Sara Benwell: The dessert wine that blew my mind

I’ve never been a big drinker of dessert wine. I always complained that it was too sweet and too sickly, and just not in line with my taste at all.

As someone who frequently berates the closed-minded and says you should never rule out an entire genre (can you have a genre of wine?) based on past experiences, I’ll admit that this was a little two-faced, but to be fair, I spent years saying “I’ll try a sip” and then hating it.

Hating it, until I tried a glass of dessert wine that totally and utterly blew my mind. I was at a client dinner where someone ordered a bottle. They offered it my way and I asked for my usual thumbnail – then it utterly blew my socks off.

I am a changed woman.

In Rome with Geordie I was after dessert wine all the time, trying to find something that compared to that first good glass (or three; if I remember correctly everyone was so enchanted by the aforementioned dessert wine I think we had another bottle or two).

What I learnt was that dessert wine comes in all shapes, sizes and flavours, and that even I can find a few that appeal to my ‘I like my wine dry as the Sahara’ palate.

Actually, one has to wonder who I’ve been drinking with all these years that I’d not had this revelation before? I suspect I’d been so blinded by past experience that I wasn’t willing to try and hunt for the impossible – a dessert wine that I’d like.

So why this ode to dessert wine? Well I can’t be the only person out there who’s dismissed it out of hand, so in true Sara style I’m going to myth-bust dessert wine, if only because the more people drink it, the more often I’ll discover something delightful!

Myth #1: Sweet means cloying

I think the main problem I had was that in my mind I associated sweet with cloying, and that probably isn’t very fair.  Sweet wines vary as much as (if not more than) dry wine and, while a fair few dessert wines leave me with a heavy, syrupy, unpleasant taste in my mouth, with the greats, of which there are many, I taste richness instead.

Myth #2: Dessert wines have to go with pudding

Well this just plainly isn’t true.  In fact, as someone who doesn’t really like puddings, I’m embracing pudding wine as my go-to alternative. It’s so dreary being the one who opts for a coffee when everyone else is having sticky toffee pudding, but I’d rather have a dessert wine anyway – and it means I don’t look like a spoilsport.

As a side note, dessert wines don’t even have to be drunk at the end of the meal. There are far more knowledgeable people than me who recommend any number of dessert wines as an aperitif, and the same number again will laud the pairing of certain dessert wines with appetisers.

Sauternes with fois gras is one that comes up a lot, but there’s a whole multitude of other pairings that make much more interesting combinations.

Myth #3: All dessert wines are the same

I’m embarrassed to even admit that I actually thought this, once upon a time, and obviously I couldn’t have been more wrong. Dessert wines are super-complicated. For starters the many different ways you can make dessert wines is astonishing.

For instance you can get botrytis wines that are made from grapes that have been exposed to a type of fungus that dehydrates the grape. The most famous of which include Sauternes. There are also wines made from grapes that are picked later meaning that the grapes have extra sugar.

There’s also a huge icewine market; Canadian producers are particularly good at this (go figure, it’s cold there…) and have cornered the market.  Somewhat opposite to this, you can also let the fruits dry out and get dessert wine that is sometimes called ‘raisin wine’.

Anyway, the point is that dessert wine has masses of variety, and some of them are enchanting, I was ruling them out on the basis of drinking a lot of very mediocre (read: bad) glasses, but I wasn’t exploring options properly (read: without bias).

Dessert wines are complicated to make, and take a lot of work, so if you find the right bottles you’ll have some real stunners on your hands.

The verdict

A final note, I’m not really talking about sherry or port here. Sherry and port are two of my favourite things to drink, but I was indoctrinated into them  far earlier so needed no convincing.

Take it from me though, if you’ve ever thought to yourself “I hate all dessert wine, it’s too sweet” etc, think again, do some research, and prepare your wallet, because once you’ve tried the right dessert wine, you’ll never look back!

Sara Benwell works in the world of PR for a London firm specialising in finance. She blogs about politics, digital, social, finance and wine. Follow her on Twitter @SaraBenwell

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