User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
So You Won’t Drink Sweet Wine—Shame On You

By Charles Olken

I saw this comment elsewhere yesterday and cringed. “Kudos for contributing to the growing up of palates of the grad school wine club, but an awful lot of consumers still drive demand for fruit and residual sugar”.

Okay, I don’t know all that lies behind that comment. I accept that. And before I go further, I will admit this: Riesling is my favorite white varietal, and I don’t much worry about the sweetness that brings the fruit and acid into balance. I don’t even care if some Chardonnays have residual sugar. The sugar is not the issue. Balance is the issue. I don’t much like sweet Chardonnays, but I could see myself drinking a wine like Rombauer Chardonnay with some Thai and Indian dishes. I prefer Riesling, but the Rombauer is balanced, clean, and goes down easily for me in settings in which I like a little sweetness in my wine.

So, why do people continue to throw brickbats at sweetness and say things that sound like “palates grow up when they forsake sweet wines”? Is it some form of paranoia that makes me think the comment is directed at California wines just like the under-14% alcohol comments also take aim at California wines? Or is it another version of wine snobbism that is saying, “People who drink wines with residual sugar or primary fruit character need to grow up”.

The French drink Sauternes with their fois gras. Other sweet wines work as well in that setting. I have been known to drink Sauternes with salmon napped in a cream sauce, and if truth be known, I cured salmon fillets in sugar and lemon vodka so that they would match up even better with Sauternes at a recent Chez Olken dinner. I used to drink a fair amount of Port after dinner. Now I prefer a lighter wine like a Muscat Beaumes de Venise.

There is nothing wrong with sweet. An element of sweetness in some wines makes them more interesting, not less. A palate is not “mature” because it drinks “dry” wines. Indeed, a palate does not need to be mature at all. All a palate needs to be is in touch with itself, liking what it likes and hopefully leaving itself open to new experiences.

But, I also see a couple of arguments that make that comment too narrow, too arrogant, too much of “my way is the way”. And every time I read or hear things like that in the wine world, I cringe. I am a critic. I tell people my opinion. I don’t tell them what their opinions ought to be.


by Jack Salerno
Posted on:4/7/2011 12:38:30 PM


I love your candor,  this is what separates the Men form the Boys "Good Old Boys" I appreciate your honest edification of wine drinkers everywhere. Keep up the good work.



Jack Salerno

Oh It Aint Just Sweet
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:4/7/2011 1:26:10 PM

We get the same damn think Charlie and it isn't just with sweet wines, we get people that sneer and make beginner comments about all white wine! Nothing tells me more about the level of your wine knowlege than people who make smug and dismissive comments like these. My favorites are the ones that say things like, "I only like dry wines. You know, like Romabuer and Opolo Zinfandels", heate to break it to you...


I have people that adore a wine and then hearing that it is a German Riesling or Chenin Blanc no longer want it because they have been told those were sweet wines but will fall all over themselves to sample a expensive port or Sauternes. Again, hate to break it to you. Not sure where this lame ass sweet wine is for beginners thing came from but it is truly stupid.


Oh and know I love you with all of my heart but, goddamn it, Rombauer Charedonnay is NOT balanced!



Go Ahead! Make My Day!
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/7/2011 1:48:20 PM

No, wait. You two already have.

Thanks, Jack, for the kind words. And, Sam, I just burst out laughing; there are plenty of sweet Chardonnays I could have mentioned, but I love the reaction I get when I mention Rombauer to you.

I know you think it is not balanced, but I have found that it has enough underlying energy to work in setting calling for slightly sweet wines (you know, the ones the Riesling folks call Medium Dry), and compared to Opolo Zins, the Rombauer is positively acidic. :-}

by Sam
Posted on:4/7/2011 7:04:30 PM

Charedonnay is a hybrid or some junk. That or I can't type while trying to wolf down my lunch! I would laugh out loud too Charlie!

White wine safety
by Mongo
Posted on:4/8/2011 12:49:35 AM

As Harry Waugh rightly said, the first duty of wine is to be Red. I am sure you all have read the scientific evidence regarding White Wine Poisoning, a tragically misunderstood and under-reported syndome; why do you continue to ignore this? White wine: dry, sweet, late harvest, oaked, inox, all are culprits. It's not about 'beginner comments', this is a public health crisis.

Fortunately, we all know an antidote is available: Red Wine! CDC reports that high-ripeness, but balanced zinfandels, are the most effective in treating this condition. Austere, earthy Europen reds have little benefits. You could check it out! Grower champagnes . . . let's get CSPI - they are Good! - involved for the safety of everyone.

by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:4/8/2011 12:58:52 AM

Who is this Mongo who rises like a Phoenix only to pour cold water on the ashes of our discontent?

If I ever catch up with you, I am going to feed you fish. Not feed you to the fishes, but feed you fish and make you drink Chardonnay--with or without residual sugar.

Or to put it in the language of your people--go for the Hock.

Mongo Bongo
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:4/9/2011 5:51:30 AM



Be kind to Mongo, He/she resides in a place called Bongo,  where only one side of the brain is ever called into action--and it's the wrong side everytime.

Re, the sweet thingy: I believe that the reason for the persistent "palates growing up" attitude is that--generally--the kinds of wines that novices begin with are essentially out of balance, with a decide lean toward low acid/high sugars.

I may be wrong, as it's been some time since I've been a novice wine consumer, but thanks to inflation (both monetary and ratings) I may be forced to revert soon.


Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.