I have a love-hate relationship with sweet wines. Every week a supplier or winery is presenting me their latest offering into this very populated category of wine. But truth be told, it is one of my favorite categories because of the diversity and the wide range of price and style. Some of the world’s most sought-after and expensive wines fall under the sweet or dessert category. These will range from large bottles on your local convenience store shelves to half-bottles from Bordeaux, France, that are produced and released only on the very best years. Each one of these has an audience that enjoys and appreciates the flavors and technique that go into every bottle. Sauternes are a sweet white wine from the Bordeaux region of France. What makes them unique and expensive is that the winemaker will let the grapes stay on the vines past the normal harvest time. The grapes will then become affected by botrytis cinerea, which is a mold that pulls most of the juice from the grape. The result is an intense and magnificent wine that is a wonderful pairing with savory dishes as well as desserts.
Rieslings, unfortunately, have a bad reputation. There is a large amount of a very sweet bulk-style wine that most people associate with rieslings. In reality, German rieslings are some of the most intriguing and fascinating wines. They have a drier style called Kabinett and a very sweet style called Trockenbeerenauslese (it’s much easier to pronounce after a glass or two). In fact, California, Washington and Australia also are producing great examples of what can be done with the riesling grape. I would love to see more people try quality rieslings and explore the many styles available and how the different regions showcase this wonderful grape. For many years Canadian wineries have been producing world-class ice wines. Many different grape varietals can be used in producing these wines; vidal and riesling are the most common. While you can allow the grapes to freeze in a large refrigeration unit, most winemakers keep the grapes on the vines until the temperature goes below 32 degrees and freezes the grapes the natural way. Like Sauterne, these can be very expensive and are usually sold in smaller size bottles. Ice wines go great with a big piece of peach cobbler and a scoop of ice cream.
Besides a gallon of milk, the other item that I can guarantee that is in my refrigerator is a bottle of moscato. For me it is the most interesting wine in the sweet wine category. Its low alcohol and slight effervescence make it an ideal wine to drink on a hot Texas summer day. Sometimes the demand is so high at my house that I cannot chill the bottles fast enough. An easy fix to that situation is to add an ice cube or two to the glass before pouring in the wine. The moscato grape can easily grow in most regions and is fairly inexpensive to plant and harvest. There are some wineries that will make a small production of a reserve-style moscato that sells for over $25, but generally you can get a great bottle for under $10. Texas wineries have been able to capitalize on the moscato craze. Both Llano and Sister Creek make a very classic flavor profile. The honey and candied peach flavors are sure to be a pleasant experience for the novice to the most experienced moscato lover.
Overall, there are a lot of styles and price points with sweet wines. Generally people will pair sweet wines with desserts, but in fact many of these wines are actually better with appetizers or main courses. You can sit outside and enjoy the warm summer breeze with a nice bottle of Texas moscato and some local cheddar cheese; you can balance your favorite spicy Asian dish with a German riesling or sip an aged Sauterne with foie gras. While it is easy to overlook sweet wines, you might be passing up your next favorite bottle without realizing it. If you want to have friends over for a Saturday afternoon, then sangria can be the perfect drink. You can buy a pre-made bottle, but it is always more fun to make it on your own. Below is one of my favorite recipes that will have friends and family always looking for a reason to get together and enjoy each other’s company. It will take about 30 minutes to assemble, but you will need an additional two hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to mingle.