As a working sommelier, people say to me all the time “I like a sweet wine,” then add, “but not too sweet.” So, my first question is what’s too sweet? Your morning OJ? That’s about 75 grams of sugar per liter (g/l), ten times sweeter than most fine wines. Your last 12-ounce can of cola? It’s close to the sweetness of dessert wine but that, you’ll only drink about two ounces.
Wine’s sweetness, called residual sugar (R.S.), is primarily the result of natural grape sugar remaining in wine after fermentation. Some factors trick the brain into tasting sweeter, such as the vanilla notes from barrel aging. Other factors make the brain taste drier, such as natural grape or added acid. In the U.S., people sense sweetness beginning at about 10 g/l residual sugar; we call wines below this level ‘dry’. (In Europe, folks perceive sweetness beginning at about 2 g/l.) Unfortunately, R.S. is almost never indicated on wine labels and, without tasting, can only be determined with research online or with the guidance of a trusted wine merchant. Your efforts will be re-paid with delicious food complements, especially with the fried, spicy and fruity flavors of Summer.
The Formula for German Wine
Germany helps clear up the confusion, if you know the formula of German wine law. A wine labelled ‘Kabinett’ is dry, around 9 g/l; I compare Kabinett to a green apple or just-ripe necarine. ‘Spatlese’ is sweeter, similar to a ripe peach. ‘Auslese’ can be compared to mango. ‘Beerenauslese’, a baked peach drizzled with honey. ‘Trockenbeerenauslese’ tastes like Heaven. In The Chopping Block’s wine shop, we feature:
Riesling Spatlese, Huff
2018, Rheinhessen, Germany
“A classic Riesling, ‘late picked’ for juicy peach flavor, mineral accents, and refreshing tartness for a sweeter cocktail and complement to foods prepared with fruit, spice and/ or smoke. Delicious with all cheese, especially blue!” ($20)
Pairing Sweeter Wine with Summertime
To pair sweeter wines with food, I recommend following three of my Wine & Food Guidelines:
- Look for common denominators in wine and food.
- Opposites attract.
- Sweeter for the sweets.
So, with this Spatlese, I pair foods prepared with fruit or a fruit sauce (Common Denominators), with salt or spice (Opposites Attract), not as sweet as the wine (Sweeter for the Sweets). I’m feeling Bacon-Wrapped Dates, for instance, or Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Tart and foods prepared with a fruit and spice barbeque sauce, like Executive Chef Lisa Count's entry in the Beyond Hunger Healthy Chef Challenge. Click to vote for her to win and get the recipe for her Blueberry BBQ Glazed Chicken with Power Salad and Creamy Bright Hummus in our virtual demonstration class on Wednesday, July 14 at 7pm CST.
Blueberry BBQ Glazed Chicken with Power Salad and Creamy Bright Hummus
If you enjoy Riesling’s stone fruit flavors but prefer less sugar, turn to Austria where wines are fermented to dryness, often under 6 g/l. The Chopping Block (TCB) recommends our:
Riesling, Schloss Gobelsburg “Gobelsburger”
2019, Kamptal, Austria
“Dry but lush with nectarine flavor intertwined with mineral complexity and refreshing finish, this Austrian beauty satisfies a wide range of cuisine, including most appetizers, spiced cuisine, fried dishes, seafood (including sushi), veggies, and poultry.” ($19.50)
The acidity in dry Riesling makes a refreshing complement to “sweet” seafood, such as shrimp cocktail, Crab Cakes with Roast Pepper Sauce (Common Denominators). The wine’s acidity is an opposite that attracts, refreshing the palate from unctuous fries, such as Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Both the crab cake and fried chicken recipes can be found in our 20th anniversary recipe collection.
Wines in-between dry and sweet (which I call dry-ish or sweet-ish) are pegged ‘off-dry’, such as the classic French wine, Vouvray. Our TCB selection is:
Vouvray, Domaine Pichot, “Le Peu de la Moriette”
2019, Loire Valley, France
Appealing, off-dry flavors of ripe apples, honey, and brisk acidity make this world-favorite wine a delicious cocktail and complement to light dishes, especially with creamy sauces.
Again, pair with “sweeter” seafood including crab, shrimp and - for a regional pairing - the scallop with cream sauce dish, Coquilles St. Jacques.
Coquilles St. Jacques
Wine with Sushi
Sushi is one of Chicagoland’s favorite food styles. It’s also an example that the Sweeter for the Sweets guideline isn’t just for dessert. Because sushi is prepared with sweetened rice, it calls for any of the sweeter wines above or the regional pairing, sake. During one of TCB’s popular sushi workshops, ask for your Culinary Assistant for:
Kikusui, Funaguchi, Honjozo Nama Genshu Sake
Unpasteurized and unfiltered, this award-winning sake is full-bodied with flavors of fresh fruits. Serve cold. (9.50 per 200ml can)
If you are interested in exploring the different wines in the same family of grape, don't miss my virtual Wine Tasting: The Family Pinot this Saturday, June 19 at 5pm CST. We will explore three of the Family Pinot’s most prominent kinfolk: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and the only grape with its own Academy Award winning movie, wine’s ancient enfant terrible, Pinot Noir.
All of the above wines and sake are on The Chopping Block's new summer wine list. Check it out online and visit us at Lincoln Square during our retail hours or arrange for curbside pickup. We want to help you drink well this Summer!