Q. Are sweet wines naff?
A. The quick answer is no. Sweet wines (or dessert wines) are among the most delicious wines of all. Sadly, they are misunderstood and ignored by many wine drinkers. Yet, in times past, they were the most highly regarded and most expensive wines of all. For the producer, they are the most difficult to produce, yet they don’t cost that much to buy.
I suspect we may be suspicious of sweet wines because we started out drinking cheap wines with lots of residual sugar and see dry wines as more sophisticated. Yet we adore all sorts of sweet foods and have no problem enjoying soft sweet fizzy drinks.
The key to great sweet wines is balance. Match all that sweetness with a refreshing acidity and you have a wonderful fruit-filled wine. Enjoying dessert wines is all about time and place. A small glass of well-chilled wine served alongside dessert, cakes or even blue cheese can be the perfect end to a meal. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I sometimes enjoy a glass instead of the dessert.
Given their levels of sweetness, you only need to serve a small amount. Fortunately, many are available in half-bottles, and once opened, they keep very well for a week or two in the fridge.
Here are four dessert wines you could try.
1. Moscato d’Asti from Italy is lightly fizzy and low in alcohol. It has amazing floral aromas with refreshing pear fruits in the mouth. Drink it chilled, with peaches or strawberries and cream, or even a birthday or wedding cake.
2. Tokaji from Hungary is one of the world’s great sweet wines. A 5 puttonyos has the perfect balance of rich honeyed apricots, orange peel and a mouth-watering acidity. Try it with a few squares of dark chocolate, preferably orange flavored, fruit tarts or rich cakes.
3. Sauternes from Bordeaux is sweeter than Tokaji but has less acidity. Drink a small glass with ripe peaches and nectarines, simple fruit tarts or blue cheese. Roquefort is great but so too are Cashel Blue, Young Buck and other salty blue cheeses. You could also try it with those washed-rind, smelly, runny cheeses such as Milleens or Epoisses. Watch out for very mature cheeses though; they can be bitter and not a great match for any wine.
4. Vintage Port and Tawny Port are both sweet wines. Try a glass of chilled Tawny with rich desserts and fruit cakes, or room-temperature Vintage Port with blue cheese.