Sweet wines are under a cloud these days. The sporty, health-oriented contemporary trend lists them under « forbidden pleasures ». Everything is lumped together : Tokay, Sauternes and various sweetened atrocities. To like the sweet wines is almost bad form, just try to confess it to neophyte connaisseurs who swear by dry wines and Brut. And yet, there is nothing deeper and more philosophical than communicating with an outstanding Vin Santo or Trockenbeerenauslese.
This is actually one of the final steps in taste development. After all, we all go through more or less the same motions. At first we like the light sweetish Moscato d’Asti, then the powerful, tannic dry reds from the New World, then we discover the variety of dry whites, then we proceed to the elegant reds enjoying their gravity and balance. And finally, as the spiral makes yet another turn, we are again enchanted by sweet wines, now by those at the top of wine ratings. We find a spot for them, at the end of a dinner, in the unhurried flow of an October evening, in our hearts.
Photo “Lune de Miel” par Philippe Lelièvre
This is exactly how sweet wines are made : unhurriedly. The grapes left on the vine give off the moisture, lose weight. Late Harvest is the first step along the road of sweetness. The farther to the north, the better : German, Austrain, Alsatian Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurzt, Muscats…Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. The aromas evolve towards ripe peaches, apricots, apple marshmallow, tangerine zest ; they get enriched with the exotic notes of fruit, ginger and spice.
The most « beau monde » wine is not Champagne at all, Champagne is actually extremely egalitarian, non millésimé Brut can flow like water. The most « beau monde » wine is a sweet white. To enjoy it, one must not, at any time, be in a hurry.
Natural sweet white is one of the oldest wine invented by mankind. The so-called « Passum » was popular with the Romans but leaving the grapes on the vine is impractical in the south (you might lose all acidity), the grapes were gathered and dried on mats. The all Italian « Passito », the Venetian Recioto, the Tuscan Vin Santo, are all descendent of the Roman Passum, varieties and drying methods differ.
The most famous Italian Passito is from the small island of Pantelleria. The collected bunches are put on mats and dried in the sun so as to lose 2/3 of their weight. It takes five vines to fill a bottle !
Sweet Bordeaux is a subtle thing, you have to be idle and intellectually voracious to understand this participant in the production of great sweet wines. Botrytis Cinerea is a kind of mold afflicting the skin of the grape, which leads to its « natural » shrivelling. The earlier the Botrytis has attacked the grapes, the more chances to make a rich, complex, concentrated wine. The longer the development of Botrytis, the more interesting the final assemblage.
Photo “Nuit de pleine Lune au Château Guiraud” par Kelly
Opening the door into the endlessy attractive world of sweet white wines is a process that might take you a lifetime. Do not hesitate to come in….