Sweeties and stickies

A Spätlese Riesling from Carl Ehrhard

THIS weekend in the Irish Examiner I’m looking at two contrasting styles of sweet wines — the fully-fledged dessert wines (which might have somewhere in the ballpark of 100 grammes per litre of residual sugar) and light slightly off-dry whites (in or around 20g/l).  Click here to read my column online.

Each of the styles has a lot to contribute and is well worth adding to your wine repertoire. Any decent dessert wine will be an intense unctuous after-dinner treat, in my view best enjoyed instead of dessert. And a well-made semi-sweet wine will be a refreshingly light sipper, generally lower in alcohol

Dessert wines don’t come cheap, routinely priced in the €10 to €20 bracket per half bottle, because all the traditional methods of making dessert wine involve processes far more expensive  than squishing and fermenting grapes as is the case with regular wine.

In part though, dessert wine has been the victim of reputation inflation — with price headline set by prohibitively expensive Sauternes and Tokaji.

However, just like sparkling wine, the world map of dessert wine has been changing rapidly, with some more affordable but nevertheless top quality wines being made elsewhere, particularly in Australia, where  they’re commonly known by the pet name “stickies”.

There are delicious stickies from the old world regions at more approchable prices too, such as  Tesco’s finest Sauternes, or the Thomas Barton Sauternes, widely available in independent off-licence at around €20 for the full 75cl bottle.

The other style, off-dry white, is usually accompanied by lower levels of alcohol, down to about 9% or 10% ABV. Taking a leaf out of the Australians; book, you could call them sweeties. The style is perfected in traditional German Auslese rieslings. One of the bottles I’m recommending today provides a good example of the seemingly complex German system of labelling which can be baffling to the unwary, so let’s take apart the meaning of the terms in Carl Ehrhard Green Label Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese. The name is a mouthful but happily so too is the wine. It’s reduced at the moment from €14.95 to €13.45 at Joe Karwig’s shop in Carrigaline Co Cork, or online at www.karwigwines.ie.

♦ The year and the name of the winery, Carl Ehrhard, are self-explanatory.
♦ Rüdesheimer:
Amateur wine detectives look out for terms ending in -er on German labels. It usually refers to the village subregion in which the wine was made, in this case Rüdesheim.
♦ Berg: Literally mountain, on a wine label it means the local vineyard, in this case Rottland.
♦ Riesling
is of course the grape. 
♦ Spätlese
means late harvest meaning riper grapes, which leads to heady sweet wine.
♦ Green Label is Ehrhard’s helpful way of stratifying his range — but do note that Green Label is in fact a mini-range of two, the other being essentially the same wine only quite dry — it could be interesting to try them side-by-side.

While sweetness isn’t the only dimension, it’s an important one and is a key to the great German wine tradition. I’d encourage anyone who’s sceptical about the appeal of the sweetish styles to try one such as the Green Label one highlighted today. But  Germany also makes super dry wines, again particularly from riesling (many of which are now designated “classic”). A great place to start would be with my usual default choice from the Carl Ehrhard range, the excellent dry Carl Ehrhard Rudesheimer Riesling QBA Orange Label which is down at the moment from €13.85 to €12.50, again from Karwig’s. ♦


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