30-10-2012

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.