Unlike the supposed progression that people make from liking sweet wine when young to slowly developing a taste for non-sweet wine as we get older, I gravitated directly to wines that did not taste sweet but that made my mouth feel puckerishly dry. It's not that I didn't drink the usual cheap, sweet wines of youth--who had enough money for anything else?--but when I had the money, I went straight for table wines, mostly reds, that were decidedly not sweet.
Don't get me wrong. I did then and do today like many sweet white wines, but not nearly as strongly as I prefer non-sweet reds (and non-sweet whites). Maybe I have old man Anton's wine cellar to blame for my delightful shortcoming.
Anton was a Neapolitan who lived in the building next to ours where I grew up in Brooklyn. He operated a summer-only outdoor candy store where he also sold the freshest lemon ice this side of Italy--so fresh we had to spit out the pits. He often let me help him produce the lemon ice in the backyard in summer. Either I poured sugar into the ice and lemons that he crushed and mixed in his homemade contraption, or I just helped him move bags around. Free lemon ice all summer was my pay.
I loved the summer work of course, but it was the autumn work with Anton that truly made me feel blessed--that was when I helped him with general wine cellar work, which consisted mostly of cleaning things. I loved to sniff the barrels after he emptied them, something Anton's grandson taught me to do. One sniff from a recently emptied barrel acted like a catapult.
For my pay, Anton rewarded our family with a few gallons of red wine each Thanksgiving and Christmas, wine as fiery as laying asphalt in August and, more important, as parching as Mohave.
So, here I am, many decades from those days with Anton's wine and what I have to show for it is an undying love for parching red wine met by an opposing distaste for sweet red wine. I also don't like any red wine that fizzes--pink is ok, but not red. So much for Lambrusco (yeah, yeah, Alfonso. I tried it in its home region, but still don't like it).
Yet, I keep hearing about a newly developing market for sweet red wine, and so I told myself that if I want to know what I am talking about when I tear down sweet red wine, I have to give it a try.
My first dip into the sweet red craze was a Cagnina di Romagna. Oh my, how do people drink that stuff?
My second dip into sweet red was a Dornfelder from the Rheinhessen. Nope.
My third dip...I dropped the idea.
Maybe it's low acidity, maybe tannin with sugar doesn't work for me (I never put sugar into coffee or tea), maybe it's the kind of fruit from red wine, maybe it's a combination of things, but something happens to red wine when it is sweet, and that something is quite unpleasant to my palate.