Sweet Wines for Christmas (and Beyond)
I’m not sure why, but here in Ireland we seem to have a dislike for sweet wine, which is a great shame as I think we’re missing out on such a great style of drink.
The most common explanation seems to be that the wines are “too sweet” for many people; however if we examine the sugar content of some of our favourite soft drinks on the market, you’ll find that we actually like sweet drinks more than we realise.
For example, Innocent Smoothies have between 100-140 grams per litre (g/L) of sugar, depending on the flavour, while Tropicana Original Orange Juice also has 100 g/L. Coke, meanwhile, has 106 g/L, Red Bull has 110 g/L and Club Orange, amazingly, has a whopping 130 g/L of nothing but refined cane sugar.
For comparison, the suggestions I’ve given below range between 82 g/L for the Banyuls to 166 g/L for the Tokaji, s o they’re much in line with – or not far off – many of our everyday drinks. (I’m giving special exemption to the 400 g/L Pedro Ximenez however!)
Alcohol, admittedly, can also give the impression of sweetness, which may explain why some may find dessert wines to be more saccharine than they actually are. The better examples, however, should have everything in balance and the sweetness should never be too dominant and cloying.
Below are some delicious sweet wines in a variety of styles. I’ve given the alcohol and sugar contents too so you can compare between then, but also so you can see that many dessert wines aren’t much sweeter than our favourite soft drinks.
And remember, you’re not likely to drink 500ml of sweet wine, so the relative sugar intake will be much lower than a bottle of pop while the return on flavour will of course be exponentially greater.
Be sure to enjoy sweet wines slightly chilled, and unlike dry wines they’ll last a week or more in the fridge after opening.
Longview ‘Epitome’ Late Harvest Riesling
€15.99 down from €16.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (375ml)
We’ve been seeing more and more ‘late harvest’ wines appear on Irish shelves in recent years, which can only be a good thing. ‘Late harvest’ simply means that the grapes are left on the vine long after they’d usually be picked for dry wines, meaning the grapes gradually start drying out. This natural reduction in water means that the sugars, flavours and acidity of the grapes are intensified, giving a lusciously decadent wine.
Longview, from Australia, has some excellent dry wines and this “sticky” (as the Aussies call sweet wines) is equally as impressive: it has delicious flavours of quince, preserved lemons & limes and acacia honey.
Château Dereszla Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos
€34.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Baggot Street Wines and The Corkscrew (500ml)
If you haven’t tried Tokaji yet then you really must. Tokaji (pronounced “toke-eye”) is one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, enjoyed for centuries by the great and good: Russian tsars, Polish kings, Austrian emperors and even Louis XIV of France are amongst its roll call of admirers.
It’s made by allowing a mould nicknamed ‘noble rot’ to infect the grapes, which – like the late harvest method above – desiccates them and again concentrates the sugar and flavours.
For this popular Tokaji, expect marmalade, dried apricots, caramel, butterscotch and honey, while its deliciously refreshing acidity prevents it being too cloying.
Gérard Bertrand Banyuls
€19.99 down from €23.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)
This is a ‘vin doux naturel’, which means that alcohol is added to stop the fermentation before it’s finished, resulting in some sugar being left behind (a method made popular by Port producers, in fact).
Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls is a lush, coffee-and-chocolate version with subtle Christmas cake spice flavours thrown in the mix, and great value in O’Brien’s this festive season.
(TheTaste.ie chatted to Gérard Bertrand himself recently – click here to see it)
Graham’s ‘Six Grapes’ Reserve Port
€21.99 down from €28.99 for Christmas in O’Brien’s (750ml)
They call this the “everyday Port for the vintage Port drinker”, though the thriftier among us can read into the subtext that this is a vintage Port for a quarter of the price!
It doesn’t lack in quality or complexity though: the grapes come from the same vineyards as the Graham family’s famous vintage Ports and it’s treated in much the same fashion.
Expect big, heady, ripe black fruit flavours and some serious depth. If you like serious Port then this is a bargain.
Valdespino ‘El Candado’ Pedro Ximénez
€15.99 from Donnybrook Fair and other good off-licences (375ml)
OK, so the sugar is getting a bit stratospheric here, but hear me out. This is a really unique sherry style made by laying out Pedro Ximénez grapes to dry in the sun, resulting in the wine being made, essentially, from raisins.
This gives a product that’s almost closer to treacle than wine, and in fact the Spanish often treat it as such: “PX”, as it’s commonly abbreviated, can often be found drizzled over ice cream for a decadent and adult treat.
Valdespino’s ‘El Candado’ PX is an excellent example of this style. It tastes – unsurprisingly – of raisins and figs, with some chocolate and coffee too. Enjoy with dessert, both on its own (in small amounts) and as a condiment for desserts.
Richie Magnier blogs under the pseudonym The Motley Cru at www.themotleycru.com and @motleycruwine on Twitter. The Motley Cru has been working in the wine industry since 2008 and is currently studying the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits.