Dry vs. Sweet and Some Tasting Notes

26Jan09

Here are some pics and quick notes from the tasting I referred to in my last post. The theme was lesser-known French wines in the $20 vicinity.  Tasting notes for the sake of tasting notes aren’t that helpful, but I’m also including some advice that I gave the participants in a follow-up email.  The second point below is particularly important. I’ve found that no word is as confusing to casual wine drinkers as “dry.” Some aren’t aware that it has a specific meaning (i.e., not sweet — according to the EU, no more than 4 grams of sugar per liter), while others have a tough time distinguishing sweetness from flavor profile. So while a wine may smell like something sweet — passion fruit or chocolate, for example —  the wine itself may not be. It seems incredibly counterintuitive, and it’s no wonder people find it confusing. If you’re one of them, try the little Sauvignon Blanc/German Riesling experiment described below. (Plus I’m all for boosting the consumption of good sweet German Rieslings. Highly recommended for Saturday afternoons watching a ballgame in lieu of lemonade or beer.)

1. Quincy, Adele Rouze, 2007, $19.99. Fresh, dry, crisp, with grassy, citrus and mineral notes.
 
2. Cour-Cheverny, Philippe Tessier 2005, $19.99. The very obscure varietal is Romorantin. Full-bodied, high in alcohol, slight spritziness — notes of apple, caramel, molasses, and a slightly bitter finish.
 
3. Cahors “Le Combal” Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve 2004, $18.99.  High tannin, moderately high acidity, medium body, earth, mushroom, truffle, sausage, game.
 
4. Vin de Pays Cotes Catalanes Calvet-Thunevin, “Cuvee Constance” $17.99. Full bodied, high alcohol, moderate tannins and acidity. Prunes, cooked berries, cherry cough syrup.
 
–Pick up a Quincy or a Sancerre and taste side by side with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Similarly, try a Cahors and an Argentine Malbec side by side. Wine people like to talk a lot about “Old World” (aka Europe) style wine vs. “New World” (everywhere else) and these tastings should cement pretty firmly in your mind what that contrast is all about. Try without food first and then with and see what happens. If you choose pretty typical styles for the Cahors and Argentine Malbec, which wine you like better probably indicates how you feel about tannins — the Cahors is going to be pretty tannic, the Argentine wine much less so.
 
–As we discussed, sweet/dry isn’t as intuitive as one might think. When you do your Sancerre/NZ tasting, also pick up a German Riesling with some residual sugar (ask the person at your wine store for help). The NZ wine will probably be dry on your palate but smell like sweet fruit (pineapple, passion fruit, etc.) The German wine may or may not smell like as many sweet things (it might be more lemony/citrusy) but it will taste sweet on your palate. Making the distinction between “fruity” (smells/tastes like ripe fruit) and “sweet” (the wine has a certain level of sugar in it that you can taste) is huge, and will help you find white wines that suit your taste. A lot of people say they like dry whites when what they mean is, they don’t want a wine that’s too fruity.

 

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