At one time, sweet wines like Hungary’s Tokaj, Spain’s Sherry, France’s Sauternes, Austria’s Ruster Ausbruch, and Germany’s Trockenbeerenauslese were the most sought after wines in the world. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved their Madeira and Sack, Napoleon craved his South African Vin de Constance, and the Russian Czars adored their (very) sweet Champagnes. Today, consumers who imbibe sugar in their drinks and foods no long crave sweet wines. But the fact remains that these are some of the most special wines in the world, made from shriveled, dried grapes that are often affected by the noble mold called botrytis.
Vintners rarely profit from making these wines, and they’re becoming increasingly difficult to find. Sweet wines are a bit like music of the harpsichord, a once highly popular item that today is appreciated only by the select, refined few!
The International Wine Review offers the following complimentary wines for the audience's drinking pleasure following Capriccio's September 15 concert where Rebecca Pechefsky performs Suites by François Couperin (Huitième Ordre) and Johann L. Krebs (Partita No. 6, E-flat Major) and dazzling Sonatas by Antonio Soler.
Bodegas Tradicion Cream Tradicion VOS 20 Years. Made using the solera system where vintages are blended over many decades, most Sherries are in fact dry. Cream sherry is a blend of an aged, dry sherry called Oloroso with an extremely sweet sherry called Pedro Ximénez. It’s a style that became very popular in Britain beginning in the 17th century, after Sir Francis Drake sacked Cadiz in 1587 and captured 2900 barrels of Sherry to bring back as war spoils. At that time it would probably have been savored whilst enjoying the music of William Inglot, Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd. The wine we’re tasting averaged 20 years of age at the time of bottling, but it’s a blend of wines dating back a hundred years.
Inniskillin Vidal Icewine Niagara Peninsula and Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine Niagara Peninsula. Eiswein dates from Germany in the 18th century but it was seldom produced, as frozen grapes were difficult to harvest and process. Perhaps J.S. Bach enjoyed a glass or two? It only really became popular after WWII with the arrival of new technologies. Today, the warming climate is once again making the production of Eiswein uncommon, but Ontario, Canada, continues to have cold winters, and today that is where much of the world’s real icewine is made. Artificial icewine, made by putting grapes in freezers, can be made anywhere, but it lacks the authenticity that comes with grapes left on the vine to shrivel and eventually freeze. We’re tasting two icewines from the Niagara Peninsula, one made with Vidal Blanc and one made with Cabernet Franc.
Quinta Vale D. Maria 2001 Late Bottled Vintage Porto. Port is a British invention that came about due to the 17th century conflicts between France and Britain. Seeking other sources of red wine, Britain turned to Portugal and started fortifying red wine so it would survive shipment to London. Ports come in many styles. The LBV Port is a bit lighter than the Vintage Port, but both carry vintage designations. This one comes from one of my favorite Douro producers.
Kracher 2005 Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese No 1 Summer Burgenland. Auslese and Trockenbeerenauslese sweet wines are made both in Germany and Austria from several different grape varieties. The Welschriesling variety is especially popular in Austria, where this wine comes from. The producer, Kracher, is Austria’s most famous; after WWII, he single handedly restored Austria’s reputation for making world class sweet wines.
Schramsberg 2011 Cremant Demi-Sec Napa. For most of its history Champagne was a sweet sparkling wine. The Russian czars especially liked Champagne, and the Roederer Champagne house put their very sweet beverage in a cut crystal bottle for the czar and called it Cristal. A few producers still make off-dry Champagne. In California, Jack Davies began rehabilitating the old Schramsberg estate in 1965 and soon became known as California’ best sparkling wine producer. The off dry Crémant has been made since 1972; its principal grape is a unique California cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer called Flora that was developed at UC Davis. At Capriccio's concert on September 15, guests will enjoy a glass of this bubbly in a toast to famed German-American conductor and composer, Bruno Walter, whose birthday was September 15, 1876.
Broadbent NV Fine Rich Sweet Sta. Cruz Madeira. A fortified wine from the island of Madeira, this beverage was created accidentally when barrels of Madeira being shipped by boat became overheated. Today, the best Madeira is gently matured in heated rooms. It’s a very long lived wine; until relatively recently one could still purchase 100-200 year old Madeiras at reasonable prices. Michael Broadbent is widely credited for rediscovering Madeira; he wrote the book, Madeira: The Island Vineyard.
Florio 2002 Targa Riserva 1840 Semisecco Superiore Riserva Marsala. Like Madeira, Florio was initially fortified to withstand long ocean voyages without spoilage. In the late 18th century, the British trader John Woodhouse “discovered” Marsala and began exporting it to Britain. His firm was purchased by Florio in the late 19th century. Marsala, named after the Sicilian port city, is made of Sicilian white grape varieties. The Superiore Riserva is aged in cask for at least 4 years. Most Marsala today is unaged and used for cooking, but if you happen to travel to the beautiful city of Marsala, go out of your way to fine aged Marsala Vergine, which you won’t find anywhere else.
A few years back I wrote a report on sweet wines called Sweet Wines of the World. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you a copy if you email me at Don@i-winereview.com