26 Apr

Sweetness

Wine label and wine experts contend this is dry wine, but it tastes sweet to me. What is going on?

Sensation of sweet comes from multiple sources. The most likely suspect is your nose. Nose alerts palate before wine touches tongue and continues to influence experience when wine is in your mouth.

Your nose picks up cherry jam, banana yogurt, blueberry pie or some other “here comes sweet” clue, and your palate responds like Pavlov’s dog. In addition, your palate—influenced by nose—can interpret fruitiness as sugar sweetness. Ripe fruit is sweet according to your conditioning.

Almost every bottle of quality red table wine you buy is dry, with less than 10 grams of residual sugar per liter (g/L). There are truly sweet reds—plonk bulk wines and mevushal wines such as Manischewitz are sweet. If you follow this column, you likely do not voluntarily drink those.

Many white wines, too, are dry, but off-dry white wines (11-35 g/L—very slightly sweet) also are popular.

U.S. has no regulations for labeling dryness or sweetness, but most European wine laws mandate red wine must be less than 4 g/L, making them dry. When you drink an Old World wine that says it is dry, it is dry no matter what your nose and your palate tells you. BTW, “bone dry” means no measurable residual sugar at all.

Our mouths are dumb. Wine with high acidity and/or some bitterness easily masks the sensation of sweetness. Some wines with higher residual sugar—German riesling, for instance—do not taste sweet for this reason. On the other hand, lower acidity, fruit-forward dry wines made from floridly ripe grapes—California and Australia, for instance—give the illusion of sweetness. Don’t trust your stupid mouth.

Tasting notes:

Barefoot Chardonnay NV: Drinkable off-dry easy drinker. $6-7

Vera Vinho Verde Bianco 2015: Off-dry, great fruitiness, fun summer sipper. $10-12

Château de Berne Côtes de Provence Impatience Rosé 2015: Bone dry, liltingly light, fruitiness, superb summer or anytime sipper. $20-21

Last round: I got some fruit juice out of the fridge, and I swear I heard the bottle of dry white wine next to it screaming “what the heck is this?”

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemens.com.