Wine terms: Sweet vs. fruity

sweet vs. fruityThis is one of the most perplexing differences to many wine drinkers, experienced or not. They ?ll confuse wine that is fruity, like sauvignon blanc or vigonier, with wine that is sweet, like riesling. In fact, there is a significant difference.

A dry wine, very simply, is a wine that isn ?t sweet ? nothing more complicated than that. Most of the wine sold in the U.S., save for white zinfandel, is dry, and that holds true whether it ?s red or white.

So why the confusion? Because most people associate dry wine with red wine, and with the tannins in red wine. The tannins are the stuff that causes the astringent, unpleasant flavor that makes your mouth pucker. It ?s one reason why so many people say they don ?t like red wine, though tannins don ?t have to be unpleasant and are actually a key part of well-made wine.

But tannins have very little to do with how dry the wine is. Dryness is the absence of sweetness, not the presence of tannins. A wine can be tannic and sweet, like poorly-made port. And white wines, which usually don ?t have any tannins, can be just as dry as red wines.

The other area of confusion revolves around the fruit flavors in wine. We ?re so accustomed to equating fruitiness with sweetness, like in jams and pies, that when we smell or taste a fruit flavor, we assume that it ?s sweet — even when it isn ?t. Case in point is a typical $10 California merlot, which is just bursting with ripe, mouth-filling blueberry flavor. But it doesn ?t have any measurable level of sugar, and is a bone dry wine.

How to explain the difference? Consider a glass of plain iced tea. That ?s dry, since it isn ?t sweet. Add lemon juice to the tea, and it becomes fruity, but dry. Now add sugar to the iced tea, and it becomes fruity and sweet tea. The principle is the same with wine.

One way to quickly tell whether a wine is sweet is the alcohol content. During the wine making process, the sugar in the grape juice is converted to alcohol. This means that the higher the alcohol, the drier the wine. Low alcohol, usually less than 12 percents, usually produces a sweeter wine.

Wine of the week: Domain du Tariquet Côtes de Gascogne 2007

image The French region of Gascony is famous for two things, foie gras and D’Artagnan, the Fourth Musketeer. The Wine Curmudgeon submits that a third item should be added ?- great, cheap wine.

The Tariquet (about $10) is just another in a long line of terrific $10 wines from Gascony. These wines are made with grapes that are little known, like ugni blanc, or have bad reputations, like French colombard. But in the hands of a variety of Gascon winemakers, they become clean, crisp and refreshing, with a bit more fruit than other French white wines. The Tariquet has a lemony, floral aroma and a touch of lemon flavor (maybe even lemon zest), without any unpleasant minerality. This is cheap wine the way it should be. Serve it chilled on its own, or with seafood or something like chicken Caesar salad.

Tuesday tidbits 48: David Lett, DrinkLocalWine.com, wine speculation

image ? David Lett dies: Lett, the father of the Oregon wine business, died last week at the age of 69. He was always a treat to interview, and the fact that he did for Oregon what Robert Mondavi did for California never seemed to impress him very much. Equally as important, he was always trying to figure out how to make his wine better.

? Regional wine week: We had a great time with DrinkLocalWine.com, and had some terrific visitor numbers. They surprised us, actually. My colleague in regional wine, Dave McIntyre, and I will probably keep the site going, adding several features over the next couple of months. We ?re always welcome to suggestions, as well. You can leave them in the comments here.

? Wine speculators taking hit: The global credit meltdown  may have put a damper on wine speculation. Private collectors, forced to raise cash, are trying to sell $10 million worth of wine to Vinfolio, a San Francisco-based company that buys and sells wine online. Normally the company has about $6 million offered to it. Among the rare vintages for sale are a 2003 Margaux and a 1990 Romanee-Conti.

Jacques Pepin loves cheap wine

Yes, it ?s true ? Pepin, one of the great chefs of the last 50 years, the man who has cooked for presidents and kings, drinks cheap wine.

?I rarely spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine, ? Pepin told me on Thursday during a visit to Dallas, where he was promoting his new book, More Fast Food My Way.

He said he looks for bargains from countries like Spain and France, and finds much California wine too expensive. At this point, as regular visitors to this site can well imagine, the Wine Curmudgeon was beside himself.

?There ?s nothing wrong with drinking simple wine, ? said Pepin, who still drinks a lot of $10 Beaujolais. His advice: Put a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine out for dinner, and let your guests make up their own minds.

More Pepin wine pointers:

? If you ?re going to splurge, splurge on champagne and sparkling wine.

? Drink regional. (By now, of course, I was past being beside myself). Several years ago, Pepin was eating dinner in the Savoie region of France, known for its well-made, inexpensive white wines. He was with a TV group and when the wine list came, the TV people asked if they should order the one Bordeaux on the list. Pepin said he laughed and said, ?You ?re in Savoie ? drink Savoie wine. ?

? Wine and food pairings are overrated. ?I ?m not too high on that anymore, ? Pepin said. ?It ?s too difficult to figure out. ? Hence the simple red and the simple white put on the dinner table.

And, if I can plug the new cookbook, try the Israeli couscous and popover with apricot jam recipes.

Texas, French wines in a blind tasting

The Wine Curmudgeon likes blind tastings a lot, and it ?s not because I always get them right. It ?s because they are a humbling, necessary experience, something to remind me that I don ?t know nearly enough about wine.

Which brings us to last week ?s Texas-Beaujolais blind tasting, where I correctly identified three of the six wines. And I was happy to do that well.

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Wine of the week: Sunset Winery Moon Glow Merlot 2004

imageBruce and Birgit Anderson run Sunset Winery out of what is more or less a house in suburban Fort Worth, so the idea that their 2004 Moon Glow Merlot can win an award seems kind of fantastic. Burleson is not exactly Napa.

Nevertheless, the wine tells the story. The Moon Glow (about $20, available from the winery) won a bronze medal at the prestigious Dallas Morning News competition earlier this year. It ?s a warm, rich wine that is isn ?t as big or as jammy as most California merlots. Plus, it doesn ?t have any of the excess acid that characterizes so many poorly-made Texas merlots and cabernet sauvignons. Pair it with red meat dishes, and especially lamb.

I ?m not necessarily sold on merlot as a grape that needs to be grown in Texas. But the Andersons and grower Neal Newsom, who supplied the grapes, show what is possible.