January 26, 2011

The Grape Escape: Hey! This wine’s not sweet!

I had an interesting conversation recently with some folks who wanted to like wine but had a hard time warming up to it. “It isn’t sweet,” they fretted. “And it doesn’t really taste much like grapes.”

Those of us who’ve developed a taste for the dry (unsweet), acidic (tart) style of fine table wines tend to forget that these flavors aren’t immediately appealing to the uninitiated. One of the most frequent wine questions I get is, “I want to like wine, but it’s too sour. Can you suggest something sweet?”

What many Americans sometimes forget is that wines are generally meant to be drunk with food; dry wines are more food-friendly than sweet wines. If you’ve been sipping wine as a cocktail, on its own, it’s no surprise if you thought something was missing.

My advice? Take your wine to dinner. Moreover, there’s a wide variety of styles in the world of wine, and not all wines are bitter, tart or dry.

Here’s a reference list of some wine styles, short enough to print out and stick in your wallet for trips to the wine shop or restaurant. These are generalizations, with many exceptions, so ask the store clerk or sommelier if you’re still in doubt.

DRY AND TART REDS: Cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, Chianti, Côtes-du-Rhône.

DRY AND TART WHITES: Sauvignon blanc, Soave and other Italian whites. Many champagnes and sparkling wines.

DRY BUT FRUITY REDS: Merlot, shiraz/syrah, zinfandel, Beaujolais.

DRY BUT FRUITY WHITES: Chardonnay, pinot gris/pinot grigio.

LIGHTLY SWEET WINES: Most rieslings, chenin blancs and gewürztraminers, “White” zinfandel, lambrusco.

SWEET WINES: Port, late-harvest riesling, Sauternes, cream sherry. These are dessert wines, strong and sweet, meant for sipping after dinner.