spiced cuisine of Mardi Gras offers many opportunities to break out wines with more honeyed flavors.
Make note that sweet wines are also at their best when served slightly chilled.
Recommended sweet wines available at Economy Liquor
Two Island locations- 1911 23rd Street near Seawall, 409.763.6091
13655 FM 3005 in Pirates Beach, 409.737.3341
Atelié Red Acqui Dolce
This delicate and delicious red bollicine is ideal with sweets, desserts, fruit, ice cream, cookies and chocolate. $11.99
Ricossa Brachetto d'Acqui
Bright light garnet color. Aromas of orange blossoms and sorbet and honey with a fruity sweet, effervescent medium body and a tangy golden raisin, peach soda, and tangerine finish. $12.99
Ricossa Moscato d'Asti
The straw yellow wine has a pleasant sweet taste and intense aroma. The wine is well balanced, featuring honey, orange flowers and fresh grapes. $12.99
Pale gold in color. Peach and dried fruits with a clean and sweetly balanced finish. $8.99
Brachetto d'Acqui, also known
as Acqui, is a DOCG in Italy's northwestern Piedmont
region, and received its classification in 1996. Brachetto is the
sole grape variety permitted for the semi-sparkling (frizzante) or spumante red
wine, a rare passito, and for Acqui DOCG Rosé.