I was recently fortunate enough to receive two bottles of sweet wine from some South African friends who were visiting London. Sweet wines always seem like a good idea as a gift and are generally appreciated. But now I am trying to figure out where and when to open them. Granted, it’s not the worst predicament to be faced with!
The one is the 2002 vintage of the famous Vin de Constance from acclaimed producer Klein Constantia. It is a natural sweet wine, produced from the fragrant Muscat de Frontignan grape. It has picked up a number of medals and awards and according to a few websites should be drinking pretty well about now.
The second bottle is the 2010 Nuy Red Muscadel from this producer outside Worcester. This well-known wine (in South Africa at least!) is a full sweet muscadel and the alcohol on the bottle is 16.5%. I am in no rush to open this, as I would suspect a few years in the bottle would do it little harm. The Nuy website is not very helpful with regard to details of this wine. But from my understanding Muscadel (and Jerepigo) are essentially produced by fortifying late harvested, unfermented grape juice, and thereby retaining the sweetness and fruit flavours.
Sweet wine has never really been my thing. Sure, I have enjoyed a glass with a meal at some great restaurants in the past and I know that South Africa produces some stonkers, but it is not a category of wine that I seek out. The first time I had Vin de Constance was back when I was at university and was working most nights as a wine steward at Buitenverwachting restaurant to pay my way. That was where I first took real interest in wine and I can still remember a glass of 1997 Vin de Constance paired with a trio of foie gras. Mmmm…
But I rarely purchase a bottle of sweet wine as I always feel that I won’t have the opportunity to enjoy it. It may be because my friends are unlikely to be too keen on them, or perhaps a lingering perception created by older uncles and grandparents sitting around an autumn braai sipping on ‘soetes’. I understand that they’ll last a bit longer than a dry wine once opened, thanks in part to the higher sugar. But this is not really long enough for someone who doesn’t have a particularly sweet tooth to get through them before they fade.
It’s definitely time to educate my palate and myself around the pleasures that are to be had from good quality sweet wines. A recent opportunity to taste through a range of incredible Tokaji wines was followed by the arrival of these two bottles. Someone out there is clearly telling me I am not sweet enough!
If you have any suggestions or recommendations for great food pairings with sweet wines, or would like to share an experience of a memorable bottle, please let me know in the comments section below.