Sweet talk on wine

Thursday, 27. July 2017 - 17:00

Photo: Uwe Hermann/Wiki Commons

Editing a magazine is rather like putting together a dinner party. You invite guests you hope will get on and have interesting things to say, but you never know until it’s over which topics of conversation will have been the most engaging. When Meininger’s Wine Business International editor, Felicity Carter began talking to Oliver Zhou about the most exciting trends in his native China, and to James Lawrence about the efforts Champagne producers are making to fight back against competition from Prosecco, she can’t have imagined just how well their articles would chime with the cover interview I did with Tim Hanni MW.

The theme of all these pieces – which appeared in the June 2017 issue – can be summed up in a single word: sweetness. Hanni’s view that “our insistence on dry wine as ‘good’ wine is ridiculous” has won him few friends in an industry that likes nothing better than to decry popular wines such as Yellow Tail and Apothic for their high levels of residual sugar. But, as he went on to say, this kind of attitude “does not serve the wine industry or reflect the history and traditions of wine”,

Chinese professionals apparently increasingly understand this all too well, as Zhou explained when talking about “a new generation of online retailers… catering to young consumers…many of which specialise in medium sweet wines that typically retail for around $15.00 to $20.00 a bottle”.

Of course, it’s easy for the anti-sweetness brigade to attribute the success of these wines in China, and sugary red Californian blends in the US, to the ‘unsophisticated’ nature of those markets. But the professionals to whom James Lawrence talked for his global review of the Champagne market had no doubt that there were plenty of wine drinkers in other countries with a sweet tooth. Recently launched fizzes like Taittinger Nocturne, Veuve Clicquot Rich, Moët Ice, Lanson White Label and Nicolas Feuillatte Graphic are all apparently doing very well with residual sugar levels of 60 grams per litre, which is four or five times as much as one would find in the same houses’ Brut Champagnes.

Look for coverage of these wines by wine critics, or mention them to most sommeliers and you will find little enthusiasm. Amongst these professionals, the talk is still all about ‘minerally’, bone dry, Zero-Dosage Champagnes that are said to be the ideal accompaniment to food.

Unfortunately, as Tim Hanni MW would have predicted, consumers don’t actually enjoy these wines very much. As John Chan of Amber restaurant in Hong Kong is quoted as saying “zero dosage is like 90% cocoa dark chocolate”. In other words, cool to be seen eating, but with “no balance for enjoyment for most drinkers”.

Of course, there are plenty of very valid reasons to be wary of encouraging the intake of more sugar than is already going into most human bodies, but wine is like ice cream – a luxury that is consumed for the pleasure it gives. I rarely hear the anti-sweet-wine brigade support calls by the health lobby to cut down total wine consumption to a glass or two per day. But a couple of glasses of Yellow Tail contain less than half as much sugar as a 100ml serving of breakfast orange juice and a little more than a tenth as much as you’d find in a ‘Tall’ (354ml) cup of Starbucks Chai Tea Latte.

I’m certainly not saying that all wine should be sweet; merely agreeing with Hanni in disputing the notion that all wine - with a few specified exceptions - should be dry.

Maybe that’s a subject that you’d like to raise at one of your next dinner parties.
Robert Joseph