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From dry muscats to sweet reds

Sweet Red
Barefoot winery

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If you have been writing about wines for almost 40 years, sooner or later you start writing about the same subject you covered earlier. But you want to stay fresh, so you decide to cover the wines of, say, Brazil. This country has made some amazing strides in wine quality, so why not cover it? Well, “Brazilian Wines R Us” hasn’t opened one of its stores here, so it would just be an exercise in cork teasing to write about them. Still, the urge to cover something not much discussed still pulls. How about Muscats?! The category is growing rapidly but that growth is in the sweet versions: nothing new there. But how about the dry Muscats? DRY Muscats? Some of the most gutsy, aromatic and dry white wines made are Muscats from north Italy and from Alsace. So, reinvigorated I went to the shops to see who had what. As feared, this is a category of wine that is either in or out: currently they’re out. Back to square one.

Then came a brown box of goodies: free samples we call them. It didn’t give me square two; rather, it provided a 180 degree turnaround. One of the samples was a wine called simply “Sweet Red” from a California winery called Barefoot. Don’t like sweet reds (unless they’re labeled “Porto”, of course), so that bottle went into the spot relegated to, “maybe I’ll get to it someday” or “might make a good gift for…”.

A few days later, a few fellows dropped off an oven to my second floor abode. It was just one appliance, but a move is a move (plus we were in the middle of a hot spell) and it called for drinks afterward. Not knowing the move would take place that day, I neglected to stock up on beer. And the only bottle of wine I had was the Sweet Red. I told them all I had was a “sickly sweet red wine”. “Bring it on” was the cry. They had the plastic cups and I had the bottle and the corkscrew. Mario, the oven-giver, forced a glass on me and took a sip. “Hey, this is good!”, he says, perplexed a bit by my pre-tasting commentary. Well, with the wine in the glass and toe to toe with my moving comrades, what the heck: down the hatch.

It WAS good. It wasn’t too sweet--maybe a couple of points of residual sugar—and it reminded me of dago red, if a little lighter. Then came the topper: Mario brought some ice. And on this 90+ degree day, it was the only red wine I would ever want ($11 for a magnum).

So, couldn’t write about one aberration—dry Muscats—ergo, did the 180 and decided to mention another most winelovers don’t seem to fancy: not-so-dry reds.

Americans have been drinking sweet red wines for generations. Mogen David and Manishevitz Concords were widely available commercialized, VERY sweet reds. And Italian and other Mediterranean immigrants and their kids and grandkids turned out home made stuff that was often sweeter than average. Charles Krug Winery formalized the situation by releasing their very slightly sweet, very powerful red called “Fortissimo” ($18 for a 4 liter jug and still a great value).

A recent visit to the wine shop turned up some more examples. Two very popular, mildly sweet European wines are the German 2010 Dornfelder (J Drather) and the Hungarian 2011 Blaufrankisch (Donausonne): both $8. From Georgia (the other one) comes the Khvanchkath ($17) and the Kindzmarnuli ($14). Italy has made Brachetto d’Acqui for generations although it’s a bubbly (and not cheap). But try the 2011 “Roscato” from Pavia in Lombardia ($12). From South Africa, Robertson’s “Natural Sweet Red” ($7) and the 2011 “Jam Jar”, a Shiraz ($10) are slightly sweet examples. And, back to California, both Sutter Home ($10 for a magnum) and Gallo ($8 for a magnum) make “Sweet Red” wines. I’m sure there are others, so ask your retailer.

I went to the Binny’s in my neighborhood, but the American and South African wines should be available widely. For the European wines, check out the German and Eastern European specialty stores especially in and around Lincoln Square.

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