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    The Sweet Stuff

  • –  Nikhil Agarwal

    It’s remarkable that in a country like ours that clearly has a sweet tooth we’re yet to completely discover the range of sweet wines amongst our fast growing wine drinking audiences.

    If we had to break up the Indian consumer into three types, one – a vino newbie, two – someone who has begun discovering wine and third – a full on wine enthusiast, we would find that the newbie with his uninitiated palate would take to fruitier and sweet wines immediately. The in between guy would be moving away from anything that has even a touch of sweetness and the enthusiast would have a glass at the end of a wine dinner or taste in an event. Even within the wine enthusiast category I have only come across a handful that would actually buy a bottle to open at home.

    For sweet wines to be interesting there needs to be a natural balance between sugary sweetness and zingy acidity. Without this balance you would get bored of the wine very quickly. In the Indian context, wines with a touch of sweetness do well to balance the spice in our food. Chenin Blanc produced in an off dry style is made by practically all wine producers and is one of the most consumed wines in India.

    Sweet wines can be produced in many styles with varying degrees of sweetness and can apply to whites, sparkling wines and yes even reds. Different methods of making sweet wines will result in various degrees of sweetness and complexity from off dry to wines that are sticky sweet.

    Stopping the fermentation process (where sugars are converted to alcohol) so that there is more sugar left in the wine giving it extra sweetness is one way to make it. Late Harvest, Vendage Tardive or Spatlese are wines made from berries that are allowed to spend more time on the vine allowing them to develop additional sugars before being harvested.

    For sweet wines to be exceptional I think they need to be produced naturally. There are some specific regions and styles that are famous for making this sweet nectar and it takes an enormous amount of effort by nature and the wine maker to make it. Therefore the good stuff is never produced in large quantities, the vineyards themselves offering only a small amount of sweet grapes per acre that will eventually be turned into wine.All this makes it expensive as well.

    One very complex yet natural method for creating such a sweet wines by harvesting grapes that have been affected by Noble Rot or Botrytis Cinerea. This is literally a fungus that attacks the grape sucking out all the water in them leaving them in a raisin like mannerwith complex flavours imparted by the fungus itself. These grapes are then harvested by hand by pickers who will pick individual infected berries and sometimes whole bunches. These grapes then go through the vinification process. The region of Sauternes in Bordeaux, the style of Auslese, Trocken Beerenauslese in Germany or Tokaj from Hungary are responsible for some of the finest sweet wines made in this style.

    Ice wine for which Germany and Canada are famous is made when the grapes in the vineyard freeze. This does not happen often making it rare and expensive especially with the onset of global warming. Sweet wines made from Noble Rot and Ice Wine can be extraordinary experiences. I digress but at an interesting wine tasting of wines from Israel I was introduced to a sticky sweet wine where the freezing of grapes took place in a shipping container to mimic natural freezing conditions. That wine was fantastic too. No romance here but great innovation.

    Sparkling wines like Moscato d’Asti, or straw wines (grapes laid out on mats to raisin) line Vino Santo, Passito are all great examples of sweet wines. Lambrusco or Recioto del Valpolicella are examples of sparkling reds and still reds respectively that are sweet and then there are of course wines like Port or other fortified wines where spirit has been added to raise the alcohol levels but are still sweet to taste. At a tasting of a 100 year old fortified wine called Para in Australia we were all transported magically out of the tasting room on the first sip and only returned after minutes to find our fingers deep within our tasting glasses trying to extract every last sticky sweet drop.

    I don’t ever imagine that we will be gulping glasses of super sweet wine on a Friday night out but I hope that we will start to see people at least relishing a glass with dessert or cheese every once in a while beyond the humble off dry Chenin.Riesling can provide such pleasure at all levels of sweetness. Plus sweet wines can pair perfectly with every course in your meal from start to finish and should not only be considered for the end.

    There are imported sweet wines available in India though in tiny numbers.This is simply because most wine consumers do not want to give it a try. They find buying a bottle too expensive (good sweet wines are) and only a handful of restaurants and hotels will serve half bottles and rarely by the glass.We do have Indian wine producers some of whom produce really good sweet wines like Vin de Passilirage by Vallonné Vineyards or Reveilo’s Late Harvest so there is no excuse not to give it a try.

    Here’s raising a glass to La Dolce Vita!

    Nikhil Agarwal, a trained sommelier who received his degree from WSET, London, is the mastermind who conceptualized ALL THINGS NICE to promote wine, single malts and other gourmet food culture in India. He has been in the wine business for over 16 YEARS and has hosted over 2000 wine events, festivals and training sessions over the last few years and has been appointed as the PROGRAM DIRECTOR of the WINES OF INDIA. With his company he has brought his expertise to Indian customers giving a new swirl to the wine industry in the country.