Adventures in the Off Dry

Do you like sweet wine or dry wine best? Most people are conditioned to reply “dry of course”. It is somehow uncool to like something sweet, a form of moral weakness, like watching soaps on TV. Perhaps a guilty pleasure but not something to discuss in company, certainly not if trying to impress.

We all know that dessert wines can be nice and also that foodies are allowed to like them, they have a place in society. Dessert wines are the really thick, sticky sweet wines that go with your pudding. But I’m not talking about those, I’m interested in the wines that are only just sweet. Enter the wonderful and frightening world of the off-dry. This article is about these in between wines; credible, cool but still a little bit sweet.

Some science first if I may. Sweetness in wine is measured by how many grams of sugar a litre of wine contains; so grams per litre (usually written g/l). Even a completely dry wine will usually still contain maybe 2 g/l of sugar but at this level it is not something you can taste. A really sweet dessert wine may have as much as 150 or even 200 g/l. Most people start to detect sweetness in a wine when it reaches somewhere around 15-25 g/l, and it is wines around this level that are considered “off-dry”. They are nearly dry, but not quite.

So, some wines to look out for. I have listed some styles below. As usual I would urge you to ask a specialist when seeking these out. You can probably find commercial versions of these wines in the supermarket but you are likely to find better made and more interesting versions elsewhere. Also pretty much all of these wines come in dry, sweet or off-dry versions. You need a genuine expert to guide you to the off-dry ones.

Vouvray. This has a throwback 1970s ring to it but the wines are as good as ever. Made from the Chenin Blanc grape these come from the middle reaches of the Loire in France. They are made dry, sweet and off dry so make sure you ask for the right sort. If you get a blank look keep your money in your pocket and find another retailer. They should have brilliant high acidity that means they keep for years and go perfectly with rich creamy sauces.

Pinot Gris. This is the same grape as Pinot Grigio but look for a wine from Alsace in France made in what the French call a Vendange Tardive, meaning late harvest, style. These can be sumptuously rich with smoky, peachy apricot flavours. Delicious and utterly different to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio.

Riesling. Every wine writer bangs on about this grape, but for good reason, as it can be delicious. I would suggest something from New Zealand. Pegasus Bay do a great off dry style from Waipara on the East coast of the South Island. It makes me think of peaches, liquid lime, with nectarine and a dash of lime marmalade. If you cant find this specific wine most New Zealand back labels will clearly say whether the wine is off-dry or not.

Moscato d’Asti. This is a slightly sparkling, low alcohol wine from North West Italy. It is creeping into sweeter territory but with only around 5.5% alcohol and delicious, fresh, musky, grapey flavours it has been described as the perfect breakfast wine. It is deliciously light and personally I love it with a piece of cake mid afternoon. The wine is similar to Asti Spumanti but better quality so be careful to buy the right one.

So there you have some suggestions. I hope you enjoy yourself in the twilight world of the nearly dry.