An Ode to Residual Sugar

An Ode to Residual Sugar

Written by Claire Paparazzo

When it comes to choosing wine, residual sugar is my main attraction. While it may be a striking statement, it rings true to me, especially as it relates to Chenin Blanc.

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On the path of my wine discovery, I somehow became so enamored with demi-sec, off dry styles of wine—industry-speak for “slightly sweet.” Also known as residual sugar wines, or simply “RS,” the name refers to the natural sugar that remains in the wine after fermentation.

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One of my favorite things to do before everything changed was to call up a wine shop and place an order for different kinds of Chenin Blanc wines from the Loire valley of France; Chenin Blanc grapes produce a variety of styles of wine, from sweet to demi-sec, dry, and sparkling. I would taste each wine, comparing them  to see what qualities I liked best, and, occasionally, would discover some kind of flaw. But as with any good judgment call, seeing the good along with the bad can help one arrive at a clear decision. It became clear to me years ago—I love the Chenin Blanc grape. 

 

When I worked at Blue Hill restaurant, my all time favorite “by the glass” choice was my self-insisted ‘Chenin Blanc’ slot. The exact wine would change from one producer to another based on the seasonality of the food, but I recall Domaine Jo Piton and Agnes & Rene Mosse Anjou Blanc as two of my favorites. I needed a dynamic white that could stand up to richness and could cut the fat of pork belly. I needed a complex wine that could straddle earthly elements and risk the slight kiss of honeysuckle and apple—something dynamic enough to pair with Chef Dan Barber’s exquisite food. Chenin Blanc was my go-to, and it was a lifesaver. The connection of food and wine is so important. With pairings, you have a special opportunity to transform the two separate items into one experience. Chenin Blanc unlocks that potential.

 

I follow a lot of my favorite Chenin Blanc producers not only for the wine they provide but also for their commitment to sustainability—most of them practice minimal intervention, earth forward, biodynamic farming. Without their sacrifices we wouldn’t have the same authentic connection to the earth and source of the grape. For well over a decade I have been following the wines and philosophy of Nicolas Joly, a French winegrower in the Loire wine region and a leader of the biodynamic movement. Joly makes it look so easy, but his production only comes about due to his immense discipline and commitment. The result is a truly transcendent wine-drinking experience. In his book Biodynamic Wine Demystified, Joly writes: “When you drink a real wine, when you are transported by particular tastes or aromas, it is really a far-off, ethereal world that you are admiring, one distant from earthly laws.” 

 

My attraction to residual sugar wines goes beyond just Chenin Blanc, although that is my island wine choice. I love Selbach-Oster, Robert Weil, Van Volxem, and Peter Lauer to name a few producers whose Rieslings make me want to jump out of my seat. I wonder if it’s because I’m used to tasting so many different types of wines for my job that the one note wonder wines just pass me by in a sea of normal, while these wines that keep evolving in the glass seize my senses and inspire me to keep coming back for more—just another sniff, just another moment to let the wine open itself up to you. This may seem dramatic but if you know, you understand.

 

During this week’s tasting, it was pure pleasure to sip and experience residual sugar wines. It was the final meeting of the summer series of tastings, and in my opinion, we saved the best for last.. The beauty of both these wines we tasted is that they have extremely high acidity to balance out the sweetness, creating what is, to me, a gorgeous texture.

 

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photo via Pinterest

 

photo via Pinterest

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Wines from our tasting:

Peter Lauer: “Senior” Ayler Fass 6 Riesling, Saar, Germany 2019: Peter Lauer is a well known estate producing dry and off dry style Riesling.The “Senior” Ayler comes from a cooler lot and was named for Florian Lauer’s grandfather. It is a huge value because it is technically a village wine but using all grand cru fruit. The grapes are hand harvested from 100-year-old vines and made without any pesticides out of respect for nature, and Lauer uses all wild yeasts. The wine itself is difficult to classify—perceived dry? Off dry? The old-style Saar Riesling had such racy acidity they often needed a bit of residual sugar to balance it out; this one comes in at 13 grams, but the sugar is hard to detect because, like the “Senior,” the wine is an ode to the old style.

 

This was the shining star in our tasting; it was showing so beautifully: white gold in color, with a green undertone. Nose: Rocks and sunshine, almond skin petrol, lemon oil, bay leaf. Palate: juicy and clean with lingering acidity, light coating of lemon balm fruit with a long finish. This Riesling, although delicious on its own, is a great complement to summer flavors, corn, tomatoes, grilled ribs, or spicy curry. I enjoyed it with an Amaretto cookie after dinner, and the almond notes just danced on my palate, the acidity leaving me fresh.

Florent Cosme: Vouvray Demi-Sec ‘Champs Rougets’, Loire, France 2017: Florent grew up in a winemaking family but, being the youngest, missed out on having the small family winery handed down to him—it went to his brother instead. He snagged an impressive job working alongside Vincent Careme in Vouvray while in school, paving the way to his future. Eventually, he was able to purchase his own vineyard—4 hectares of old vines, which he farms biodynamically. The wines don’t go through malolactic fermentation, so they have a tension to them, which in my opinion provides a great depth. Florent uses clay and silex soil over limestone, and only indigenous yeast; he also ages the wine in large old barrels. These are just a few of the reasons this wine is so appealing. On the sight, it was yellow gold; on the nose, honey, white flowers, and beeswax with overripe apple, plus caramel and orange blossoms. Palate: full flavor and richness coat the mouth with caramel apple and a fresh acidity that balances everything out. For food, I enjoyed a spicy radish green, basil, arugula pesto with cheese tortellini, and the wine offset the spice perfectly—the subtle but bright lemony acidity kept the dish clean and fresh.

This was my favorite from our tasting, and although I may stand alone on this, it’s okay—you can find me on my own private island one day with mounds and mounds of demi-sec Vouvray. (Actually, it would pair really nicely with pineapple...)

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If you would like to buy these two wines please contact Shiraz Noor at Acker Wines. LBV Social Club members get a discount through our partnership!

 

Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on August 26th, 2020. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.

 

First photo via Immerse Magazine

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