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Sweet Treats for Grown-ups

With Halloween on my mind these days — along with trying to figure out how to thwart my son’s plan for the acquisition of mass quantities of candy — I was amused to read a recent article about some interesting research conducted at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. The study concluded what many a mom could have told you – that children are hardwired from birth to have a preference for sugary treats.

Now apparently teen palates start to become less sugar-happy and more “adult-like” late in adolescence, although try telling that to those of us with a sweet tooth. But this all got me wondering about how this pertains to our wine preferences. Does this mean that if we start off liking sweet wines we will eventually end up finding them too sugary later on? Do our childish preferences have us mistakenly convinced that liking sweet wines means we have beginner palates?

Part of the issue is that sweet wines have an undeserved bad rap. While there are some that go for extra sugar over quality and balance, there are lots of great (and delicious) examples out there. You can think of it as kind of like chocolate. There are lots of different kinds – from the simple to the complex and at all different levels of sweetness. But just as no one calls chocoholics immature, I don’t think that liking sweet wines (I’m a big fan myself) means you are have an inexperienced palate. There are lots of different types of sweet wines – from those that are perfect for pairing with dinner to others that can be called dessert wines. And if you happen to think that because you drink dry wines you might not like sweet wines remember that wine isn’t exclusive. There are lots of different styles to explore – from the very dry to the very sweet – and it is entirely possible to like each and every one.

For me it all comes down to the balance of the wine. My favorite sweet wines are those that typically have high levels of acidity. At the top of my list for grapes that make delicious and food-friendly sweet wines? Riesling and Chenin Blanc. These two grapes are known for having racy, crisp acidity and being very refreshing. I look for Rieslings from Germany labeled Kabinett or Spätlese – two types of wines that usually have some sweetness to them. I’m particularly fond of Rieslings from the Mosel and the Pfalz regions of Germany. These days you can also find slightly sweet Rieslings from Washington State, the Finger Lakes and Michigan. For Chenin Blanc, I turn to the Loire Valley in France and the Vouvray region in particular. I like to pair these types of wines with foods that have a bit of a kick to them, so I usually look for Thai, Indian or Vietnamese recipes for inspiration.

Other delicious examples of sweet wines fall more into the dessert wine category. Sauternes, a white wine considered one of the great sweet wines in the world, is from the Bordeaux region of France. Made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, it is a luscious wine with notes of honey, caramel, toast and spice and is capable of aging for decades thanks to its crisp acid and intense sweetness. Another sweet wine style to explore is Port, a fortified red wine made from a blend of traditional Portuguese grapes. There are a range of different styles within the Port family including Ruby Ports, Tawny Ports and Vintage Ports. While the first two are made for drinking as soon as you buy them, Vintage Ports are capable of extensive aging.

So if you too are stocking up on Halloween goodies this week, take a second to consider adding a grown-up treat just for you. Whether you are looking for a wine to pair with a meal or a dessert wine, there are sweet wines to fit each need. And remember that just because we might have a preference for overly sugary treats as children, it does not mean that a grown-up love of sweet wines equals an immature palate. In fact, one could argue that it is just the opposite. The ability to appreciate a balanced, well-made wine with some residual sugar is definitely more a treat for your palate than a trick.