Wine Tasting 101: Fruitiness Does Not Equal Sweetness

Tips on Wine Tasting, distinguishing between fruitiness and sweetness.

I have a history of doing wine sales, wine tastings and belonging to different wine clubs.  One of the things I would notice which often surprised me would be regarding people who tasted dry but fruitier wines and complained about them as being too sweet, even if there was little to no residual sugar in that wine.  Invariably, these people would mistake wines which were "fruit forward" with wines which were sweet, though the first does not equate to the second.

 "Fruit forward" is a term which describes a wine in which its fruity characteristics quite literally jump out at you.  In other words, its fruitiness is the first and most noticeable taste on the palate.  However, many finer fruit-forward wines have little if any residual sugar, meaning that the sugar has been removed during fermentation.  An example of such a wine would be a Viognier.  A typical Viognier has fruit-forward characteristics of green apple and apricot, noticeable immediately at the front of the mouth with the first sip yet the majority of Viogniers have very little if any residual sugar. 

When trying to determine the sweetness versus the fruitiness of a wine, a little trick of the trade is to hold your nose while sipping.  If you can still taste the sweetness, then it is truly a sweet wine.  Holding the nose allows for the nose not to be confused by the different fruity aromas coming off of the wine. 

As an exercise, if you are able, try buying both a Riesling and a Dry Riesling.  If you are unsure which ones to buy, many quality liquor and/or wine speciality stores have a wine buyer who can make a recommendation (avoid regular grocery stores in this regard).  When you're back at home, with some family and friends, open both.  Start with the Dry Riesling.  First, do the sipping as you normally would.  Notice the color, legs and aroma.  When you sip, try "chewing" the wine.  This will unleash many layers for flavors which might have otherwise been ignored.  You may want to take notes regarding what you discerned during the initial tasting.  After a moment, perhaps after drinking some water or taking a palate cleanser, try taking another sip while holding your nose.  Do you taste any sweetness?  If not, then it is a safe assumption you have purchased a true Dry Riesling.  Repeat this exercise with the Riesling and see what you are able to discern.  For one thing, while holding your nose, you should be able to notice a sweetness with the Riesling.  Depending on the Riesling, you may even notice quite a bit of sweetness. 

You can also try this exercise when sampling different labels of the same wine or even different years of the same wine from the same winery.  It may help you to determine different styles of wine and which wines you might prefer.  I have noticed a great deal of difference among Zinfandels and even Merlots when it comes to varying levels of sweetness, even among different years within the same winery.

I hope you find this information useful.  

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