Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sweet red wine: blech.

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.


  1. I'm with you Thomas, shocking I know but I cannot abide sweet red wines. I don't even like ruby port. I can tell you that the recent rush of sweet red, bubbly or frothy reds have been paying the rent though. I blame, or actually give Olive Garden credit here, they offer to taste people on those wines and legions of people that otherwise would not drink wine are drinking wine now...and are pretty excited about it. Where we take them from here, or if they are going to expand their wine palate, well that remains to be seen. They seem reluctant and nervous to me so I'm baking on the next generation seeing as they are going to grow up, unlike many of of us, with wine on the table. As for Lambrusco, you are high! I fucking love those dry bubbly reds, especially with salami sandwiches and hunks of hard cheese. Yum. Going to try and force you to love them next time we are together...

  2. No way, Sam. If it's red and sweet: no. If it's red and bubbly: double no. I think that if you want to try to persuade me, this time, you will have to come to the Finger Lakes--which ain't a bad idea, you know.

    I should have told you that the words Olive Garden are not allowed on this blog.

  3. I'd love to get out your way but I'm thinking hooking up in Italy might make my case a little easier. I always hated sparkling reds, things like Malbec and Shiraz, just gross but I adore Lambrusco. Had it with Thanksgiving this year and it was damn perfect...and gone wicked fast.

    I went to the Olive Garden for the first time this past year. Was kind of proud that I had never been but one Monday my wee boyfriend asked that we go there, what was I to do? Yeah, I went. Was blander than I thought as I assumed everything would be doused in oregano and rosemary, (big ugly flavors to me) but everything I had was just tasteless. So I guess that is better than I thought? No rush to go back if you know what I'm sayin'.

  4. What, no garlic at the garden?

    Sparkling Shiraz--oh, does that turn me off.

    I had Lambrusco at a nice restaurant in Emilia Romagna, with a lunch of white asparagus with a poached egg over them. The wine almost ruined the lunch.

    This is not to say that back in the day I didn't consume my share of Lancers and Mateus--but I was either drunk or in another state of being in those days...didn't know any better!

  5. Of course, they really were pink wines.

  6. Hmmm...my engagement ring was in the bottom of a glass of sparkling red wine. It was a bit weird, but at that point I was too happy to care.

  7. Engagement ring! People still do those things, eh?

  8. Thomas, so concise and well written a post; the glimpse into your youth is very appealing.
    As for sweet reds, I just had one (Jellybean red), which, though not my style or preference, still had an appeal to those who like that style (I too prefer dry reds). I
    finally had a day-off with time to explore blogs.

  9. NH:

    Nice to see you here.

    Don't get too used to my blog. I am extremely inconsistent in my posting lately.