If there is an official flavor for Valentine’s Day, it must surely be sweet. Candies, chocolates, little sugary hearts with saccharine messages on them. And for wines? A bit of sweetness doesn’t hurt there either.
Don’t believe you like sweet in your wine?
Just leave a glass of freshly poured, frothy and chilled Champagne on the counter. Forget about it for a few hours and then return to see how it tastes. With the bubbles gone, and the cold temperature no longer masking it, the sweetness comes to the fore.
Most sparkling wines have a touch of sweetness to them. Yet the wine business seems focused only on red wine drinkers, or those infatuated with Chardonnays of oak, spice and butter. Among wine writers, the bigger the red wine, the better it must be. The wines that garner the highest scores are often the wines that clobber the mouth with fruit, astringency, even alcohol.
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There are many people who are not moved by those kinds of flavors and might find powerful and dry wines bitter, even unpleasant. Those people aren’t wrong; what tastes good to them is different from what tastes good to others. Indeed, we all like different things because we’re actually having different experiences.
We ought to be less judgmental and more accepting of others’ preferences. Still, when it comes to wine there is a sense that sweet wines are somehow beneath the serious wine writer. Nonsense, I say. Sweet wines taste good to most people, and at least on Valentine’s Day, we ought to be able to celebrate that.
Start with German wines; the Germans seem most adept at creating balanced and slightly sweet Rieslings. Any of the bottles you find with the black German eagle on the shoulder label (they are among a group of wineries called the VDP) can be trusted for quality.
The French sometimes offer lovely, slightly sweet wines in the Alsace region neighboring Germany. It’s not only Rieslings; Gewürztraminers, Muscats, even some of the Pinot Gris can show a touch of friendly fruitiness. The Chenin Blanc grape can be made in slightly sweet or even luscious sweet styles in the Vouvray region.
The grape of the hour remains Muscat, or Moscato, as the Italians prefer it. Wines labeled Asti Spumante are pleasant but rarely show the deftness of touch found in the Italian bubblies called Moscato d’Asti; those are usually lighter, more flavorful and creamier than most Asti.
You can find increasing numbers of sparkling or even still Moscatos from across the globe. Italy’s success has not gone unnoticed, and so from California to Brazil to Spain and beyond, people are using the ancient Muscat grape to tasty, often, but not always, sweet ends.
Maybe you like the idea of pink on Valentine’s Day. The era of ubiquitous white Zinfandel seems nearly forgotten, but all the kids are drinking pink wines. Whether from France, America or anywhere else, the examples are increasingly dry, so be forewarned.
Sparkling wines don’t eschew pink, either. In Champagne, Moet et Chandon and Laurent-Perrier (to name only two) make excellent pink bubblies. Lucien Albrecht’s Cremant Brut Rosé is a delightful rosé bubbly from France’s Alsace region. Spain is in on it, too: Vilarnau and others make cava in pink or Rosado coloration.
But in truth I’m the one in the family who really likes the wines with some sweetness to them. My wife, my little Valentine? She likes big, fruity red wines. Go figure.
Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a wine column for The Kansas City Star’s Food section and the Chow Town blog.