Sugar and the Mental Gymnastics of the Wine Drinker

I often wonder about the personal dynamics a person undergoes when their prejudices bump up against a reality that puts the lie to those prejudices. It turns out I find myself in just such a position. What I’ve found is that it’s best to embrace one’s convictions and let go of long held prejudices if peace of mind is one’s goal.

The prejudice: Simple Palates and Novice Wine Drinkers Like their Wine Sweet. Experienced Palates and Dedicated Wine Lovers Like their Wines Dry.

The Reality: Ive discovered that of late, no matter when I’m in the mood for wine, I find myself reaching for something sweet. And not just a slightly sweet Zinfandel, but a really sweet ice wine or dessert wine; Sauternes, Late Harvest Zin, Semillon infected with Noble Rot. The list is long, but it’s sweet.

I’ve found myself of late sipping Austrian Ice Wine and Sweet German Riesling as I go about my business in the office in the late afternoon. It is incredibly pleasant and has the additional bonus of usually being quite low in alcohol.

Yet on more than one occasion I’ve got this image of myself in my mind of an old lady sipping her afternoon sweet sherry. I don’t particularly like that image, I think because it doesn’t square with my long held opinion that I’m amongst the wine loving elite that drinks "serious" wine.

I wonder to what extent expectations of what it means to be a "wine drinker" weigh on those who may not consider themselves among the elite, but really do like their wine sweet. I wonder if these folks simply don’t want to be associated with the "Sweet Palates" and Old Lady Sherry Drinkers and as a result turn to drinking beer or bourbon.

I’ve always viewed sweet wines not only as being for those who aren’t "SERIOUS" wine drinkers but also as a "gateway wine" that can draw the uninitiated into the "Serious Wine Drinker" fold. In fact, whenever I open a sweet wine I make sure I give my kids a sip. My hope is they’ll grow up with good thoughts about wine running around their head.

My solution to my own prejudicial contradictions is to embrace them. I will drink these damned sweet wines as much as I want and I’ll do it with a smile on my face. And if anyone wants to call me less than serious about wine I can just as easily pour them a glass and dare them not to like it. Getting to this place in my mind actually took some mental gymnastics. But I got there with my self respect intact and with my superior attitude intact too.

I wonder however if that superior attitude that many serious wine drinkers have doesn’t too often drift out into the world of would-be-wine-consumers and turn them off.

I think it must.

On to the next Ice Wine….

11 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - January 23, 2008

    Have you ever noticed how many Gold Medals sweet wines win at competitions?

  2. Terry Hughes - January 23, 2008

    I’m with you, Tom…I worry about the Granny with her Sherry image, but there’s a wine that’s appropriate for every occasion, food, mood and taste, so you SHOULD embrace it.
    This is no contradiction. After all, our British cousins helped create and popularize a number of the world’s most famous sweet wines at the same time they were developing the Bordeaux and Burgundy trade and/or markets.
    I’ve been traipsing around Italy a lot this year, seeking out new, little wineries with great wines. Several of the very best of these are sweet wines of stunning quality and variety (and reasonable prices). Fortunately, some proprietary market research I’ve seen lately reveals that sweet wines are a fast-growing category in the US. Italian dessert wines are doing very well, and they go far beyond the tired old Moscatos that restaurant people have been palming off on us for years.
    Drink up!

  3. Tom Wark - January 23, 2008

    Yes. In fact, I’ve given out a few.

  4. winehiker - January 23, 2008

    Congratulations, Tom! You’re now a serious wine drinker. 🙂 Come to think of it, it’s about time I popped that Inniskillin I’ve been saving.

  5. Jeff - January 23, 2008

    When you also quaff a regional fruit wine like, say, a Cherry Wine from Michigan without compunction you will have completed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Wine Needs and be fully self-actualized.

  6. Justin - January 23, 2008

    As to the last question you ponder in your post, I am convinced the answer is quite often. Just tonight I had a chance to make an impression on a possible new wine enthusiast when an employee approached me and asked for a recommendation on a good “first wine book.” This, of course, led to a 10+ minute conversation about wine.
    In moments like this, my mind constantly warns my mouth to NOT pontificate. Nurture. I recommended a couple of books…and Riesling.

  7. Oenophilus - January 24, 2008

    We talk about the evolution of the palate and being open to tasting and trying new things. As another wino who has come full circle, I think that it isn’t just the sweetness that draws me in, but rather the layers of interesting stuff going on in a wine that are enabled by the sweetness. I drink all sorts of wine. I pretty much only try to collect sweets & stickies…if only to drink them while rocking in my chair, with a shawl around my shoulders, surrounded by many, many cats…..

  8. Mary B. - January 24, 2008

    I wish that a wine blogger would run residual sugar tests on some of the high profile, high priced, high alcohol zins and zin/syrah blends. It’s customary among many producers to leave a little RS in the wine to balance what would otherwise be a hot mouthfeel. I’m sure many wine geeks would not care . . . but I bet a few would be shocked that the wines they considered dry are actually a tad, just a tad, sweet!

  9. boyce - January 25, 2008

    I am surprised at the number of people in the wine business who spend a great deal of time telling consumers “the most important thing is to drink what you like” but then have very fixed ideas about what they themselves should drink.

  10. Jeff Cleveland - January 25, 2008

    I too, give my kids a sip of wine every time I open a bottle that has some sweetness to it. I want them to associate wine with family meals and good times together.

  11. Marissa - January 26, 2008

    Your last point is dead on. “Serious” wine drinkers attempt to be the tastemakers, the Beverly Hills society page martini moms and country club dads. Yet all too often, they blather themselves into irrelevance, talking just to hear their own voice.
    No wonder beer is so popular–nobody cares if the stout drinkers think the lager drinkers lack sophisticated taste buds.
    Thanks for being a part of the Dark Side.

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