By Tim Hanni, Master of Wine and Certified Wine Educator, Napa, California
(Editor’s Note: Take the quiz below to test your knowledge of” swee”t wines and wine history!)
September 9, 2015 — One of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. This basically sums up the modern views of sweet wines by wine experts, educators and enthusiasts today. And how apropos given the absurd abuse and disenfranchisement sweet wine lovers have had to endure for the 40 year “fad,” and millions of cases sold, of White Zinfandel.
I offer my sincere apologies to the millions of sweet wine lovers for the utter lack of wine knowledge and common sense exhibited by the sincerely ignorant and conscientiously stupid wine education community.
The love for sweet wines is nothing new. The current negative attitudes towards sweet wines, and sweet wine drinkers, displays a disregard of wine history, traditions and customs by people whom I know to be generally smart and passionate about wine. It is time to end this nonsense and eliminate this deeply rooted misinformation once and for all.
If we are to believe that wanting and consuming sweet wines is a sign of immature palates, beginners, uneducated and unsophisticated consumers and that sweet and flavored wines are not even “wine” at all, then logic would follow that France, Italy, Germany and Spain were NOT wine consuming countries, and that the history of wine does NOT go back thousands of years. After all, people clearly have historically preferred sweet and flavored wines for centuries, with concoctions like sangria, kir, vermouth, vin muté, wine mixed with a little water and sugar or honey and countless other iterations evident in wine traditions and cultures. Why today,mixing cola and red wine is the rage in the Basque regions of Spain and France.
Fondness for sweetness in wine is not a limited to American consumers nor is it a function of growing up drinking sodas. In fact, all humans have an important attraction to sweet tastes that has to be “unlearned.” An attraction to sweetness is universal and there is a huge segment of consumers (about 40 percent in US and Europe, possibly as high as 50 to 70 percent in China and Asia in general) that demands sweetness – French, Italian, American, Chinese; you name it. A preference for sweet wines is actually a clear indicator that a person has the highest degree of perceptive sensitivity (including the highest number of taste buds), not that they are uneducated, immature or unsophisticated. The real lack of education is demonstrated by the wine experts and enthusiasts who wrinkle their nose at the mere mention of the words “sweet wine,” oblivious to the true history and traditions of wine enjoyment for centuries.
Is it coincidence or is the contempt for sweet wines and sweet wine lovers the reason consumption in France and Italy continues to decline dramatically, and disastrously – to the tune of over 80 percent drop in per capita consumption over the past 60 years? And most of the faux experts, after ranting self-righteously “dry wine is real wine” and “friends do not let friends drink White Zinfandel” will then go on to cite these countries as examples of wine drinking countries where wine is an indispensable part of the culture and traditions. Well not any longer and former wine drinkers are turning to cocktails and beer where they do not face the arrogant and misguided sneer of faux wine experts who have the audacity to say that these wines, “appeal to people who basically do not like wine, or cannot understand it.”
This has to change. Just stop it!
Sweet wine drinkers –who needs them? The wine industry always has and still does. And the wine community needs to have a much greater degree of accuracy about history, personal preferences and wine traditions.
Test your knowledge of “sweet” wines and wine history. Some of the answers will surprise you!
Match the appropriate response with each of the following:
An incredibly popular ‘fad’ that lasted over 50 years – pink, 2-4% residual sugar, very fruity – many say it saved a country’s wine industry!
Sweet red wine with about 3% residual sugar
Wine mixed with spices and herbs then sweetened with cane sugar or caramel
Semi-frozen as an aperitif
Mixing cola with red wine
Largest export market for fortified Port wines
Residual sugar for official Sec (‘dry’) Champagne designation
Wines ‘recommended’ with foie gras in chart from 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique
Has 108 grams of residual sugar
Residual sugar of circa 1840 Veuve Cliquot Champagne found in shipwreck bound for Germany
goût de terre
Answers to choose from (there are more answers than questions):
a) Manner in which Baron Philippe Rothschild served Chateau de D’Yquem
b) National drink of Spain
c) French phrase for smells associated with microbiological contamination and/or spoilage
d) White Zinfandel
e) Kalimotxo – wildly popular way enjoy wine in Basque country of Spain and France
g) Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1947 – thought by many to be the greatest red wine ever made
h) Muscadet, Chinon, Nuits St. George (red Burgundy)
i) Coca Cola
k) 17-32 g/L
l) Cupcake Cabernet Sauvignon
m) 140 g/L of residual sugar per liter
n) .6 % (6 g/L) of residual sugar per liter
o) Arbor Mist
Answers – No peeking!
An incredibly popular ‘fad’ that lasted over 50 years – pink, 2-4% residual sugar, very fruity – many say it saved a country’s wine industry!f) Kir
Sweet red wine with about 3% residual sugar g) Chateau Cheval Blanc, 1947 – thought by many to be the greatest red wine ever made.
Wine mixed with spices and herbs then sweetened with cane sugar or caramel p) Vermouth
Semi-frozen as an aperitif m) Manner in which Baron Philippe Rothschild served Chateau de D’Yquem
Mixing Cola with red wine e) Kalimotxo – wildly popular way enjoy wine in Basque country of Spain and France
Sangria b) National drink of Spain
Largest export market for fortified Port wines j) France
Residual sugar for official Sec (“dry”) Champagne designation k) 1.7-3.2% (17-32 g/L)
Wines “recommended’” with foie gras in chart from 1961 edition of Larousse Gastronomique h) Muscadet, Chinon, Nuits St. George (red Burgundy)
Has 11% (108 grams/L) residual sugar i) Coca Cola
Residual sugar of circa 1840 Veuve Cliquot Champagne found in shipwreck bound for Germany n) 14% (140 g/L) of residual sugar per liter
goût de terre definition c) French phrase for a smells associated with microbiological contamination and/or spoilage
Mr. Hanni’s book Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine is available at Amazon.com. Tim Hanni is also the founder of the Consumer Wine Awards, empowering consumers to choose the wines they prefer.