The sweet, irrational fear
We came across this article the other day and were dismayed by its opening lines:
Who’s afraid of sweet wine? Nearly everyone — except, perhaps, the people who make it.
It’s a rather unworldly thing for a New York Times author to state given that dessert wines are quite traditional and popular in many places… which is the reason that they make them. Winemakers have little interest in producing wines that don’t sell after all. Of course, Eric Pfanner is an American and having been born as one, I’m very aware of the American World View. But, it’s also the case that for Americans, the perception of dessert wines (or any sweet wines for that matter) have been severely tarnished. Most teenagers’ initial forays in to the world of drink consist of “wines” that might have been grape-based originally, but are so sugary that the hangover gained from drinking them is unable to be conveyed by mere words.
But, letting something such as vomiting from downing a bottle of Boone’s in the back of a Walmart parking lot stop one from enjoying a tradition in Europe that dates back centuries is silly. Yes, while the article focuses southern France (which wasn’t always France, by the way), it’s actually just across the border in Catalonia where they make dessert wines that put to shame many that I’ve tasted from the French regions of Banyuls and Rousillon at large. The likes of Moscatell and Garnatxa Dolça are wondrous bottles to behold. They’re not meant for having a 20cl pour, but just a small thimble at the end of the meal to cleanse and balance out the palate, or have with less sweet desserts such as mixed nuts (interestingly, the combo of sweet wine and nuts is known as a “musician’s dessert” in Catalonia).
At best, they’re like a fine Bourbon or Scotch that trickles down the throat and warms you. They’re not something pumped out daily, though, and can take years to produce. For instance the wonderful Bac de les Ginesteres from Vinyes dels Aspres takes nearly a decade to make before you can drink it. Almost all of the 60 odd wineries of Empordà (the Catalan county that borders France) make some form of sweet wine. We’ve even heard some people say that a winery is not a proper Empordà winery if it doesn’t make a sweet wine and specifically a sweet Grenache.
Oddly enough, while the aforementioned New York Times writer sees fit to speak of dessert wines in a suspicious manner, their tastiness in some form or another has not been lost on American rappers with the likes of Kanye West and Drake giving sweet Muscat a shout out, albeit it’s probably not the type of high end, lovingly crafted wines that are the topic of this article. Such is the lopsided oddness of dessert wines for the American palate. Thankfully, that leaves the scarce supply of them to be enjoyed by the European crowds and let us just say that the meal is over and our glasses are empty… hint, hint.
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014 95
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015 94
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012 93
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015 93
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015 93
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014 93
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016 93
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
Cave Abbé Rous - Cornet & Cie Blanc 2016 92
Peach, orange peel & blossom, honey, dried apricot, and a hint of green apple. Very nicely balance in the mouth, green apple notes more prevalent, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish. Fresh, lively, very pleasing wine to drink.
60% Grenache Gris 25% Grenache Blanc 5% Marsanne 5% Roussanne 5% Vermentino · 14.5%
Clos Henri - Petit Clos Pinot Noir 2016 92
Earthy, red cherries, young, crisp cranberry, light herbal notes, leafy, minor chalk. Medium tannins and medium plus acidity as well as length. Light sweetness on the palate but with a very pleasant, lingering structure and lightness to it.
100% Pinot Noir · 13.5% · 16.50EUR
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Rouge 2015 92
Medium ruby. Fresh red cherry, raspberry, and young strawberry, lifted and breathy, saline tinge along with light stoniness and rosemary and garrigue. Fresh red fruit on the palate, medium acidity but still light on the palate, fresh, and while the alcohol sticks out a little, holds and excellent, long finish.
Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre · 14.5% · 20EUR