Taste: You Like Sweet Wines?

That’s okay, so do some of Philadelphia’s top sommeliers


Fully dry wines have a sophisticated image. So do fully sweet wines. But those that fall in between get little respect. Known as off-dry, meaning not quite dry, these wines have just enough sweetness for it to be noticeable, but not enough to be dessert. Since most cheap wines are “sugary” to appeal to novice drinkers, there’s a widely held perception that sweetness is something to be ashamed of. But wines like the hedonistic Moscato d’Asti from Vajra, featured by sommelier Bill Eccleston at Old City’s Ristorante Panorama, prove that dryness and quality shouldn’t be conflated. World-class wines aren’t always dry, just as rotgut wines aren’t always sugary.

It’s time to shake the off-dry stigma. A sweet tooth is as American as apple pie and Coca-Cola. Why not simply admit that a little sugar in wine can taste pretty good? In fine wine, the hint of sugar that remains after fermentation can balance the high-wire acidity found in cold-climate whites, like riesling, vouvray and pinot gris. And wines with a touch of sugar are outstanding partners for some of our favorite foods — those with candied sauces or a spicy kick. From buffalo wings to BBQ ribs, from mango salsa to honey mustard, there’s a whole rainbow of food flavors better suited to wines with a kiss of sweetness than to those made in a classic dry style.

Try a pink spin on off-dry with a glass of French rosé d’Anjou paired with sweet Asian dishes like Japanese teriyaki tiger shrimp or Korean beef bui go ki at Anjou in Old City. Pair the Dr. L. riesling from Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer with the horseradish-spiked jumbo shrimp cocktail at retro Oceanaire off Washington Square. Or you could decide for yourself if off-dry is a bad thing at Cosimo in Malvern, where wine director Jason Whiteside has crafted a flight of world-class rieslings. A crackling-dry “trocken-style” from a German dry-wine pioneer, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, is taken on by a German spätlese from the Mosel’s von Hovel and a terrific “semi-dry” entry from Finger Lakes pioneer Dr. Konstantin Frank. While the dry nod to austerity is artful, it requires thought and precise planning, like a Saturday afternoon at the Art Museum with visiting in-laws. On the other hand, the two off-dry rieslings are succulent and stress-free, guilty pleasures tailor-made for lazy weekends where you never even leave the house.

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