This is the third article in a three-part series on sweet wine. In the first article (“How Sweet Wines Are Made”), we looked at the different ways sweet wines are made. In the second article we started to stroll down Sweet Wine Lane, exploring the sweeter, lighter wines in the sweet wine continuum. In this article, we will focus on one end of the sweet wine continuum by looking at the heavier sweet reds and fortified wines.
There’s a debate as to whether sweet red wines are declining in popularity, or making a comeback. Most people agree that sweet reds are not as high quality as their drier counterparts. But people will always drink inexpensive, sweet beverages, and vintners worldwide are starting to make higher quality sweet reds to satisfy what they believe to be a growing market. Italian sweet reds, including Valpolicella and Lambrusco, tend to have more quality clout. WineShop At Home, the Napa winery I’m affiliated with, makes an incredible Dolcetto every year that tastes like a berry party in your mouth. It’s quite wonderful.
Today, when people increasingly turn to wine as a cocktail, serving a sweet red might be the ticket, especially if you have a crowd. A sweet red is said to “get the party going” and can stimulate the appetite. I always enjoy a sweet red wine with chocolate, or just by itself when I’m relaxing.
Fortified (17-20% alcohol)
Fortified wines include Port, Madeira, Sherry and other wines of similar styles under different names. Fortified wines come in a wide variety of styles and levels of sweetness. Some are very dry.
Official Port is only produced in northern Portugal and ranges from Ruby or Vintage to Tawny — the sweetest — meant to be drunk only after several decades of aging. Port is a typical after-dinner, stand-alone drink.
Madeira is also a place name product, from Madeira Island. According to Wikipedia, “Madeira is noted for its unique winemaking process which involves heating the wine up to temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time and deliberately exposing the wine to some levels of oxidation. Because of this unique process, Madeira is a very robust wine that can be quite long lived even after being opened.” One of my favorite local Madeiras is the one made by V. Sattui Winery.
According to Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com, Sherry, from Andalusia are made from only three grapes: Moscatel, Pedro Ximinez, and Palomino, in varying quantities. Like Madeira, these are oxidized to develop full, nut-like flavors. If you seek a sweet Sherry, look for Cream, Moscatel or Pedro Ximinez (PX). Other Sherries will be dry. For more about Sherry, please read my series on the subject.
Vin Doux Naturel
The last fortified wine stop on our stroll down Sweet Wine Lane is Vin Doux Naturel (VDN), a Port-style wine generally from France, but applicable to similar wine produced elsewhere. VDNs are typically based on a particular varietal such as Grenache, Malvasia or Muscat. I would enjoy VDNs after dinner as an accompaniment to a berry or dark chocolate dessert.
If you have a favorite sweet wine, I’d love to hear about it.