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Wine Tasting Room 

Drinking the Kool-Aid

L et's talk sweet wine. Not that sweet kiss of oak, or even wine paired with chocolate. They're nice, but for many people, once chocolate's in the picture, the wine is marginally relevant. No, no—let's have a frank discussion about residual sugar.

We can look to the lyrics of hundreds of songs to find that people have long celebrated "Sweet Wine," "Sweet Red Wine" and even "Sweet Cherry Wine." We don't hear crooning over dry wine. And who sings about "Bitter Wine"? Bon Jovi, that's who.

It was the cavity-courting English who boosted Portugal's fortified, sweet wine to world renown, while every fall Germans enjoy a half-fermented brew called Federweiser. Why was white Zinfandel such a hit with Americans? Because it tastes like watered-down raspberry Kool-Aid licked off of a stainless steel tank? Because it's sweet, duh. Now, who is drinking the Kool-Aid here? According to tasting-room sources, people are shy about asking for the sweet wine on the menu. It's somehow thought to be déclassé.

Everyone's romance with the grape must seemingly conform to this story line: getting snockered on sangria, awakening to $8 varietals and then, finally, enlightenment—being able to confidently proclaim that the 1998 Chateau Doncha'know won't be drinkable 'til 2030. Is it possible that some sweet wine is shunned for reasons other than how fine it tastes, alienating the taste preferences of much of the nation? Of course, much of what is available sucks. It's made by the lagoon-full, sold by the jug-full and it doesn't help family farmers. Now—hold on to your head, this may hurt—what if these sugar sippers had access to more high quality, North Coast wine that they liked? Ow, my head. I should really get that cavity checked out.

Get your fill of fructose with these excellent local offerings: Randy Pitts wastes no time in bottling Harvest Moon's 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel ($30), an ambrosia of fresh grape flavor, with yeasty, floral and cocoa notes—why wait? In Selby's Sauterne-style 2000 Sweet Cindy ($12), Gewürztraminer dances with Sauvignon Blanc in an apricot-brandy-infused dream. Peterson's 2005 Dry Creek Valley Muscat Blanc ($30) is a nectar of hazelnut and orange. Even French Columbard, left on the vine long enough, shows the love in Dutton Estate's 2006 Sweet Sisters Late Harvest French Columbard ($18). Sonoma Valley Portwork's tawny-red Deco ($17) is bittersweet with chocolate essence, like the best day of a love that won't last.

Gewürztraminer can be great in sweet or dry styles, but it's fashionable with wineries these days to preemptively assure tasters that theirs is bone dry, not sweet! Let's see what turns up at the Anderson Valley Winegrower's third annual International Alsace Varietals Festiva on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds. 14400 Hwy. 128, Boonville. Grand tasting noon–3pm; $65. 707.895.WINE. [ ]

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