When I had my wine bar, Vinostrology, I always found it amusing how often people would tell me that they didn’t like sweet wine.
If I started to describe a wine that had ripe fruit notes and impressions of sweetness, they would instantly halt the conversation and say, “Oh! Is that a sweet wine? I don’t like sweet wine.” It was almost as if sweet wines are a bad thing and liking them is a wine no-no.
I can understand not liking a sugary excuse for a wine, but flatly rejecting a wine because of its sweetness made no sense to me.
I remember the first time I was introduced to German riesling. It was at a wine shop in Ohio where I worked and one of our sales reps was working the market with a German winemaker whom I got to meet and taste his wine.
Up until that point, my relationship with sweeter wine had been limited to jugs of Carlo Rossi Rhine passed around a group of my high school friends at Secret Beach (i.e., I wasn’t expecting much). As the charming German winemaker was proudly talking about his family vineyards and rattling off 12-syllable vineyard names, I was already preparing myself to dislike the socially unacceptable “sweet” wine.
Let’s just say, in terms of my wine life, this was a life-changing moment and the wines of Max Ferd. Richter were forever etched into my memory.
I have come a long way since my experience with Mr. Richter and his collection of masterpieces, and on my journey, I have learned that wine is extremely subjective, especially when it comes to sweeter wines.
Obviously, some dessert wines are unquestionably sweet, but that’s why they’re dessert. In fact, one of the most famous wines on the planet — Chateau d’Yquem — is hypnotically sweet and you’d be crazy not to take a knee in its presence. Sadly, Yquem is a little out of my financial reach, so I won’t be sharing any tasting notes on that little sweetie.
I did, however, find wines that illustrate the difficulty of defining sweetness in wine and a couple that have saved me from the hassle of making cookies.
For the purposes of this column, I went in search of a German riesling, where my sweet journey began. At Seifert & Jones, I snatched up a bottle of 2022 Nik Weis Old Vines Riesling ($21.99).
The first sip took me back to the day I met Mr. Richter, and I was happily reminded of the beauty of riesling. The distinct petrol aromas didn’t scare me away, I knew what was coming — tongue-tingling acidity followed by ripe apples and apricots and a dash of sweet, candied pineapple. This wine provided the perfect example of how confounding it can be to describe a wine as sweet or not.
For die-hard red wine drinkers, it’s a little trickier finding something on the sweeter side without spending a lot of money (think Amarone).
When I happened across the 2019 Casa Vinironia Appassimento Rosso ($11.40 at Great Northern Bottle Shop & Lounge), I knew I hit my mark because of the word appassimento; this is a process of winemaking in which dried grapes, instead of fresh, are fermented. The result is a richly concentrated wine packed with intense fruit and some sweetness — candied cranberries and raisins explode on the front of your palate, but the wine finishes dry.
I would be remiss in my duties as a wine writer if I did not mention Tokaji (toke-EYE) when speaking about dessert wine.
The making of Tokaji in Hungary dates back to the 17th century when winemakers recognized the potential of grapes infected with the Botrytis fungus, a century before Germany and France did. On a recent visit to the downtown Community Food Co-op, I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of 2016 Evolucio Late Harvest Tokaji ($13.99). The Evolucio delivered just what I wanted — honey-coated shortbread — without being cloying and flabby due to the delicate balance of acid and sugar.
My last recommendation, while not a wine, is too good not to mention — the Eden Vermont Ice Cider Heirloom Blend ($37.53, Great Northern Bottle Shop & Lounge). This golden elixir, made from 15 varieties of heirloom apples, is exquisite. The silky texture and snappy acids are punctuated by notes of buttery baked apples and pears, sprinkled with a dash of ginger-infused sugar … I had you at “buttery,” right?
Whatever your definition of sweet is, just remember “the best things in life are sweet.”
Katie Bechkowiak owned Vinostrology wine bar in downtown Bellingham from 2013–19. If you have wine suggestions for her monthly column, contact email@example.com.