That’s an easy question for someone to answer, presuming they’ve tasted the soft drink.
Some may answer in the affirmative, others may say they prefer Coca-Cola, and still others may say they avoid soft drinks altogether. The point is, when you say “Pepsi” or “Coca-Cola” to someone, they know what you’re taking about and have a clear understanding of what it tastes like to them.
Oh, if only the same were true for wine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in a conversation such as this:
Me: Do you like wine?
Other Person: No.
Me: What kind have you had?
Other Person: Red.
Me: Do you know what kind of red?
Other Person: No. I just remember that it was bitter.
Me: Have you ever tried a white wine that was a little bit sweet?
Other Person: No.
Me: Why not?
Other Person: Because I don’t like wine.
Then, if the person is willing to continue the conversation, a little education begins. Over years of writing about wine and leading tastings and seminars, I’ve learned that for many people, wine has been a “one and done” experience. If they didn’t like the flavor the first time they put wine to their lips, it can take a lot to get them to try it again.
I’ve found that, for most people, there’s a progression that takes place in the styles of wine they like, and that progression almost never starts with a dry red wine. So, if the first wine they ever tried was a Cabernet Sauvignon, it could have been a $500 Bordeaux and there would have been little chance they’d like it.
It’s much better to start off a person with a wine that has just a touch of sweetness to it. Among the varieties that often are made in this style are:
In no way should these varieties be thought of strictly as “training wheel” wines, however. As America has become more of a melting pot than ever, and as our palates have been introduced to a wider array of ethnic fare, wines possessing just a touch of sweetness often make ideal pairing partners.
For instance, sauces with honey, sugar or tamarind — common in Asian cuisine — pair nicely with sweeter wines. And with hot and spicy food, whether ethnic or Tex-Mex, a well-chilled sweet wine makes a wonderful pairing partner.
Personally, I’m not a fan of super spicy Thai food, but my wine-geek friends tell me that a chilled Riesling is the perfect wine match. That certainly makes sense, given Riesling’s high level of food-friendly acidity.
With wines like Moscato, which tend to be sweeter than the other varieties mentioned above, it’s best to pair it with something sweet — but not as sweet as the wine. Crème brulee or a mascarpone tart would make sinful (in a good way) partners.
But my favorite pairing of all, when it comes to lightly sweet wines, is Gewurztraminer with dim sum. The poached and steamed dishes you’ll find rolling around the room — as long as they’re not too spicy — play right into the wheelhouse of Gewurztraminer, which typically has slightly lower acidity and slightly higher alcohol than other light and sweet wines.
Keep in mind that’s you’re not likely to find a Gewurztraminer on the wine list of a restaurant that offers dim sum, so call ahead to see if they’ll let you bring your own bottle.
The Vinesse tasting panel has curated a selection of lightly sweet wines that are ideal for so many occasions — including introducing a reluctant friend to the wonderful world of wine.