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Sugar and spice?

Hardly anyone ever orders dessert wine with their main course, however much producers might wish it. But what about wines that are not “stickies”, but do have lots of residual sugar? Mosel Rieslings from Germany, for example?

These are pretty unusual wines by today’s standards: lower in alcohol and higher in sugar than almost anything else. They also have generous levels of acidity, which means they often taste drier than you’d expect. So how best to drink them? The food at Hakkasan is ideal for sweeter German Rieslings, of course, but most of us wouldn’t know what else to pair these wines with. I recently went to a fascinating tasting designed to explore that very question.

The wines were all from Mosel producer St Urbans-Hof, and had residual sugar levels ranging from 6.7g/l (Leiwener Laurentiuslay Grosses Gewaechs 2009) to a whopping 61g/l (Ockfener Bockstein Feinherb Spatlese 2007). If you’re not sure what these figures represent, then bear in mind that anything over 45g/l is legally classed as ‘sweet’. Of course they all had typically high natural acidity and minerality too.

The tasting had a very clever twist: we were all asked to propose a dish in advance for one of the wines. The chef at Eight EC2 then devised a menu based on our ideas, and the aim was to see what worked. St Urbans-Hof proprietor Nik Weis was there to face our comments, together with organiser Walter Speller.  

I fancied trying some sweet Rieslings with smoked fish, so we were served a pungent smoked trout dish as our second course. The best wine with this dish was a 1990 Auslese, with over 58g/l of sugar, and all the sweeter wines worked well. Sugar and smoke, then, is one route to success.  

Other dishes included tuna ceviche, rosti with scallop and black pudding, squid millefeuille, and seared pork loin. It was great to discover that the sweetness of the wines didn’t cause any problems. In fact it genuinely enhanced most of the dishes, especially where there were roasted, spicy, fishy or oily flavours. It was only when we got to a cheese course of Epoisse that we finally agreed something else would have been better.

The lesson, of course, is that the mere presence of sugar is no problem at all. It is the balance and overall style of the wine that matters to the food match, and clearly the style of these sweetish but refreshing Mosels is well suited to a lot of food.

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