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Wednesday 14 September 2011

Weekly Wine: From Dry To Sweet

We all love a good glass of vino (or four) and the beauty of wine is that everyone's tastes are different, so giving wine advice should be a much easier job than it is. I always say you should be quaffing whatever tickles your fancy, but sometimes it's nice to know the sciencey bit behind matching different wines to different things.

I thought I'd start with a straightforward one: dry, medium and sweet wines. A wine's sweetness has a huge impact on its character and what you can eat with it to make it that bit tastier.

So what is a sweet wine? It's easy to mistake a wine that is lip-smackingly fruity as being 'sweet', but if you focus on the sugariness of a wine you should find it easier to work out its sweet-factor: try drinking it with a sticky toffee pudding, for example, and you'll soon realise if your wine is dry or not - the flavours just won't match and the wine will become harsh and unpleasant.

A wine's sweetness is based on how much 'residual sugar' it has: winemakers either add sugar to their wine, or (much more commonly) try and keep as much of the natural sugar from the grapes as possible (by harvesting the grapes later so they are more shrivelled and concentrated, or by stopping fermentation to prevent all the sugar from converting into alcohol, but that's just me being a geek so don't worry too much).

Dry wines

Most of the wine we glug on a daily basis is dry, which is good because if we drank sweet wine with the same enthusiasm I'm pretty sure none of us would have any teeth left. Dry wines match the greatest variety of foods, so before I wax lyrical all day about all my favourite pairings let me just give you two perfect examples which are scrumptious to try:

1. Goats cheese and a dry French sauvignon

Goats cheese needs a dry white wine to match its high acidity, and it's strong flavours are best matched with the pungency of a sauvignon blanc. Loire sauvignons are a bit more subtle flavour-wise than their New Zealand counterparts, and this Touraine Sauvignon from Laithwaites is a perfect example. It's £9.99.

2. Dry rose with summer salads

Any summer barbecue or picnic has a wide range of salads and nibbles, and it's not surprising that dry rose is so popular at this time of year, as it's a super accompaniment to this kind of food. Again, it all comes down to the crispness of the wine that matches the acidity found in summer salads. A good Provence rose is bone-dry and is elegant and balanced, so it won't fight too much with the mish-mash of characteristics found in this type of food. Waitrose do a lovely, light-pink example for £6.40 a bottle.

Medium wines

Medium wines are too often overlooked as being unsuitable for food, but that little bit of sugar can prove to be the best thing some dishes could ask for.

We already match sweetness with savoury dishes all the time - what do we love with pork? Apple sauce. What do we slather all over gammon? Honey glaze. I'm getting a bit drooly just thinking about it. And I love nothing more than having any pork dish (even cocktail sausages - I kid you not) with an off-dry riesling from Germany. They're so appley and fresh, it's like they're made to offset the saltiness of pork. My favourite is The Society's Saar Riesling from The Wine Society at £8.95 - you have to join as a member to order though.

The same works for chicken too, especially in fruity oriental dishes. I very much heart eating these kinds of things with an off-dry rose such as Rose D'Anjou from the Loire region of France, and Marks and Spencers do a smashing version for £5.99.

Off-dry red wine is not particualrly common or popular, but I've yet to find a better match for chocolate desserts: it has just the right amount of richness, and isn't so acidic that it clashes with the bitterness of chocolate. The Australians make an absolute cracker: Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz is £19.75 from Formula Wines and is awesome with chocolate cake.

Sweet Wines

There's so many types of sweet wine, it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start.

A lighter dessert (something fruity or gently creamy) needs a similarly light sweet wine - anything too heavy can make the dessert seem less sweet. I'd try something like Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and Berry Bros stock a delicious one at £17.85 for those special occasions.

More lustrous sweet wine is an ideal match for exceptionally salty cheese like stilton as they counter-balance each other - Tesco Finest Sauternes is £12.99 per half, and this will be perfect. It can seem surprising, but sweet red wine can do the job just as well and is often less expensive. Nuy Red Muskadel from South Africa is £10.99 from Corks Out, and is my cheeseboard's best friend.

So there you have it. I'll be back next week with more winey-goodness, so if you have a question about wine then give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook!

Image used from Naomi Ibuki's photostream on flickr under the creative commons license.


  1. This is ace! I went to a wine-tasting last month and I could have just read this instead. The lady running it said she wouldn't pay less than £10 a bottle - what's the least you'd recommend splashing out on a bottle?

    I'm always here with the classy questions.

  2. Really? She said that?! But there's amaaazing value to be had in the £7-10 range! And actually if you're after an everyday quaffing wine then I'd happily spend a fiver if it's a good producer.

    What did you think of the tasting? Anything stand out as particularly enjoyable? :)

  3. Wow, what a strange thing to suggest. Was she on commission per chance?

  4. No, she just said that once you'd taken into account the distribution costs, etc, that £10 was the least you could spend for a decent wine.

    I found an awesome English red wine from Biddenden Vineyards - it's delicious and far too drinkable.

  5. What an absolutely fantastic post! I have always wanted to knowa little bit more about the science behind wine matching and this post is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much :)


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