Step forward Miss Sweetness; the issue that I have with Alsatian wine (ignoring those washed out Pinot Noirs obviously).
A lunch in Mittelbergheim, Alsace recently is a case in point. Our charming, stylish and gracefully French host (although technically from Scandinavia) was enthusing over the delights of Slyvaner – in particular the one Grand Cru hillside where it is grown – and ordered a bottle to accompany a fish course (Rieffel Sylvaner Grand Cru Zotzenberg, 2007).
With no disrespect or embarrassment meant to our host the match was a disaster. The wine was far, far too sweet to accompany the food.
In addition to highlighting the sweetness problem it also reflected badly on the high-aiming restaurant too, for not indicating such a potential conflict from one of their wines.
Yet from the label there is no indication of how dry or otherwise the wine is.
Simple – let the producer add a designation of sweetness on the label. It would be ‘relatively’ simple to set a residual sugar level equalling a specific sweetness. But “a wine with 16g of residual sugar” is not terribly consumer friendly and frankly such vino-tech talk is off-putting even to many wine aficionados.
There is a further complication – perceived sweetness. That Riesling may have 16g of residual but its high acidity and steely, mineral backbone gives the impression that it is much, much drier.
Some producers, such as Zind-Humbrecht since 2003, have taken the initiative to implement their own sweetness grades and put them on their bottle labels.
A tasting though at Zind-Humbrecht demonstrated how fraught this can be. A wine (Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Clos Saint Urbain, Rangen de Thann, 2006) they originally graded as a 4 (on a 1-5 scale, with ultra-sweet Vendage Tardive being at 5) has, the wine maker, Olaf Richter, thought as we sipped and slurped our way through a majestic array of wines, dropped to a 3 over time. Which really doesn’t help in the slightest.
I don’t have the answer and at risk of ending on a flippant note this is exactly why wine is such a fascinating subject – you just have to try and taste EVERYTHING!
Berry Brothers currently list the Rieffel Sylvaner Grand Cru Zotzenberg, 2005 vintage at £14.60. The 2005 Riesling Rangen de Thann from Zind-Humbrecht can be purchased from Gauntley’s of Nottingham for £426.00 for a case of 12.