Wine Column: Explosion of Sweet Wines

By Bennet Bodenstein

The recent explosion of sweet wines onto the market place is new, but not all that new. Modern sweet wines gained public interest with the introduction of sweet blush Zinfandel rosé. Among the first major producers of this style of wine was and often credited with its introduction, is Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Vineyards.

Modern sweet wines are not made by simply adding a sweetener to a finished wine, an act that is illegal in most countries of the world. To make a sweet wine, the winemaker must stop the fermentation process, usually by chilling the wine to kill the yeast, resulting in a portion of the grapes natural sugars remaining in the wine creating a naturally sweet, fruity wine with a lower alcohol content.

Sutter Home Moscato Sangria ($8). This is probably the most exciting and interesting of the new sweet wines and I believe it was pure genius on the part of the Sutter Home vintners. While Sangria, a Spanish influenced beverage that combines citrus fruits or flavors with wine that has been long called for and it would be Sutter Home that had the chutzpa to introduce it to a very critical wine public. My only comments on this wine are “WOW! Where have you been all my life,” and “you have got to try this one.”

Sutter Home Sweet Red ($8). Several years ago some great medical brain announced that red wine was an anti-oxidant and good for the heart. The red wines at that time, except for the low quality “stuff,” were all dry. With all that evidence the wine industry, known for being reactionary, failed to capitalize on the new information except for, you guessed it, Sutter Home. All of the flavors and aromas associated with a red wine have been captured and offered up by this astounding sweet red wine. As a confirmed red wine lover, the Sutter Home Sweet Red has found a place in my wine library and I my heart.

Sutter Home Gewurztraminer ($8). If you can’t pronounce it … good, that leaves more for me. Gewurztraminer is noted for being the most aromatic of all of the world’s wines and all too often an overlooked white wine variety. The scents of honey, spring flowers, and pear abound and reach out from the glass to invite the first sip. That first sip suggests the flavor of melons and sweet tropical fruits with apricots and honey in the background. This wine shines when served with Asiatic foods and if you will pardon the well worn cliché, prepare to be amazed.

Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port ($25). If anyone is a movie buff and watches Turner Classic Movies, they have witnessed the dull British drawing room movies of the distant past and the inevitable line “The men will retire to the study for Port and cigars and the women may adjourn to the library for their Sherry.” That was enough to put Port wines at the very bottom of the red wine list. Again, it is Sutter Home that took a look at Port wine and did something to change all of that. Port wine is a full bodied sweet red wine in which the fermentation was ended by adding brandy to the fermenting mix that kills the yeast but raises the alcohol content, producing a sweet after dinner desert beverage. The Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port is a sweet, powerful, and an incredibly complex beverage blessed with a full fruity flavor and a perfumed aroma that the Zinfandel grape is capable of.  It is a drink for those who truly appreciate the very best of everything.

Sutter Home is not only the undisputed master of the art of making sweet wines, but also produces a complete line of classically styled wine with the same commitment to quality,  preserving the true flavor signature of the varieties, while keeping their wines priced in the affordable range; some of which I will cover in the near future.