Sweetness in wine is a funny thing. Take Riesling. Every time I mention it, I see facial expressions that tell me it’s not a favorite. When I ask why, the answer is “I don’t like sweet wines.” But describing all Riesling as ‘sweet’ is like saying all chocolate is bitter. Riesling can range from completely dry, zesty and refreshing to unctuously sweet, best sipped slowly at the end of the meal. Much Riesling is off-dry, with just a touch of sweetness that balances the zesty acidity, caressing the palate with a sensual roundness. This is where the rich possibilities of Riesling hide.
Seeing faces light up with enjoyment at the first sip of a great off-dry Riesling makes me rejoice. When the palate awakens to the many shades of sweetness, the possibilities are endless.
Off-dry wines are magical pairings for food, especially dishes with heat or sweetness, both of which easily clash with dry wines. Off-dry wines soothe the palate from the burn of spice, the barely perceptible sweetness caressing the taste buds. And imagine that same sweet note meeting up the saltiness of cheese, each bite a perfect harmony of savory and sweet. When I introduce wine lovers to this combination, the conversation stops for a while, the only audible sound being the “Mmmmm” of bliss.
Photo credit: François Millo
Sometimes, instead of an off-dry Riesling, I open the door to another of my favorites and a hidden gem in the wine world, Vouvray. Made in the Loire Valley of France from the Chenin Blanc grape, Vouvray ranges from completely dry to fully sweet and even sparkling. I find off-dry Vouvray particularly intriguing. The touch of sweetness complements the minerality and luscious body of the wine, adding interest and awakening taste buds at every sip. Charcuterie, cheese, savory tarts, butternut squash, the possibilities are endless and Vouvray elegantly welcomes them all, showing its versatility without being brash. This is the hallmark of a great wine: being understated and impressive at the same time.
So, next time you encounter an off-dry wine, don’t dismiss it off hand. Take a sip, enjoy the subtlety and elegance and dream up some tasty combinations.
To discover delectable off-dry and all other styles of wine, join me for an upcoming wine class or one of The Chopping Block's new wine tastings (Thursdays at the Mart & Fridays at Lincoln Square in September) of our food-friendly wine list. And remember, to keep from making a face when I mention Riesling.